More than 100 clergy across Tennessee have signed on to a statement opposing six bills before the state’s General Assembly described as the 2019 “slate of hate.”
The faith leaders say the group of bills in the Republican-controlled legislature “promote discrimination rather than justice and demean the worth of LGBTQ people in our state.”
Signatories include Amy Mears and April Baker, co-pastors of Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, a congregation affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.
The cluster of proposed bills would allow adoption agencies to deny services to couples for religious reasons, forbid the government from taking “discriminatory action” against businesses that discriminate, direct the attorney general to defend schools sued for requiring students to use the restroom corresponding with their sex at birth and establish policy to define marriage as between a man and a woman despite any court decision to the contrary.
Three of the sponsors are Southern Baptists.
Rep. John Ragan, a member of Grace Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, sponsors a bill that would require agencies to accommodate “sincerely held religious beliefs” of agencies that provide adoptions services.
Rep. Andy Holt, a deacon at Long Heights Baptist Church in McKenzie, Tennessee, is co-sponsor of House Bill 1274, which would defend local education agencies sued for “adoption of a policy or practice designed to protect the privacy of students from exposure to others of the opposite biological sex in situations where students may be in various states of undress by designating multi-person locker rooms, restrooms, or other facilities for use based only on one’s biological sex.”
Rep. Jerry Sexton, member and former pastor of Noeton Baptist Church in Bean Station, Tennessee, is one of two House sponsors of Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act. The bill would establish heterosexual unions as “the only legally recognized marital contract in this state” and declare Obergefell v. Hodges — the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage as a fundamental right — as “unauthoritative, void and of no effect” to the people of Tennessee.
Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project — the group that circulated the clergy statement — said all six bills “attack our marriages, ability to form families, exist in public spaces, and they even undermine our ability to advocate with our own city governments for protection against discrimination.”
“All of them strike at the dignity of LGBTQ people in Tennessee,” said Sanders, who holds the master-of-divinity degree from Vanderbilt University. “Adopting any of them would do lasting damage.”
The targeted bills mirror model legislation in “Project Blitz,” a 148-page playbook promoting socially conservative state laws compiled by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, National Legal Foundation, and WallBuilders, a national organization founded by David Barton, an evangelical political activist and author, advancing the idea that the United States was founded as an explicitly Christian nation and rejecting the notion of the separation of church and state.
In February the Alliance of Baptists and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty joined other organizations in a statement warning lawmakers about Project Blitz, calling it “a new and coordinated national effort to enshrine Christian nationalism in state laws across the country.”