The third time may be the charm for Tennessee Republican state Rep. Jerry Sexton, a former pastor who is one step closer to realizing his dream of making the Christian bible the official state book of Tennessee. On Monday the House voted 55-28 in favor of a resolution to do just that.
During debate, Sexton essentially said he does not believe in separation of church and state:
Here’s the clip —
REP. SHAW (a pastor): “Do you believe there’s a separation of church and state?”
Rep. Sexton, sponsor of the resolution to make the Bible the state book of Tennessee, makes it clear: NO, he does not. pic.twitter.com/rPz1nRDbPE
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) March 30, 2021
Rep. Sexton has been working since at least 2015 to accomplish his goal. Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, vetoed the bill when it passed in 2016.
But now Sexton believes he may have found a way to convince his colleagues to support his bill.
“Nashville is the top publisher of Bibles in the nation, he says,” according to Tennessee Lookout, “and Tennessee’s culture is based largely on the Bible and the nation’s Judeo-Christian founding.”
Rep. Sexton is opposed to LGBTQ people. In 2019 he co-sponsored the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act,” which would have declared the Supreme Court case that found same-sex couples have a right to marry as “void.” It it had been signed into law it would have cost the state $8.5 billion.
That same year he co-sponsored an anti-LGBTQ “license to discriminate” bill. In 2017 he co-sponsored a bill allowing businesses to engage in anti-LGBTQ discrimination against their own employees and others.
Last year, in opposing the removal of a Confederate statue, Sexton told lawmakers, “It was not against the law to own slaves back then.”
“Who knows, maybe some of us will be slaves one of these days. Laws change.”
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Trump-Aligned Christian Nationalist Group ‘Taps Into Unholy Well’ That Threatens Democracy
A well-funded and powerfully connected extremist group is raising alarms about its activities ahead of the 2024 election.
ReAwaken America, a project organized by Oklahoma businessman Clay Clark and funded by Donald Trump ally Patrick Byrne, has blended conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the 2020 election to promote a Christian nationalist political message at rallies and other events, reported The Guardian.
“Christian nationalism has deep roots in American history and has gained traction at different points,” said Amanda Tyler, the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “The ReAwaken America Tour taps into the unholy well of Christian nationalism to sow doubt about the U.S. election system and the safety of COVID-19 vaccines while equating allegiance to Trumpism with allegiance to God.”
“Clay Clark and others who run this tour are using the name of Jesus, Holy Scripture, and worship music to promote a partisan political agenda and personal business interests,” she added.
Michael Flynn, the Trump-pardoned former national security adviser, and convicted Capitol rioter Dr. Simone Gold have each made multiple appearances at ReAwaken America events, and a recent gathering hosted at the Tennessee church of right-wing pastor Greg Locke drew My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, Eric Trump, Roger Stone and Kash Patel.
“The religious nature of these events is a pretext for a rally by people who are united by feeling victimized and outraged,” said Samuel Perry, a sociologist at the University of Oklahoma. “This is incredibly corrosive for democracy because you have a group of political leaders and their followers who not only feel victimized by the culture, but they feel like the very political system is against them. That’s how you get populist coup attempts.”
Trump National Doral will host a ReAwaken America gathering in May, which could give the impression that Trump still has strong support from evangelical voters, but mainstream religious leaders are concerned about the convergence of conspiracy theories about Trump’s election loss and COVID-19 could have a corrosive effect on democracy.
“White evangelicals are among the least educated of Americans,” said David Hollinger, a history professor emeritus at Berkeley. “The Republican Party’s increasing reliance upon them marks an unprecedented stage in American history: for the first time, one of the major political parties displays contempt for learning. Not even the Democratic party of Andrew Jackson was so dependent for its success on anti-intellectual postures.”
Christian Anti-LGBTQ Book Banning Activist Says Gay ‘Lifestyles’ Shouldn’t Be ‘Forced Down Throats of Families’
Leigh Wambsganss, Patriot Mobile’s Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and Executive Director of Patriot Mobile Action, the far-right wing political action committee of the Christian conservative mobile phone service provider, has spent decades in the conservative media echo chamber, and now she’s getting even more attention, from The New York Times.
Wambsganss was included in a Times article Monday on anti-LGBTQ book banning. The paper, soft-pedaling the extremism presented by Wambsganss, notes “11 school board candidates backed by Patriot Mobile Action, the political action committee formed by the cellphone company, won in four districts this year.”
“The committee’s aim is to eliminate ‘critical race theory’ and ‘L.G.B.T.Q. indoctrination’ from schools, Leigh Wambsganss, its executive director, said on Steve Bannon’s show, ‘War Room.'”
The Times does report that for extremists like Wambsganss, “Even books without sexual content can be problematic if they include L.G.B.T.Q. characters, because they are ‘sexualizing children,’ she said: ‘It is normalizing a lifestyle that is a sexual choice.'”
“’Those kinds of lifestyles,’ she added, shouldn’t ‘be forced down the throats of families who don’t agree.’”
Being LGBTQ is not a “lifestyle” nor is it a “sexual choice,” nor is having an LGBTQ character in a book “sexualizing children,” nor did The Times push back against or fact-check Wambsganss’ statements.
Wambsganss’ employer, Patriot Mobile Action, has a list of 10 “We Believe” statements, including “In supporting candidates that stand for Christian conservative values,” “Our United States Constitution was founded on Judeo Christian principles” and “Critical Race Theory and Marxist policies have no place in schools or government.”
Not a word about LGBTQ issues, people, or equality or civil rights, despite that clearly being a major focus for Patriot Mobile Action.
“Leigh has been featured on Fox News, John Solomons ‘Just the News’ talk radio, Mark Davis 660AM, The Christian Perspective podcast, in the National Review, the Texas Values Report, a speaker at Turning Point USA and the Center for National Policy and quoted in multiple news media stories,” her bio at Patriot Mobile Action reads. “Leigh is a speaker and trainer on how to identify and defeat socialist Marxism in schools and government.”
Patriot Mobile, NBC News reported in August, gave Patriot Mobil Action $600,000 to spend on school board races in Ft. Worth, Texas.
Some parents are not happy. One, Rachel Wall, told NBC News that Patriot Mobile Action “bought four school boards, and now they’re pulling the strings.”
Wall is “the mother of a Grapevine-Colleyville student and vice president of the Texas Bipartisan Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting school board candidates who do not have partisan agendas.”
“I’m a Christian by faith,” she said, “but if I wanted my son to be in a religious school, I would pay for him to go to a private school.”
Wambsganss and Patriot Mobile Action appear to have a different idea.
In June, at an event hosted by far right wing activist group Turning Point USA, she introduced herself to the audience by saying, “I’m Leigh Wambsganss and my pronouns are bible believer, Jesus lover, gun carrier, and Momma Bear.”
Watch the video below or at this link.
Listen Live: SCOTUS Hears Christian Right Religion vs. LGBTQ Civil Rights Challenge
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments in yet another Colorado case of a right wing Christian business owner who claims their work is artistic expression which entitles them to discriminate against LGBTQ people who want to use their product for a same-sex marriage. And once again conservatives on the nation’s highest court are being asked to, and could move towards striking down another decades-old ruling in favor of the far Christian right.
This time the case involves not a Colorado baker refusing to bake cakes for same-sex weddings, but a Colorado web designer refusing to make web sites for same-sex weddings. Both have cited their deeply held religious beliefs against marriage equality, only this time the web designer is suing not because she refused a same-sex couple – indeed, no same-sex couple has ever asked her to create a website for their wedding – but because she’s afraid someday one will.
Lorie Smith, who owns 303 Creative, objects to Colorado law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, and objects to the law banning notices or statements that a business intends to do so.
And just like the Colorado baker or the Washington florist, Smith insists she’s not anti-gay, just anti-same-sex marriage.
“If a client who identifies as gay asked her to design graphics for his animal rescue shelter or to promote an organization serving children with disabilities, Smith would happily do so,” Ms. Smith’s lawyers told the justices in a brief, The New York Times reports. “But Smith will decline any request — no matter who makes it — to create content that contradicts the truths of the Bible, demeans or disparages someone, promotes atheism or gambling, endorses the taking of unborn life, incites violence, or promotes a concept of marriage that is not solely the union of one man and one woman.”
Despite all the other issues listed, however, marriage equality is the apparent basis for the case being brought to the Court.
Indeed, a unique aspect of the case is that unlike the Colorado baker or the Washington florist, no one has ever asked Smith to make a product that violates her beliefs, so it’s unclear why the Court even accepted the case. (The Court refused to rule on the Washington florist case, and issued only a very narrow ruling in the Colorado baker case, one that the Trump White House incorrectly used to enact discriminatory policy in agencies including HHS.)
Philip J. Weiser, Colorado’s attorney general, is defending his state’s law.
“A business could, based on its claimed beliefs, refuse to bake for Catholic baptisms because it is pro-choice, photograph reunions of Black families because it opposes racial equality or create floral arrangements for events celebrating women’s business achievements because it believes only men should work outside the home,” Weiser wrote in a Court brief.
Supporters of civil rights and LGBTQ equality are concerned the activist wing of the Court, especially Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, could use this case to overturn a 1990 ruling, Employment Division v. Smith.
Indeed, Smith’s attorneys have specifically asked to Court to do so, although the Court is not expected to.
“In that case,” The Times explains, “the Supreme Court ruled that laws that are neutral and apply generally could not be challenged on the ground that they violated the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion.”
But the current Trump-infused Roberts Court has made clear it sees conservative Christian faith at the center of American jurisprudence, and want that 33-year old ruling overturned.
Indeed, as Vox reported last week, the Supreme Court “appears eager to give religious conservatives sweeping exemptions from the law.”
“Although 303 Creative no longer presents the question of when the Constitution permits people with religious objections to an anti-discrimination law to defy that law, the Court has been signaling for quite some time that it is very sympathetic to such objectors — and that it is likely to abandon a more than 30-year-old precedent establishing that the law generally applies equally to everyone.”
Vox accurately describes this as a case involving “religious conservatives,” and not just people of faith. There are many Christians who support the LGBTQ community, same-sex marriage, and equal civil rights.
The decision in Employment Division v. Smith, “arising from a case involving the use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies, is unpopular among conservative Christians, who say it does not offer adequate protection to religion, and with some of the justices. Last year, the court’s three most conservative members — Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — said it was time to overrule the 1990 decision.”
Already the LGBTQ community, its supporters, and advocates for equal civil rights are on edge after the Court struck down its 49-year old Roe v. Wade ruling, with Justice Thomas actively and openly calling for cases that would overturn decisions that made access to contraception, same-sex intimacy, and same-sex marriage the laws of the land.
Oral arguments in the case, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, start at 10 AM ET.
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