I grew up in Tennessee. I own cowboy boots and say y’all, a lot. I have never gone hunting, but I’ve eaten tons of weird meat in cabins and enjoyed it. I also had to hustle my liberal, LGBT, feminist, atheist way through the hallways of a very conservative, religious, republican high school right in the center of the Bible belt.
I remember being outraged for most of my time in Nashville. I protested when the state defunded the last remaining Planned Parenthood, and I wrote many angry letters when the school administration allowed Fellowship of Christian Athletes to read bible verses over the announcements. I cried over the injustice when my schools administration shut down the Gay/Straight Alliance Club, just because it made parents uncomfortable. I remember participating in my AP Gov. mock election and reading tons of hateful, homophobic, sexist signs everyday in the hallway. I remember listening to lawmakers on the news argue about the "Don't Say Gay Bill" and how they didn't want kids educated about "sex unrelated to natural human reproduction."
Tennessee is definitely not a progressive state, but it has pockets of good people everywhere, and Southern hospitality is alive and well. So maybe the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” could lead to equality and happiness and people feeling like they can be themselves. It has the word antidiscrimination in it, so how bad could it be?! We could see Christians and Atheists, Straight and Gay people united. But it won’t happen. This bill allows majority rule to prevail, and in a traditionally conservative state that just isn’t going to go over well for anyone who doesn’t fit the status quo.
Tennessee’s “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” enables students to remain as ignorant, naïve, homophobic, and oppressive to others as they want to be. This bill would be great if it was placed in kind, loving, respectful hands. But I can honestly say that it is not. This bill isn’t going to open up streams of dialogue about culture, religion and life outside our own experience.
This bill is going straight into the hands of fundamentalist Creationists who will cause scenes in biology or write “GOD” as an answer on their midterm. This bill goes into the clenched fists of hyper-masculine, homophobic jocks, who will beat you up to cleanse your soul for Jesus. This bill is in the hands of young girls who will opt out of sex ed in favor of ignorance, because they believe in abstinence only without protection, having been told to save their vaginas for marriage. The ACLU warns that the bill “crosses the line from protecting religious freedom into creating systematic imposition of some students’ personal religious viewpoints on other students.”
The "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act" attempts to end discrimination against students expressing religious viewpoints ineffectively. It stops protecting religious freedom and enables the systematic imposition of powerful students’ personal religious viewpoints on other students. The problem with Tennessee is that out of 3,522,345 religious adherents, 3,475,377 are Christians that believe in discipleship and incorporating God into everything you do. That means a lot of power for people in one school of thought, and very little room to stretch for someone who doesn’t partake or isn’t sure how they feel or what they believe in.
“Should this pass, students with a range of religious beliefs, as well as non-believers, would likely routinely be required to listen to religious messages or participate in religious exercises that conflict with their own beliefs,” the ACLU warns. “Conversely, if a student of a minority religious faith (e.g., a Buddhist, a Wiccan, etc.) or a non-believer were to obtain a "position of honor," as defined under this bill, that student would be permitted to subject all classmates to prayer and proselytizing specific to his or her faith tradition in connection with school events. In both cases, parents would have no recourse to ensure that their children were not coerced into such religious exercise.”
This is frightening to me, as I grew up in the perfect high school for this bill. I was lucky enough to have a supportive family and to figure out who I am and what I believe in at a very early age. I was also lucky enough to be angry. If someone was hateful towards me, I would start a dialogue about it and learn from the experience. If I heard someone say something ignorant about the LGBT community, or something racist, or sexist, I had the strength to stand up and say whatever I could. This bill will squelch the voice of those who need it most and lead to more and more hate. Luckily, we can all take a minute to write to governor Bill Haslam and hopefully convince him that this bill is not progressive or good for growing young, intelligent, well-rounded students.
Images Courtesy of The Tennessean, Slate, and Capitol TN