Redundant mini-RFRA on notice next week in House Civil Justice Subcommittee

And it never ends. 

A mini-RFRA is on notice for the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on March 23.  HB2375 by Rep. Holt says that clergy can't be required to marry someone if marrying that someone violates their religious beliefs.  It adds that facilities controlled by a religious organization can't be forced to participate or be used for a wedding that conflicts with a sincerely held religious belief.  Refusal of services can't be punished with a civil action or criminal charges or any other state sanction.

The bill seems pretty redundant given the First Amendment to the Constitution. 

Also on notice in the same subcommittee for the same day is another bill by Rep. Holt, is HB2508, which is a marriage caption bill.  We'll see whether he runs it and what he fills it in with. 

Stay alert for updates.



House subcommittee to consider "Clergy Wedding Only" bill on Wednesday

March 13, 2016

Contact:  Chris Sanders, (615) 390-5252,

Nashville, TN--The Tennessee General Assembly's House Civil Justice Subcommittee is set to consider HB2379 on Wednesday at 3:00.  The bill by Rep. Micah VanHuss limits the persons who may solemnize marriage to ministers, pastors, rabbis, priests, and other spiritual leaders and removes all existing authorization for public officials in official capacity to solemnize marriage.

"Sadly some legislators are taking their opposition to the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges marriage ruling to the extreme," noted TEP executive director Chris Sanders. "This bill would actually have the effect of making it harder for different-sex couples to get married.  Many couples are not religious or one prospective spouse may not be.  Many couples are of different religions and may not wish to show preference to one of their faith traditions by picking a member of the clergy.  From a practical and a constitutional point of view, the bill is a disaster."

More than 400 people have expressed opposition to the bill so far at this link: .


Emergency: Rolling Back the Hate Days on the Hill


Several anti-LGBT bills are on notice the week of March 15 in the Legislature.  So we are calling on advocates across the state to help with Rolling Back the Hate Days on the Hill on March 15 and March 16.  You don't have to be there both days.  You can come for an hour or stay the whole time.  But RSVP here.  TEP will have an information table both days outside the cafeteria in Legislative Plaza.

So which attack bills are up for consideration?

1. HB2414/SB2387 is up in the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee on March 15 at 3:00 p.m. in Legislative Plaza Room 29.  This bill attacks transgender students in public K-12 and higher education institutions.  It is also up in the Senate Education Committee on March 16 at 1:00 in Room 12.  You can contact the House subcommittee at this link and urge them to vote NO.  RSVP for the House subcommittee meeting here.  You can contact the Senate Education Committee about the bill at this link.

2. HB1840 known as the Counseling Discrimination bill is up in the House Health Committee on March 16 at 1:30 in Room 16.  This bill has already passed the Senate.

3. HB2379 is up in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee at 3:00 on March 16 at 3:00 in Room 31.  This bill limits those who can solemnize marriages to clergy.  In other words, if you want to get married in Tennessee, you would have to get a religious leader to perform the ceremony if this bill passes.   The constitutional issue is certainly a talking point, but it would be better to beat the bill before a law like this had to go to the courts for a challenge.  So I understand that the bill would have problems in court, but let's try to prevent it from becoming law in the first place.   You can tell the subcommittee to oppose the bill at this link.

*If you want to help organize next week or get appointments with key legislators, respond to me at with your county of residence.  We will prep you for your meetings. 

If you would like to invest in our work of fighting anti-equality legislation, you can give here.

Legislative Update: Yesterday's action and #TnHateWeek continues

Yesterday the House Health Subcommittee recommended passage of HB1840, the Counseling Discrimination bill, with another amendment.  This one differs from the Senate amendments.  It substitutes "principles" for "religious beliefs."  It's bad that the bill is advancing.  But if it must advance, it is good that it got amended in a way that differs from the Senate version of the bill that passed recently.  To become law, Senate and House versions have to be identical.

We got more time on HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill yesterday when the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee couldn't get to it.  If they had, it probably would have passed. 

#TnHate week continues today with SB1912, a bill to take funding away from UT-Knoxville diversity efforts and divert them to putting "In God We Trust" on law enforcement vehicles. 


Over 75 Tennessee clergy oppose HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill

February 28, 2016

Contact:  Chris Sanders, 615-390-5252,

Nashville, TN--The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) announced today that more than 75 Tennessee ministers and rabbis have added their names to a letter opposing HB2414 up for consideration on March 1 in the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee.

The bill restricts Tennessee public K-12 and higher education students to restrooms and changing rooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates.  The bill, like others across the country, targets transgender and gender non-conforming students.

The clergy letter reads: 

As clergy serving people of faith in Tennessee, we oppose HB2414/SB2387. This legislation is detrimental to transgender students by exposing them to violence and increasing the likelihood that they will drop out of school or take their own lives.  Faith teaches us to cherish all people, especially those targeted by legislation that fails to recognize them as they are and subjects them to harm.  We respectfully call on the Tennessee General Assembly to reject this bill.

"Clergy in East, West, and Middle Tennessee are speaking out against this bill because at the heart of morality is how we treat those who are already marginalized," notes TEP executive director Chris Sanders.  "Transgender and gender non-conforming students already face significant bullying from their peers.  It is devastating when legislators pile on with laws targeting them."

For a full list of clergy who have added their names to the letter, go to this link


Can WE talk about morality and HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill?

The LGBT community may have a well placed suspicion when it comes to discussions of morality because the language of morality has so often been used to justify beating up on us. 

A caricature of the divide:  We actually do talk about morality.  We often talk about it terms of consequences.  In other words, we typically say, "Here's what will happen if you adopt this sort of legislation."  And there are good reasons to do so when those consequences are people taking their own lives, dropping out of school, having poor health, experiencing unemployment and homelessness, and so on.  We should never lose our ability to talk about the consequences whether we use statistics or stories.  Both matter.  Both communicate the problem. 

Our opponents talk about consequences, too, though the consequences they talk about exist in the fantasy/nightmare realm and not in reality.  They imagine all kinds of bizarre outcomes from sharing showers, bathrooms, and changing rooms with LGBT people.  Those imaginations take particularly brutal turns when it comes to the transgender community as we have seen again and again.  So our opponents talk about consequences, just not evidence based consequences.

The difference is that our opponents think they are also using the moral language of principle, though I don't think they actually succeed, whereas I think often our side doesn't do so.  Sometimes our only principle seems to be "discrimination is wrong," which is true, as far as it goes.  But there is more to say.  So we could do more to shore up our side of the argument.

What we could be adding to our argument from a moral point of views?:  We could spend more time asking and answering some of the basic questions of morality, which is not a mere list of rights and wrongs.  The big questions of morality are issues like "What is the good life?" and "How do we know what's right or wrong?"

In the Western tradition, "Know thyself" has been at the heart of the quest for the moral life, even as Western society has failed miserably at operationalizing that quest.  But it's still right idea.  That maxim is particularly relevant to the set of issues in the transgender student bathroom bill debate.

Bringing the matter to the topic before us, we need to ask exactly how Rep. Susan Lynn knows who belongs in which restroom and what that has to do with her self-knowledge and the self-knowledge of transgender students.  What are her methods really--inspection of a piece of paper, inspection of culturally derived gender stereotypes like clothing or hairstyle, inspection of body parts that she assumes correspond with only one gender but not any others?  Take a minute to think through exactly how a regime could be put in place to enforce a rule that requires any of those three kinds of evidence to enter a restroom.

Moral knowledge is about guidelines we make or discover for ourselves and how we will interact with others based on what we know about ourselves.  Moral rules are not guesses we make about others that are then imposed on them.  Such guesswork precisely removes moral agency from others and becomes, by definition, immoral through the use of compulsion and arbitrary application.

Morality recognizes that each person is seeking and finding varying levels of self-knowledge. Morality recognizes that one will know more about oneself than others will.  To bring that point back to the bill, no matter how smart and experienced Rep. Lynn may be, she actually can't know better than a transgender student which bathroom is best and safest and most fitting for a transgender student.  And in the absence of bad outcomes resulting from those students making their own choices, they really ought to get to continue making those choices without the interference of state law and whatever bizarre enforcement mechanisms might come with such a law.

That is really why this bill opens a set of moral questions.  So we need to be prepared to talk about them.

Clergy against HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill

StatementAs clergy serving people of faith in Tennessee, we oppose HB2414/SB2387. This legislation is detrimental to transgender students by exposing them to violence and increasing the likelihood that they will drop out of school or take their own lives.  Faith teaches us to cherish all people, especially those targeted by legislation that fails to recognize them as they are and subjects them to harm.  We respectfully call on the Tennessee General Assembly to reject this bill.

Signed by

Rev. Laura Bogle, Maryville

Rev. Janet Wolf, Nashville

Rev. Dr. Diana L. Hynson, Nashville

Rev. Beth A. Richardson, Nashville

Rev. Pamela Hawkins, Nashville

Rabbis Philip and Laurie Rice, Brentwood

Rev. Lisa Gwok, Nashville

Rev. Emily Reeves Grammer, Madison

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, retired, Nashville

Rev. Billy Vaughan,

Rev. Jim Hughes, Forest Hills

Rev. Deven Hazlewood, Johnson City

Rev. Bryan Currie, Nashville

Rev. Kevin Mitchell, Murfreesboro

Rev. Dave McIntyre, retired, Coffee County

Rev. J. Peter van Eys, Nashville

Rev. Judi Hoffman, Nashville

Rev. Heather Harriss, Nashville

Rev. Cynthia Andrews-Looper, Memphis

Rev. Adam Kelchner, Nashville

Bishop Patrick Potts, Johnson City

Rev. Heather Godsey, Knoxville

Rev. Kira M. Schlesinger, Lebanon

Rev. Thomas Kleinert, Nashville

Rev. Jacqueline Luck, Johnson City

Rev. Mark C. Pafford, Cookeville

Rev. Tim Kobler, Knoxville

Rabbi Joshua Barton, Nashville

Rev. Paul Slentz, Nashville

Rev. Chris Buice, Knoxville

Rev. Elaine Blanchard, Memphis

Rev. Robert Coleman, Nashville

Rev. Ken Carroll, Chattanooga

Rev. Ted McEachern, Nashville

Rev. Susan A. Gray, Nashville

Rev. Dr. Bruce W. Spangler, Knoxville

Rev. Mary Louise McCullough, Nashville

Rev. Robert L. Early, Middle TN Presbytery, retired

Rev. Michael Williams, Nashville

Rev. Barbara Garcia, retired, Nashville

Rev. Theodore McKnight, retired, Pleasant Hill

Rev. Scott M. Williamson, Cookeville

Rev. John Feldhacker, Nashville

Rev. Will Berger, Franklin

Rev. Dr. Rik Rouquie, Nashville

Rev. Susan Groseclose, Nashville

Rabbi Joshua Kullock, Nashville

Rev. Slade Kyle, Memphis

Rev. Floridia Jackson, Memphis

Rev. Allison Hancock, Memphis

Rabbi John Kaplan, Memphis

Rev. Ken Edwards, Nashville

Rev. Ingrid McIntrye, Nashville

Rev. Dr. Susan Bond, Jackson

Rev. Greg Bullard, Madison

Rev. Christine Grace, Chattanooga

Rev. Amy Roberts, Memphis

Rev. Gordon D. Gibson, Knoxville

Rev. Stacey Hamilton, Murfreesboro

Rev. Viki Matson, Nashville

Rev. Don Steele, Elizabethton

Rev. Joseph Dowlingsoka, Chattanooga

Rev. Patrick Handlson, Cookeville

Rev. Brandon Gilvin, Chattanooa

Rev. Nancy Speas Hill, Franklin

Rev. Judith Meyer, Knoxville

Rev. Annie McClure, Middle TN Presbytery

Jon Coffee, Ministerial intern, Knoxville

Kate Fields, Minister in training, Old Hickory

Rev. Jill Sizemore, Knoxville

Rev. Mark Flynn, Chattanooga

Rev. Margaret Prigmore Lewis, Goodlettsville

Rev. Phildora Prigmore Lewis, Goodlettsville

Rev. Beth Lefever, Cordova

Rev. Schaap Freeman, Johnson City

Rev. Jake Morrill, Oak Ridge

Teresa Kim Pecinovsky, Nashville

James Waldrop

Rev. Steve Wolf, Clarksville

Rev. John Gill, Knoxville

Rev. Dr. Dan Rosemergy, Nashville

If you are a member of the clergy serving people in Tennessee and would like to sign your name to this statement, contact us at .

BREAKING: Anti-transgender student bathroom bill on notice for March 1

HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill is on notice for March 1 in the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee.  We will be receiving talking points on the bill from Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition.

We urge our members to consider attending the meeting on March 1 at 3:00 p.m. in Legislative Plaza room 29.  It is currently the 20th bill on the calendar, so there is no guarantee the subcommittee will get to it.  But they can jump around on the agenda, so be prepared.

TEP condemns this bill as devastating to transgender students in public K-12 schools and public colleges and universities in Tennessee. 

TEP celebrates failure of Washington County anti-marriage equality resolution

Contact:  Chris Sanders, (615) 390-5252 or

Nashville, TN--The Tennessee Equality Project celebrates the failure of the Washington County anti-marriage equality resolution, which lacked the votes for a constitutional majority in the early hours of February 23.

In a meeting that ran over 6 hours and included approximately 50 speakers on both sides of the resolution, citizens of Washington County debated the Bible and the Constitution, morality and inclusion, and different understanding of family.

TEP congratulates all those who showed up in red to oppose the resolution and to speak against it.  We also thank those county commissioners who spoke and voted against the measure. 

The Washington County resolution is the first in Northeast Tennessee to come up for a vote and fail.  Greene, Johnson, Hawkins, and Sullivan Counties have passed similar resolutions in recent months.  For a map of anti-marriage equality resolutions and their fates around the state, go to this link.  The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County passed a pro-marriage equality resolution in February.


A letter of solidarity to our friends in Washington County

Dear friends who are part of the LGBT and Ally community in Washington County,

As your county commission gathers tonight to consider an anti-marriage equality resolution, equality advocates across Tennessee hold you in our thoughts. 

You do not deserve the kind of local government that would question and attack the basic human rights of any segment of the population.  But when faced with just such a challenge, you have risen to meet it with dignity and community spirit.

Your presence was so strong at the last meeting that it caused the county commission meeting to adjourn.  Your presence tonight, whatever the outcome, is a profound witness to the values of equality and inclusion in a state that desperately needs such a visible manifestation.

Your strength, your organizing skills, and your determination inspire us all.  People in Memphis, Jackson, Nashville, Murfreesboro, Clarksville, Cookeville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Maryville, and everywhere in between are watching you with pride today.

Win or lose, you are heroes of the movement for equality in Tennessee. 

So on behalf of the boards of the Tennessee Equality Project and the TEP Tri-Cities Committee Chair Amy Williams, who will be with you this evening, I want to thank you for the incredible work you are doing.

Gratefully yours,

Chris Sanders

Executive Director

Tennessee Equality Project

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