Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Feds Charge Texan for Bomb Threat to Murfreesboro Mosque

A Texas man has been indicted for threatening to bomb a planned Muslim community center in Murfreesboro.

Law enforcement say Javier Alan Correa, 24, of Corpus Christi, called the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro on Sept. 5, 2011, and said there was a bomb in the building that would explode on the anniversary of Sept. 11.

He has been charged with intentionally obstructing a free exercise of religion by threat of force and with using an instrument of interstate commerce to threaten to destroy a building with explosives, said Jerry Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.

Although Correa has not been taken into custody, the U.S. Attorney’s office is in communication with his legal counsel to discuss surrender, Martin said.

If convicted, Correa faces up to 20 years in prison.

The mosque’s approval in 2010 sparked protests and a lawsuit, even as construction has moved forward at the site southeast of Murfreesboro. A judge earlier this month ruled that the public notice for a meeting to approve the construction plans was inadequate, which has put in limbo plans to have a first section of the building open in time for Ramadan at the end of July.

Federal investigators are also still looking into an incident of arson at the site in 2010.

“These despicable acts are not only illegal, but are also completely contrary to our American way of life,” Martin said. “So let there be no question. If you interfere with anyone’s constitutionally guaranteed right to worship and assemble, you will face federal prosecution and severe penalties.”

In Nov. 2010, the Department of Justice also filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in relation to the ongoing lawsuit, in which plaintiffs had asserted that Islam is not a legitimate religion.

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Vanderbilt Should Voluntarily End ‘All Comers’ Policy: Haslam

People are right to condemn Vanderbilt University for concocting an anti-discrimination policy that seems prejudiced against students seeking to assemble with others who share their religious beliefs, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Thursday.

But Haslam said he still plans to veto a controversial bill the state Legislature passed recently that prohibits public colleges from enacting so-called “all comers” rules that require groups using campus facilities to accept as members and leaders anyone who expresses interest in joining, regardless of whether they embrace the group’s mission and values. The sticking point for Haslam is that the legislation also specifically includes Vanderbilt, a private university that accepts millions in state taxpayer dollars to provide medical care to the poor.

Conservatives who value limited government should resist assuming government has the legitimate authority to dictate operating policies to private establishments, said Haslam.

“I think Vanderbilt should do away with the policy. I don’t think it makes sense. I don’t think it’s fair. I really don’t,” he told reporters after a ceremonial bill signing at Brick Church Middle School in Nashville Thursday.

“But I don’t think the remedy for that is the state telling them, as a private institution, what they should do,” Haslam said.

Three dozen members of Congress — including four from Tennessee — sent a letter to the university urging it to abandon the “all comers” policy. The letter said the members, who belong to the Congressional Prayer Caucus, “are deeply troubled that Vanderbilt would use its freedom as a private institution to create a nondiscrimination policy that discriminates against religious student groups.”

Leadership at the university is “two-faced on this issue,” said Rep. Bill Dunn who sponsored language in the bill singling out Vanderbilt’s policy.

“In my view, they don’t really mind if this protects religious groups. But if this affects their fraternities and sororities, they might actually feel some pain,” said Dunn, a Knoxville Republican.

As of this posting, Haslam has yet to veto the bill, HB3597, although he told reporters Thursday “I haven’t changed my mind.” The hold up, he said, was the bill took a while to land on his desk. According to the General Assembly’s website, the legislation was sent to the governor Wednesday.


Perry’s Prayer Event Won’t Have Haslam

Gov. Bill Haslam has gotten attention for not having plans to attend an Aug. 6 prayer rally in Houston hosted by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the American Family Association — an event that has drawn criticism for AFA’s anti-gay activism.

Haslam and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were also noted in a report in the Washington Independent for their decision to skip the event at Reliant Stadium. The American Family Association is known for advocating Christian values but has become controversial in part because of its strong stand against homosexuals.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are the only governors scheduled to attend with Perry thus far. The event — titled, “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis” — is billed as a day of prayer and fasting. Perry has invited all of the nation’s governors to the event.

The Independent report referred to a Haslam staffer saying the governor has a prior commitment, which was unidentified. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has also been noted for having no plans to attend, as have Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Perry is a source of speculation about a potential run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. He is chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Haslam was criticized by GLBT advocates in May for signing a bill from the Tennessee General Assembly that prohibits local governments from imposing anti-discrimination practices in ways that go beyond state law. Nashville’s Metro Council had approved an ordinance that required city contractors to follow rules against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Haslam headed a group of state leaders at an annual prayer breakfast in Nashville in April. That event was held at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena.

Perry’s invitation to The Response says, “As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.”

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McWherter, Haslam Denounce Mosque Fire, Laud Zoning

Both major party candidates for Tennessee governor denounced the burning of construction equipment at the site of a new mosque in Murfreesboro over the weekend.

And both also reiterated earlier statements that local zoning officials should decide if and where controversial building occurs.

Candidates Mike McWherter, a Democrat, and Bill Haslam, a Republican, addressed the issue Tuesday night at a “Student Town Hall” forum sponsored by Tennessee First Lady Andrea Conte.

Asked how “as governor (he) would balance freedom of religion with concerns about security,” McWherter said that while he’s a “huge proponent of religious freedom” he “understand(s) the constraints and problems you have when you locate an institution like that inside of a quiet neighborhood.”

“As a community you ought to be able to have some zoning restrictions, and make sure that the house you bought is something that you can continue to resell, and will not disturb your neighborhood,” he continued.

McWherter, a businessman from Jackson, went on to denounce the perpetrators of the crime, calling it an “atrocity.”

Responding to a question from a reporter outside the forum later, Haslam took a similar tack.

“No one should condone what’s just happened, OK. It’s just not acceptable in any way, and those folks should be found and appropriately punished,” said the Knoxville mayor.

On the issue of whether the mosque should be built, Haslam said it is a “local land-use issue.”

“As somebody who has been a mayor, I didn’t want the state or federal government telling us what to do,” he said. “That’s where you follow constitutional guidelines and local land-use planning and you let the local land-use people decide.”

Federal law enforcement agencies are investigating the setting ablaze of a piece of earth-moving equipment in the early morning hours of Aug. 28 at the location of a proposed 52,000-square-foot Islamic religious center in Rutherford County.

A local FBI official was quoted by CNN as saying that while the the cause of the fire is believed to have been arson, “We have no reason to think it’s a hate crime.”

A statement issued by an Islamic Center of Murfreesboro spokewoman Monday declared “we feel heartbroken that we have been a victim of yet another shameful crime, however, we are grateful to the majority members of this community who expressed their support.”

“We believe that this event was instigated by the hate campaign that our Muslim community has been subjected to recently,” the release continued.

Transparency and Elections

Ramsey Talks Issues, Takes Calls in Teleconference

Republican gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told Tennessee voters in a “teleforum” Tuesday night that Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp would have a “huge learning curve” if elected.

Ramsey said he himself is best positioned to lead the state as governor on day one after taking office.

“We’ve been going at this for 15 months,” Ramsey said of the campaign. “I’ve gotten to know all the candidates very well. I hope you will examine the issues. For 18 years, we have been one of the best run states in the union, and I’ve had something to do with that.”

Dispelling any notion that he would consider leaving the race to prevent a victory for Haslam in the three-way contest for the Republican nomination, Ramsey said he is in the race for the “long haul.” Ramsey said he had momentum in the race for the Aug. 5 primary with early voting to begin July 16.

The lieutenant governor spoke at length about his religious convictions during the sweeping hour-long telephone town hall conference with callers from across the state.

Ramsey fielded more than 20 calls on issues as broad as how he would shrink state government to his opposition to a universal pre-K program. As for Wamp, Ramsey said, “People are realizing this is not the year to say ‘I’m from Washington and I’m here to help.'”

Ramsey reiterated many of the same items he routinely describes in his political stump speech, but if there was an expansive new front to reveal about himself it was his personal religious beliefs in response to a caller who wanted to know about Ramsey’s faith.

“I am a Christian,” he said. “I grew up in a Presbyterian church. My wife and I got married in a Christian church. I got saved at about 12 years old at a Presbyterian church. I remember that well, that revival. I’m very active in my church when I’m home at a United Methodist church now. Not a day goes by I don’t don’t pray and ask for guidance.

“When I’m presiding in the state Senate, I have a little pocket cross. I carry it with me all the time. Before I give a speech, before I do anything, I kind of reach down in my pocket and rub that a little bit to remind you that God is in charge. And I do believe now God has me exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

Ramsey said when he hits the shower in the morning he says a prayer to ask for guidance.

“I believe this is a Christian nation that was founded on Christian beliefs,” he said. “Jesus Christ is my lord and savior, and I’m not ashamed to talk about that. I’m not ashamed to talk about that at all. I do believe this country needs to go back to God and make sure we have that in our daily life to solve lots of problems in Tennessee.”

Ramsey said he thought Haslam is a “good Christian family man,” but he said Haslam’s core political convictions are something he worries about, referring especially to a property tax increase Haslam implemented when he took office in Knoxville.

“The next governor is going to have to think outside the box. We don’t have a choice, to be honest,” Ramsey said, pointing to the fact federal stimulus funds will dry up when the next governor takes office. “I’m in this every day. We’re going to have about a billion dollars disappear next year. I’m prepared on day one to tackle this. Neither one of my opponents can say this. They will have a huge learning curve. They will need to have on-the-job training. I’m the one who will not need that.”

Ramsey also conducted a poll of his audience on what participants in the teleforum cared about most when they decide to vote. In a multiple choice survey, with five different issues to consider, he announced the results, with the desire for smaller government receiving 30 percent of the vote, just ahead of jobs and the economy at 29 percent, followed by immigration 20 percent, right to life 13 percent and Second Amendment rights 8 percent.

When a caller asked how Ramsey would reduce the size of government, he said he would combine the Department of Human Services with the Department of Children’s Services and put the Department of Labor and Workforce Development with Economic and Community Development, pointing to the need to train workers for the jobs the state is recruiting. Along those lines, he emphasized the need to focus on the state’s community colleges. He reiterated his idea of using local health departments to handle more primary care and said his experience of being in the Legislature for 18 years positions him to refashion government.

“You have to work with the Legislature. I know them on a personal basis and you have to work with them to get 50 votes in the House and 17 in the Senate, but neither one of my opponents can say that,” Ramsey said. “They have not been in the government and been able to get to know these people and get bills passed like I do.”

In response to a question about pre-kindergarten, Ramsey said he is the only candidate willing to talk openly about not favoring universal pre-K. He said statistics show that certain at-risk children benefit from pre-K education, but he does not believe in pre-K for all children, which some people consider as government babysitting.

“It’s a colossal waste of money. I’m the only one to say that publicly,” Ramsey said. He said Gov. Phil Bredesen was “dead set” on universal pre-K but a 19-14 Republican majority in the Senate and the struggling economy stopped that plan.