Tennessee lawmakers may soon consider a bill that would allow students to express their religious-based views on homosexuality, despite protests from gay rights groups that the measure would increase persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.
David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), says the state’s current anti-bullying legislation does not protect students from expressing their religious view on homosexuality.
Fowler, a former lawmaker, vowed to re-introduce amendments to the current anti-bullying legislation after a similar movement was defeated last year.
"We plan to press the legislature to amend our state’s school anti-bullying law to make sure it protects the religious liberty and free speech rights of students who want to express their views on homosexuality," Fowler wrote in FACT’s December newsletter.
The debate has increased in intensity following the suicide of an openly gay Tennessee high school student last month. Jacob Rodgers left a note explaining the reasons for his suicide – substance abuse, family insecurity – but did not say bullying was a factor in his decision.
That fact is lost on pro-gay groups, Fowler said in a Dec. 28 address on FACT’s website.
"The notes the young man left behind mentioned many challenges – his mother leaving him, his alcohol and drug abuse, and an eating disorder – but nothing about bullying. However, homosexual rights groups have made it all about his homosexuality," the address said.
Fowler mentioned that suicide is a tragedy regardless of the source and that lawmakers should work to find the cause of suicide, not limit the freedoms of others.
"The larger lesson here is that these tragedies are often the rotten fruit of the all-about-me, individualistic culture that comes when we deny the existence of God and his image in us," Fowler said.
Gay rights group Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) issued a statement calling the proposed legislation "a movement to make public schools less safe for our children."
"The religious liberty and free speech rights of students are already protected by the U.S. Constitution," the statement said. "This legislation would give special protections to students of a particular religious point of view. If made into law, FACT would give students a 'license to bully' that allows them to hide their irrational biases behind an extreme religious belief.”
Tenn. Rep. John Ragan, who serves on the House Education Committee, called into question the motivation of Rodgers’ suicide and lambasted media members and gay rights groups for manipulating data.
"Could the high school senior’s suicide have had more to do with his own proclivities and behavior than anything to do with schoolmate bullies or a bill that was discussed, but not acted on, in a legislative committee?" Ragan said in a correspondence with TEP.
Despite saying students should be granted their "religious liberty [to] express their views on homosexuality," Fowler says it is un-Christian to bully anyone.
"I can't think of anyone who holds to true Christianity that finds it appropriate to slur people and justify it as consistent with their Christianity," Fowler told Times Free Press.
The Tennessee bill was defeated last year, but has been reintroduced for discussion in the state’s House of Representatives.