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ACLU: Proposed Beavers, Womick Abortion Legislation ‘Tries to Coerce, Shame Women’

Press release from the Tennessee Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; January 9, 2015:

NASHVILLE –This week state legislators introduced a second bill to regulate abortion in Tennessee.  SB 13, introduced by Senator Mae Beavers this week, mandates what physicians must tell patients who are considering an abortion.

HB 2, filed by Rick Womick in November, would mandate an ultrasound for a woman seeking an abortion, and require her to either view the ultrasound or listen to a verbal description of it, to listen to a fetal heartbeat, and to wait at least twenty-four hours after the ultrasound before having an abortion.

Legislators have indicated that they plan to file a number of other bills regulating abortion this session.

The following can be attributed to Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee:

“No matter what you call them, the abortion bills introduced so far are not about providing evenhanded information to patients so that they can make the best decisions for themselves possible.  These bills amount to nothing more than political interference intended to bias a woman’s personal health care decisions.  A woman needs to be informed about the risks involved with any medical procedure, but the information should not be provided in a way intended to coerce, shame or make her change her mind.  Doctors, not politicians, should decide what is said to a patient, based on a woman’s unique circumstances. ACLU is committed to protecting Tennessee women’s ability to make personal, private health care decisions without government interference.”

Information about the ACLU of Tennessee is available at: www.aclu-tn.org.

TNGOP to Schools: Ignore ACLU on Prayer Suit

Press release from the Tennessee Republican Party; October 10, 2013:

Dear Superintendent:

One week ago, you likely received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN). The message is the latest yearly missive sent out by the far-left organization meant to intimidate Tennessee students and high school athletes from exercising their First Amendment rights.

The group behind the letter misses a very basic principle about the First Amendment: It was written—not to protect government from religion—but to ensure religious freedoms are not violated by the government.

Moreover, the ACLU-TN willfully misrepresents a point highlighted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case it cites. The Court has found:

“(N)othing in the Constitution…prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday.” Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 313 (2000).

When it comes to this issue, we stand with families across Tennessee who want to protect expressions of faith in the public forum and the precious freedoms we all hold dear.

It should be noted this is a Tennessee issue, not a partisan one. My colleague who leads the Tennessee Democratic Party, Roy Herron, was actually the first individual to lay out this position. In an opinion piece he authored as a State Senator about this very issue for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Herron wrote, “The Constitution does not require government hostility to religion.”

He wrote this to give a public explanation for the Tennessee Student Religious Liberty Act. The law was meant to “prevent government discrimination against religion, and to see that students’ existing constitutional rights are honored.” Essentially, the law enshrines the Court’s finding in Santa Fe here in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Legislature further clarified what is permissible in Tennessee schools recently with the passage of a law that ensures “school administrators may not prohibit personnel from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students.”

Obviously, the ACLU-TN is using scare tactics and the implied threat of litigation to stamp out the First Amendment rights of students. Not only is this a transparent political stunt, it is a misreading of the law and misunderstanding of Tennessee’s unique spiritual heritage.

With a new week of football games set to kick off, we write today to tell you we stand with you and the millions of Tennesseans who want to express their rights and not cower to the liberal self-interests of a leftwing organization.

Respectfully,

Chris Devaney
Chairman
Tennessee Republican Party

ACLU: Victory for Free Speech in Occupy Lawsuit Ruling

Press release from American Civil Liberties Union-TN; June 13, 2013:

NASHVILLE – In a ruling underscoring Tennesseans’ right to political speech, a federal judge ruled late yesterday that the state of Tennessee’s arrest of Occupy Nashville protesters was an unconstitutional violation of their First Amendment rights.

“The Court’s ruling is a resounding victory for the principles of free speech and protest championed by Occupy Nashville and the ACLU,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney David Briley, of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC. “This decision reinforces that the state cannot just arbitrarily limit free speech in any manner it wants to.”

In the ruling, Judge Aleta A. Trauger wrote, “The First Amendment cannot yield to the enforcement of state regulations that have no legal effect…In choosing to adopt and implement new regulations by fiat without seeking necessary approval from the Attorney General, they made an unreasonable choice that violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights in multiple respects.”

“The right to free speech and political protest is crucial to a healthy democracy, perhaps today more than ever,” said ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg. “We applaud the Court for safeguarding the essential guarantees of the First Amendment.”

ACLU-TN filed the lawsuit, Occupy Nashville et. al., v. Haslam et. al., in October 2011 after the State of Tennessee met in secret and revised the rules controlling Legislative Plaza to implement a curfew and require use and security fees and $1,000,000 in liability insurance prior to community members engaging in assembly activity. The state then arrested the Occupy Nashville demonstrators under the new rules. Prior to their arrests, the demonstrators had been gathered at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville to peacefully express their frustration with the government for a couple of weeks.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division.

In addition to Briley, the plaintiffs are represented by ACLU-TN Legal Director Tom Castelli; ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney Patrick Frogge of Bell Tennent & Frogge PLLC; and ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney Tricia Herzfeld of Ozment Law.

The decision for this case can be found here.

The order for this case can be found here.

ACLU Report Documents ‘Devastating Impact’ of 287(g) Jail Program

Press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee; December 12, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today released a report, “Consequences & Costs: Lessons Learned from Davidson County, Tennessee’s Jail Model 287(g) Program,” documenting the serious problems with the Davidson County Sheriff’s recently-ended 287(g) jail program. The purpose of the report, which is being sent to the Knox and Rutherford County sheriffs, both of whom have submitted 287(g) applications, is to explain the devastating impact of the program and to urge them to withdraw their applications.

“We hope that the Rutherford and Knox County sheriffs will read our report and recognize that it is in the best interest of their communities to withdraw their pending 287(g) applications. These programs only damage community trust in law enforcement, increase the potential for racial profiling and waste precious law enforcement resources,” said ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg.

The 287(g) program run by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency deputizes state and local police and sheriffs to enforce federal immigration law. DHS will meet on December 17 to make decisions on applications for new 287(g) agreements, including the applications submitted by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office. DHS is also currently reviewing its existing 287(g) agreements with 57 law enforcement agencies in 21 states whose agreements were temporarily extended, most until the end of December 2012 (1).

Weinberg noted, “We are especially concerned about Rutherford County’s application given the area’s history of hostility toward local Muslims and immigrants, including a Sheriff’s Office training led by a known anti-Islam speaker (2) and local legislators’ sponsorship of numerous harsh, anti-immigrant bills.”

Key findings from the report, based on original quantitative data analysis led by Professor Katharine Donato of Vanderbilt University’s Sociology Department as well as interviews with community members, include the following:

  • While the 287(g) program was developed with the stated goal of responding to “immigration violators who pose a threat to national security or public safety (3), ”the vast majority of the time, deportations through Davidson County’s 287(g) program were triggered by minor, often traffic-related offenses. 

    In 2012, misdemeanors accounted for nearly 79 percent of arrestsport on Impact of Davdof foreign-born people (4) and for those ultimately put into removal proceedings, a staggering 67 percent of their arrests were for Level 2 offenses, which was the level that included traffic violations in the data analyzed. Simultaneously, after implementation of 287(g), among the foreign-born population, arrests for the most severe Level 1 offenses actually decreased 21 percent, moving the program far from its stated goal of targeting threats to public safety.

  • Davidson County’s 287(g) program encouraged racial profiling and disparate treatment from stop to detention, based on characteristics such as appearance, ethnicity or language skills.Though under a jail model 287(g) agreement, the agency with immigration authority is not the same agency responsible for arresting people on the street, evidence from Davidson County illustrates how the program’s presence impacted the perceptions and actions of others involved in the criminal justice system, from police on patrol to other public officials, whose statements regarding the influence of language and immigration status on their decisions are included in the report.In addition, data shows that implementation of the 287(g) program in Davidson County corresponds with foreign-born people being arrested at an increasing rate for the single charge of “No Driver’s License,” which was not only the most common gateway charge for deportation in Davidson County, but also something that cannot be determined until after the individual is pulled over. If no other charge is brought, then the reason for pulling that person over is questionable at best and quite possibly a case of racial profiling. Of single charge arrests, the percentage that were for “No Driver’s License” increased 9.4 percent for the foreign-born after implementation of 287(g). The percentage of single-charge arrests for “No Driver’s License” that led to removal increased from 18 percent of arrests before implementation of 287(g) to 43 percent after, an increase of 136 percent.
  • The 287(g) program led to immigrants living in fear and distrust of law enforcement. Numerous examples in the report illustrate how, by introducing the threat of immigration enforcement into community policing, Davidson County’s 287(g) program deterred immigrants, including domestic violence survivors, from reporting crimes they experienced or witnessed, ultimately undermining public safety as a whole.

Lindsay Kee, Communications Director and author of the report, explained that “this program has been sold as an effective mechanism to deport dangerous criminals and make Nashville safer. Yet, our data indicates that of the nearly 10,000 individuals deported under 287(g), most had been arrested for minor violations. When you look at arrests of foreign-born people during 287(g)’s implementation, the percentage of arrests for the most dangerous crimes actually decreased.”

Yesterday the ACLU, along with 161 other organizations from across the country, also sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security calling for termination of the 287(g) program.

Read the full report: “Consequences & Costs: Lessons Learned from Davidson County, Tennessee’s Jail Model 287(g) Program.

(1) Fact Sheet: Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act, http://www.ice.gov/news/library/factsheets/287g.htm (last visited December 6, 2012).

(2) Bob Smietana & Tony Gonzalez, Sheriff Hires Mosque Foe to Lead Terrorism Training, The Tennessean (Feb. 15, 2012), available at http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-02-15/terrorism-training-tennessee/53102430/1.

(3) Fact Sheet: Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act, supra.

(4) Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, 287(g) Five-Year Report 8 (2012).

ACLU: ‘Session Full of Attacks on Civil Liberties’

Newsletter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee; May 23, 2012:

State lawmakers have packed their bags and gone home, leaving us with the wreckage of a session full of attacks on civil liberties, including free speech, fair treatment of immigrants, LGBT rights, privacy, reproductive freedom, religious freedom and voting rights. This session we were forced to focus mostly on damage control as we lobbied against numerous bills, presented testimony in committee meetings, and strategized with friendly legislators and allies to confront the assaults on our freedoms. Here are highlights of how we fared.* Click on any bill to learn more about it, or visit our Legislative Action Center to check out all of the bills we lobbied this year.

FREE SPEECH

State Government Silencing Protesters – OPPOSE – SB 2508/HB 2638 infringes on the right to freedom of speech and expression by prohibiting the “activity of camping” on public property, targeting the speech of the Occupy protesters. This vague and overly broad law erects barriers to free speech and assembly. Governor Haslam signed the legislation and it became Public Chapter 535 on 3/9/12.

FAIR TREATMENT OF IMMIGRANTS

Racial Profiling of Immigrants – OPPOSE – SB 0780/HB 1380 would have required all law enforcement officials to question the immigration status of any person they stop, encouraging racial and ethnic profiling of people who appear or sound “foreign.” After broad based opposition, sponsors decided not to pursue the legislation.

English-Only Driver’s Licenses – OPPOSE – SB 2602/HB 2721 would have discriminated against Tennesseans with limited-English-speaking ability by requiring that all written and oral exams for driver’s licenses be in English only. After opposition from the business, civil liberties, and immigrant communities, the sponsors did not pursue the legislation.

Discrimination in Charter Schools – OPPOSE – SB 3345/HB 3540 discriminates against lawfully-admitted noncitizens and raises serious equal treatment and protection issues by prohibiting charter schools from having more than 3.5 percent of their total staff positions filled by foreign nationals. It became Public Chapter 879 on 5/11/12, without the governor’s signature.

LGBT RIGHTS

“Don’t Say Gay” – OPPOSE – SB 49/HB 229 would have prohibited public school teachers and counselors from providing instruction or material discussing sexual orientation other than heterosexuality. The bill passed the Senate and the House Education Committee, but broad-based opposition, including from House leadership, kept it from moving forward.

Repeal of the “Special Access to Discriminate” Law – SUPPORT – SB 2762/HB 2908 would have restored local governments’ ability to enact non-discrimination ordinances that protect employees of government contractors against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill was defeated in the Senate State and Local Government Committee and was not heard in the House.

PRIVACY

Suspicionless Drug Testing of the Poor – OPPOSE – SB 2580/HB 2725 requires Temporary Assistance to Needy Families applicants and recipients to undergo mandatory drug tests. Drug testing without probable cause is unconstitutional, ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars. The governor signed this bill on 5/21/12.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Public Schools as Sunday Schools – OPPOSE – SB 3060/HB 3266 stops local school boards and administrators from prohibiting staff participation in student-initiated religious activities on school grounds before or after school. This overreaching bill impedes school boards’ ability to protect students’ religious freedom. The governor signed this bill and it became Public Chapter 690 on 4/17/12.

Religious Viewpoints “Anti-Discrimination” Act – OPPOSE – SB 3632/HB 3616 purports to require local school boards to adopt policies that treat students’ voluntary expression of viewpoints the same whether religious or secular, but in effect it subjects public school students to prayer and proselytizing throughout the school day. While the legislation passed the Senate, the sponsor did not move the bill on the House Floor.

“Scopes Revisited”: Creationism in Science Classrooms – OPPOSE – SB 0893/HB 0368 undermines public school science education by effectively granting permission for teachers to bring religion into the classroom. Under the pretext of fostering critical thinking, the new law states that teachers must be allowed to discuss “weaknesses” in scientific theories such as evolution and other topics that cause “debate and disputation”—calling their very validity into question. Even with broad-based national and local opposition, the bill became law on April 10 without Governor Haslam’s signature.

REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM

Barriers to Reproductive Health – OPPOSE – SB 3323/HB 3808 originally required public reporting of individual data on women seeking abortions and doctors performing them, jeopardizing privacy and safety. After national outcry, the bill was amended to require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, a hurdle not required of other doctors. The legislation was signed by the governor and became Public Chapter 1008 on 5/15/12.

Abstinence-Only Sex Education – OPPOSE – SB 3310/HB 3621 requires sex education in Tennessee schools to “exclusively and emphatically” focus on abstinence and possibly exclude information that teens need to make healthy decisions about sex. The legislation was signed by the governor and became Public Chapter 973 on 5/15/12.

VOTING RIGHTS

“Photo ID to Vote” Repeal – SUPPORT – SB 2139/HB 2176 would have repealed the law requiring all voters who choose to vote in person to present a valid, government-issued photo ID. The photo ID law poses an unnecessary and undue burden on voting rights. Unfortunately the bill failed in the Senate State and Local Committee.

Many thanks to everyone who contacted their legislators—your voices are really important as we continue to confront these challenges and protect our freedoms. Rest assured, during the summer we will be considering litigation and public education options regarding these new anti-civil liberties laws.

Until next year’s legislative session, which promises to be even more challenging,

Hedy Weinberg
Executive Director

*These descriptions show the bills’ original, core intentions and may not reflect all amendments. Details about amendments can be found by clicking on the bill title.

Revised Cyberbullying Law Awaits Governor’s Action

Tennessee lawmakers this year narrowed the scope of a law that criminalizes bullying over the Internet, responding to national criticism that the law potentially violates free speech rights.

The new proposal, HB2556, was sent to the governor for approval May 2. It adds to the legal definition of harassment the sending of an image through electronic means “with the malicious intent to threaten” another person — replacing a broader definition that included efforts to “frighten,” “intimidate” or “cause emotional distress.”

The revision is an attempt to make the bill “more acceptable to lawmakers but still clear enough where people understand how serious it is in how it needed to be addressed,” sponsor Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said. Ketron says the move would focus the law on intentional cyber harassment and not the exercise of free speech.

Minors now found guilty of cyber bullying could be forced to do 30 hours of unpaid community service, a punishment Ketron said he may want to give “stronger teeth” to in future years. A violation by an adult would be a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and a year in prison.

“I think it goes as far as we could get it passed this year,” Ketron said. The bill was passed within months of the suicides of a 14-year-old Gordonsville boy and a teen from Ashland City who were both apparently bullied for being gay.

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate with little debate. In the House it passed 76-14, with some Republicans arguing the bill makes prosecutable offenses out of childhood and adolescent behavior that, while it shouldn’t be condoned, shouldn’t be criminalized either.

“Since the beginning of time, we’ve had bullies,” said Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. “We can’t continue to legislate everything. …

“There’s children who have actually committed suicide. I would submit to you they did not commit suicide because of somebody bullying them. They committed suicide because they were not instilled the proper principle of where their self esteem came from at home.”

The Tennessee Democratic Party leapt upon Faison’s remarks, firing off a press release calling his comments “a disgrace.” The House floor video of Faison’s remarks posted by the party was picked up by the Huffington Post and others.

“It is unfortunate that some in the Republican Party have become the protectors of bullies,” the Democratic Party said in its release. “Of course, it is not terribly surprising, because as a legislative group they are nothing but bullies, disparaging and demeaning those without power in this country in order to build themselves up.”

Faison later apologized for a “poor choice of words.”

Under this year’s bill, school principals are required to investigate student claims of bullying, intimidation, harassment and cyber bullying that involve threats of physical harm. Schools will also track the number of harassment complaints and share that data annually with the Department of Education beginning in 2013.

Schools will also have to provide teachers, school counselors, parents and students information about bullying prevention beginning next year.

When the Legislature passed the cyber bullying law last year, a firestorm erupted.

Critics derided the legislation. Liberals like film critic Roger Ebert and MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow lampooned state lawmakers by publishing satirically “disturbing images.” Conservative UCLA law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh wrote that the law seemed “pretty clearly unconstitutional.”

Tennessee’s chapter of the ACLU last year threatened to sue the state on the basis that the new law violated First Amendment rights and left a “a chilling effect on expressive political, artistic and otherwise lawful speech and also turns political activists, artists and others into criminals.”

“Anyone with an online presence would be quite vulnerable,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee ACLU, who worked this year with Ketron to refashion the law’s language.

“It’s a balancing act any time you’re protecting and insuring the security of individuals against bullying and other types of abuse of speech, but at the same time, protecting the guarantees of freedom of speech,” she said.

Looking back, Ketron says he didn’t realize his bill would cause a free speech uproar.

“It’s a new phenomenon,” Ketron said. “Fifteen years ago, nobody had a fax machine, and now we’re at a point where somebody can actually bully somebody over the Internet.”

Both last year and this year the measure passed with bipartisan support. Questioned in June about the unintended consequences or free-speech-stifling perils of the legislation, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh appeared a little caught off guard and somewhat conflicted.

“We have to reach out and try to rein in some of those things that are clearly not in the best interest of the public,” Fitzhugh said.

At the time Fitzhugh left open the possibility that the General Assembly could revisit the measure. “One of the things we do in in the Legislature is clean up some mistakes we made in the past Legislature,” said the Ripley Democrat.

ACLU: Amended ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Still Sends Wrong Message

Letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee; April 20, 2012:

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill has returned from the dead. Despite numerous reports that Rep. Joey Hensley, the sponsor, was not going to move for a vote on the bill, he did just that. The bill passed the House Education Committee by one vote on 4/17/12.

Whether or not Tennessee is embarrassed nationally for passing a bill that fosters discrimination against LGBT people is now in the hands of the House Calendar and Rules Committee.

Urge committee members to send the discriminatory “Don’t Say Gay” bill back to the Education Committee today.

Though amended, this bill is so tainted by its original wording and intent to ban any discussion of sexual orientation that its passage will still send the wrong message to schoolchildren: that a particular group of people are not worthy of recognition or even mention in their day-to-day lives.

Anti-LGBT bullying is clearly a problem in our schools. Research shows that kids as young as elementary school-age frequently hear the word “gay” used negatively. Do we really want to interfere with educators’ ability to encourage all students to be respectful of one another regardless of sexual orientation—promoting safe schools for all students?

Tell legislators that educators should not be hamstrung in their efforts to address all forms of bigotry and harassment.

Thank you for standing up for the fair treatment of all Tennesseans.

ACLU: ‘Obstacles to Obstetricians’ Bill Blocks Access to Safe Reproductive Health Services

Press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee; April 9, 2012:

The “Obstacles to Obstetricians” bill, up this week, creates a barrier to accessing legal and safe reproductive health services in Tennessee.

Only a very limited number of doctors in Tennessee actually provide abortions, so they often travel outside their home county to deliver care. By requiring physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals—a hurdle not required of doctors performing other surgeries—this bill makes it hard for reproductive doctors to provide services across the state.

Protect reproductive freedom in Tennessee: say no to the “Obstacles to Obstetricians” bill.

The anti-choice intent of this bill is clear from its original wording, which required extensive reporting of information on individual women obtaining abortions and the doctors performing them, requirements that both violated their privacy and could have made them targets for violence.

Though proponents of the bill claimed that such information is already publicly available, this simply isn’t true—the only accessible data describes just the number and location of procedures—very limited records that cannot be used to identify a patient. Though amended, the bill’s original aim to limit reproductive freedom in Tennessee remains.

Tell legislators: doctors should not be hindered in providing a range of reproductive health options to patients.

It’s unfair to place restrictions on doctors providing reproductive healthcare that are not placed on other doctors. This discriminatory treatment is clearly intended to discourage doctors from providing a complete array of reproductive health services.

Urge lawmakers to block the “Obstacles to Obstetricians” bill today.

This bill is one part of an all-out assault on reproductive freedom in Tennessee. Thank you for standing up against government interference in personal, private health care decisions.

Prayer-Around-the-Flagpole Bill Passes Senate

Tennessee senators gave nearly unanimous support Thursday to legislation allowing teachers to participate in student-initiated religious activities on school grounds before or after the instructional day.

The House version of the bill passed several weeks ago with all ayes. Now it heads to the governor’s desk.

Dickson Republican Jim Summerville, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said the bill is probably redundant, adding “superfluous language” to the code, and that it simply affirms teachers’ First Amendment rights.

Rep. Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, brought the bill in response to restrictions imposed by the Cheatham County Board of Education after it reached a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. In its lawsuit, the ACLU said a planned prayer had taken place at a graduation ceremony and that Gideons International had been allowed to distribute Bibles during classes.

An attorney who represented the school board in that case has said that this bill, and others like it, would change nothing about that agreement.

In the Senate Thursday, the lone nay came from Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis. Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, was in the chamber but declined to vote either way. Whether the bill makes any significant change to the current law, Marrero said her vote was a matter of principle.

“I really do believe that we should take our children to the religious institution of our choice on Sunday and that we should guide them in religious instruction in their home,” she said. “But I don’t think that our teachers should be involved in religious instruction of our children.”

Marrero also expressed concern for students who might feel left out if  teachers aligns themselves with students of a certain denomination or religion.

ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg told TNReport in an email that the bill was “unnecessary, overreaching and irresponsible.”

“County school boards are charged with ensuring that students from all faiths can make religious decisions with their families and faith communities, free from fear of coercion by school officials,” she said. “Under the First Amendment, public school staff already have the right to practice their religion, so long as they do it in a way that does not influence students. Therefore, the only purpose for this bill is to open a door to allow school personnel to practice religion in a way that does influence students.”

Weinberg also cited another Tennessee case, Doe v. Wilson County School System, in which Judge Robert Echols wrote, of a National Day of Prayer event, that “young students and their parents understandably could have thought that the teachers and school principal were present as representatives of the school and as such their actions were an endorsement of the religious event.”

Summerville, however, reiterated the bill’s language, which states that such activities must be initiated by students and must not conflict with the “responsibilities or assignments” of school personnel.

ACLU: Anti-Immigrant Bill Will Hurt TN Economy

Statement from American Civil Liberties Union; Jan. 24, 2012: 

As we move into the third week of the legislative session, we are already reviewing a number of bills that undermine fair treatment and due process for immigrants. First up this week: the Arizona-style copycat bill that encourages racial and ethnic profiling will be heard in the House General Subcommittee of Finance, Ways and Means on Wednesday afternoon.

HB 1380/SB780 requires all law enforcement to question the immigration status of any person they stop, regardless of whether the person is actually charged with breaking a law. The bill implies that police will be trained to ask people for their “papers” based on an undefined “reasonable suspicion” that they are in this country unlawfully. The criteria for assessing such a suspicion will inevitably be accent, attire, hair, jewelry or skin color.

Tell your lawmakers that this intolerant bill is completely out of step with our values of fairness and equality.

Economically, this bill will really hurt Tennessee. In addition to the loss of revenue from depressed tourism and economic development, as seen in Arizona, the bill’s fiscal note increases state and local expenditures by nearly $5 million in the first year alone.

Let your representatives know that they should stop wasting money to create a police state based on unconstitutional racial profiling.

Alabama, Tennessee’s neighbor to the south, passed a similarly egregious anti-immigrant bill last year that has faced legal challenges from the ACLU and our allies, as well as the Department of Justice. Additional states that have enacted Arizona-copycat laws such as Utah, Indiana, Georgia and South Carolina, have likewise faced legal challenges and had numerous provisions found unconstitutional. Not only do these laws preempt federal law by misappropriating immigration enforcement as a state power, they offend our values of fair treatment and due process.

Please contact your representative to let him/her know that HB1380/SB780 is bad for Tennessee and that s/he should oppose the legislation.

Thank you for using your voice in support of justice for all.

Hedy Weinberg

Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee