Tag Archives: Tennessee

Laugh? Or Cry??

To pick up a newspaper today is to enter wacko world, where right-wingers’ fears (those “Others” are voting! That means the election is rigged!!) and their obsessions with sex (it’s dirty! protect the children!) are bursting out all over.

I recently stumbled across this report from the Daily Beast, and you really need to read it to believe it. An essay from The Guardian by Arwa Mahdawi captured my reaction:

The latest absurd example of conservative cancel culture comes to us courtesy of Moms for Liberty, a rightwing advocacy group who are trying to dictate what books Tennessee public school kids can read. I don’t know if any of these moms own a dictionary, but they might want to look up the definition of “liberty”. And then they might want to change their name to Moms for Thought Control.

The moms have been very methodical: they’ve sent the Tennessee Department of Education a detailed spreadsheet outlining their complaints about the books being foisted on their children. It makes for unintentionally hilarious reading. A book about Galileo is “anti-church.” A book about seahorses contains too many details about the mating rituals of seahorses. A book about Native Americans is “divisive” and “paints white people in negative light.” A book about Ruby Bridges, the first Black child to integrate an all-white public elementary school, is “divisive.” (Racists love using the word “divisive”, have you noticed? How dare you bring up slavery and segregation! You’re being divisive!) A book about Greek mythology is a little too “graphic and scary”. A book about Martin Luther King contains “photographs of political violence”. The whole thing reads like the unhinged ravings of a book club from hell.

It’s hard not to laugh at this exercise of attempted “cancellation”–especially since one of the many accusations leveled at liberals is that it is the Left that has developed “cancellation culture.” But ultimately, it isn’t funny. It actually is representative of what passes for today’s right wing philosophy.

As Mahdawi points out, this attempts to dictate (okay, censor) the Tennessee curriculum is part of the Right’s frantic effort to rewrite American history. You can see that obsession in the sudden discovery of and opposition to Critical Race Theory (which none of its opponents can define. To them it just means anything that is less than complimentary about white people). Mahdawi notes that at least eight Republican states (including Tennessee) have introduced laws restricting how race can be taught in public schools this year and nearly 20 additional states have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation

Far from being a kooky fringe group, Moms for Liberty are part of a very well-coordinated culture war. Whether it’s abortion or CRT, the playbook is always the same. The rightwing media whips up outrage; deliberately vague laws are passed off the back of that outrage; advocacy groups diligently weaponize these laws at a local level. “We are seeing what appear to be coordinated efforts to challenge books, not purely based on the content of the individual book, but based on the fact that they teach history from a particular viewpoint,” an executive from the National Coalition Against Censorship, told The Daily Beast. “We’re also seeing entire lists of books being challenged, as opposed to individual titles.”

So what’s the moral to this story? Essentially, it’s that you shouldn’t underestimate the right. It’s very easy to laugh at a bunch of rightwing moms clutching their pearls over sexy seahorses – but there’s nothing funny about the systemic, organised way in which conservatives are trying to rewrite history and restrict freedom of speech.

The real threat comes from the tendency of rational folks to dismiss these efforts–to chuckle, shake our heads and ignore it, because “it can’t happen here.” Depending upon your definition of “it,” it can happen here–as we learn more about the Trump effort to overturn the election, we learn how close that effort came and how much lasting damage it did to America’s democratic norms. We may not be quite ready to sew Hester Prynne’s “A” on women’s shirts, but we keep edging closer, and there are active movements to deny LGBTQ citizens a lot more than bakery products, among other efforts to return us to the 1950s. Or before.

These people may be nuts, but in the absence of a robust and determined protection of our rights, lunatics can be very effective.

 

Can Anyone Explain This?

Scott DesJarlais is a rabidly pro-life congressman from a reliably red district in Tennessee. He’s also a doctor who cheated on his wife with at least two of his patients, and was caught on tape encouraging one of them to have an abortion. In a rational world, you’d expect him to lose the primary election following those revelations. You’d be wrong.

I’ll let Ed Brayton (Dispatches from the Culture Wars) take it from here…

“Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who pressured a woman—one of two patients he admitted having affairs with—to get an abortion in the 1990s, appears to have narrowly avoided becoming the fourth Republican incumbent to lose a primary this year. With 100 percent of precincts reporting on Thursday, he led state Sen. Jim Tracy by 35 votes—34,787 to 34,752. (The results are not official and a recount is possible, although the state has no law mandating one in such circumstances.) The abortion revelation emerged after DesJarlais’ 2012 primary, when the only thing standing between him and reelection in the deeply Republican district was a token Democratic candidate in the general election.

But after his reelection, the dominoes continued to fall. Divorce transcripts released two weeks after the race revealed that he and his first wife had decided to abort two pregnancies. That proved a problem for the congressman, who is adamantly pro-life: Per his website, “Congressman DesJarlais believes that all life should be cherished and protected. He has received a 100% score by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the oldest and the largest national pro-life organization in the United States.”

My favorite part of this was that his opponent put out an ad calling attention to DesJarlais’ hypocrisy and this was his response:

DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson called the piece “just the sort of disgusting gutter politics we’d expected from [U.S. House Democratic leader] Nancy Pelosi and her allies in Washington.”

Yeah, that’s disgusting. No, not the fact that he cheated on his wife multiple times despite his allegedly “pro-family” principles. Not the fact that he did it with his patients, which can get your medical license yanked and is probably the single biggest ethical breach a doctor can make. Not the fact that he encouraged one of his mistresses to get an abortion despite his self-declared opposition to abortion. No, it’s disgusting to point out that vile behavior. But remember, DesJarlais is exactly the kind of guy who lectures liberals about moral relativism and says his religious values guide him.

If those things don’t disqualify you from winning an election full of allegedly pro-family, pro-life voters, what the hell could possibly do so?

My question exactly.

 

 

 

Religious Warfare

File under: “Rights for me but not for thee.”

Residents of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, have spent the last four years fighting to prevent construction of mosque. According to a story in Religion News,

Hundreds marched in protest after Rutherford County officials approved plans for the mosque in 2010. Televangelist Pat Robertson labeled the Islamic center a “mega mosque” and claimed Muslims were taking over Murfreesboro. An arsonist set fire to construction equipment on the building site.

Mosque opponents eventually filed a suit against Rutherford County, seeking to block construction of the worship space.

What reports have called a “thriving anti-Muslim movement” in Tennessee fueled the fight, with opponents of the Mosque asserting that the First Amendment’s religious freedom guarantees don’t apply to Muslims–that they only apply to Christians.

Joe Brandon Jr., a lawyer for mosque opponents, went so far as to claim that Islam is not a religion, and that the mosque would be a threat to the community.

I guess the residents of Murfreesboro define “liberty” as “rights for folks like me.”

Think about Murfreesboro the next time a pious apologist claims that religion is a force for good.

Perhaps Jesus was all about love, but a significant percentage of his followers are all about fear and hate.

 

 

A Question of Professionalism

First there were the laws that allowed pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for legal medications that violated their religious beliefs.

Now, Tennessee and several other states are considering legislation that would protect social workers and mental health professionals who turn away suicidal clients when those clients’ “life styles” offend the provider’s religious beliefs. If the suffering client is gay, or divorced, or otherwise not up to the “moral standards” prescribed by the counselor’s religion, the proposed law protects the “professional” who refuses help against liability for the results of that refusal.

I’d be tempted to ask the sponsor of this measure if he really believes that Jesus would approve of turning away people in pain–especially those at risk of suicide– but that’s beside the point. The personal religious beliefs of a professional are also beside the point. We expect a “pro life” policeman to arrest arsonists, even if those arsonists are burning down an abortion clinic. We expect public school teachers to instruct all the children in their classrooms whether or not they approve of a particular child’s gay parents. Most of us would be appalled if an emergency room doctor refused to treat a badly beaten prostitute because his religion taught that she “had it coming.”

Professionalism requires adherence to the norms of that profession. People who are unwilling to accept those norms and act accordingly need to find different careers.