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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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.

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