Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on the Bible bill:
Across Tennessee this morning, an estimated 2.5 million or so Christians will gather to worship. They will occupy theater seating in high-tech mega-churches, wooden pews in traditional sanctuaries and metal folding chairs in makeshift chapels. Regardless of denomination, they will sing, pray and look to the Bible for inspiration, wisdom and direction.
For every one of these worshippers, the Bible is a holy book. For many in the Tennessee Legislature, however, it is merely a prop in a political farce.
A bill that would make the Bible the official book of Tennessee is heading toward floor votes in both the House and Senate. Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, are the sponsors, and majorities in both houses have signed on as co-sponsors.
Set aside, for a moment, the obvious constitutional issues with the legislation. Some thoughtful Christians, including ministers and the Senate's two most powerful Republican leaders, are understandably insulted by the bill.
Rev. Michael Williams, pastor at Nashville's West End United Methodist Church, told lawmakers that the act would demean the Bible and what it means to Christians, according to the Tennessean. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville point out that they consider the Bible to be sacred and that it would be sullied by the official blessing of an earthly government.
"I'm just adamantly opposed to that," Ramsey told reporters on Tuesday. "I mean the Bible is my official book, it is. It shouldn't be put in the "(Tennessee) Blue Book" with 'Rocky Top,' salamanders and tulip poplars."
In an attempt to downplay the blatant religious motivation behind the legislation, the bill has been amended to include secular justifications for its passage. The amendment focuses on the historical, cultural and economic importance of the Bible in Tennessee. Bibles served as de facto family histories in the state's early days, and Bible publishing is big business in Nashville.
The amendment also points to religious connotations in other state symbols, such as the ladybug, the state insect that according to the "Tennessee Blue Book" was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the passion flower, the state wildflower, in which some see symbols of the crucifixion. One feeble justification is that the state's agricultural insect, the honey bee, plays a vital role in the Tennessee economy — just like the printing and distribution of Bibles.
These intellectual convolutions cannot disguise the bill's true purpose — pandering to the state's multitude of Christian voters.
Followers of other faiths and atheists apparently do not matter to the bill's supporters. Thankfully, the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions are clear about the separation of church and state.
Granting official designation as a state symbol to the Bible — or the Quran or the Book of Mormon or any other religious text — would appear to violate the provision of the Tennessee Constitution that states "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship."
The U.S. Supreme Court uses a three-part test for statutes to pass muster under the Establishment Clause of the federal Constitution. Such laws must have a secular purpose, can neither advance nor inhibit religion, and cannot intertwine religion and government.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery has been asked to offer a nonbinding opinion on the legislation's constitutionality.
With a solid majority of members in both houses signed on as co-sponsors, the legislation is all but certain to pass. But as the Bible celebrates, miracles can happen. If Moses could part the Red Sea and Jesus could turn water into wine, then Tennessee's lawmakers can stop pandering and vote down this bill.
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on passing bills to help rape victims, sick children:
Despite the Tennessee General Assembly's obsession with loosening gun-carrying laws, lawmakers Monday showed they can take time to deal with legislation that will have a significant impact on victims of sexual assault, and maybe bring needed relief to victims of seizures.
Legislators approved and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill that would create a much-needed protocol for the collection of sexual assault evidence kits and for them to be submitted for DNA or serology testing within 60 days after health care providers turn them over to law enforcement authorities.
The bill — sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis — should go a long way in alleviating the kind of situation that resulted in a scandalous backlog of untested rape kits at the Memphis Police Department and other law enforcement agencies in the state.
Lawmakers overcame their fear of legalizing marijuana to show a compassionate side by approving a bill, allowing a person to possess cannabis oil under certain conditions. If it becomes law, certain amounts of cannabis oil can be used for the treatment of intractable seizures, especially in the case of children.
The rape kit backlog probably is one of the most embarrassing sagas in the history of the Memphis Police Department. It was discovered that 12,374 kits dating back to the 1980s had gone untested. So far, no one has discovered why officials stopped the testing. Not testing the kits represented justice denied or delayed for some rape victims. The rape kits consist of evidence gathered from the victim or the scene.
Citizen outrage prompted the city to form a task force to address the matter. That task force has cobbled together about $6 million from various sources to pay for testing on those kits.
City officials last month said 5,386 of the 12,374 kits found so far have been tested, or are at labs awaiting testing. That represents about 43.5 percent of all the kits found. The tests have led to 352 investigations, and from those, 58 indictments have been handed down. Of those indictments, 25 are against named suspects, while the remaining 33 are against a "John Doe" based on a DNA profile. At least 20 arrests have been made as a result of testing.
While Memphis had one of the largest backlogs of untested kits, other law enforcement agencies also had significant backlogs. The Norris-Miller bill brings a much-needed protocol to the way the kits are handled, so that something like this never happens again in Tennessee.
The cannabis bill fell short of what supporters sought — legalized use of medical cannabis for a litany of medicinal uses, including end-of-life care. Still, the bill is designed to help children who suffer intractable seizures. Although it passed the House and Senate, the two chambers still have to concur on a minor House amendment that adds epileptic seizures as a diagnosis covered by the bill.
The amendment seems logical, and lawmakers should not let it hamper a bill that could mean so much to children who suffer constant seizures.
Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on Helmet law:
There ought to be a law.
Too often, the legislators we elect to make the rules in this state decide an issue without explaining why they vote as they do. On those occasions, citizens are left to figure out the why.
It happened in the state Senate last week.
That body's Transportation Committee earlier had deadlocked on a proposal to repeal the law requiring motorcycle riders to wear a helmet, in effect killing the measure.
But last week, the committee suspended normal rules to reconsider the issue, and two senators changed their votes. That will send the measure to the full Senate for a vote.
Lawmakers are not required to explain why they vote as they do; but in a case like this, it would seem to be only fair.
One senator who had voted against the proposal the first time around changed her mind and cast the deciding vote.
She didn't explain why, nor did she ask any questions during the committee's discussion.
The senator who introduced the repeal bill admitted that a helmet can save a cyclist's life in a crash.
But he added that if a cyclist's helmet snags on something in a fall, "that helmet can end your life."
Really? Can examples of that be cited? How many people have died in such accidents, as compared to how many died from falls where a helmet wasn't in use?
The statistics alone should be convincing. But someone has some explaining to do.
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