Baptist legislator vows to fight ACLU “threat”

Tennessee state legislator Rep. Eric Watson, in an opinion column at The, warns his minions that “The American Civil Liberties Union is at it again.” Watson, who holds a Masters degree (summa cum laude) from Andersonville Theological Seminary, elaborates:

The ACLU has brought lawsuits against local school boards in Tennessee, with the intent to limit students and teachers rights regarding religion. If you have attended any school related events lately, you may have noticed in some cases the prayer has been replaced by a “moment of reflection” or a “moment of silence.” In one school system, which has been under attack by the ACLU, feed-up parents [sic] began reciting the Lord’s Prayer prior to a football game and the entire stadium participated.

Strangely, Watson forgets to tell us what the specific issues might have been in any of these ACLU lawsuits (though he does mention at least one case in which the US Supreme Court agreed that the school was specifically seeking to establish religion, in direct violation of the First Amendment). Nor does he cite any particular cases in which he thinks the ACLU is acting to “limit students and teachers rights regarding religion.” Instead, he suggests that perhaps the time might have come for the Christian majority to rise up and do something to prevent the ACLU from being able to file lawsuits against schools that try to establish religion despite the Constitution.

One of my general rules is local school boards should control education policy. However, it may be time to lay down some restrictions on the ACLU’s ability to dictate school board policy through aggressive lawsuits. Here is the problem; local school boards have limited funds. When the ACLU files a lawsuit, it is easy for local schools boards to react in panic and begin changing local policy to avoid or settle lawsuits. This area of the law isn’t clearly defined.

I’m not sure which areas of the law Rep. Watson thinks need more “definition.” Is it unclear to him that the courts ought to be getting involved when school boards seek to violate the First Amendment? Or is he, perhaps, seeking to define some kind of loophole that will allow Christian supremacists an exception so they can legally trample the First Amendment rights of public school students? Maybe someone needs to define for him the concept that school boards can avoid lawsuits by taking the politically-incorrect step of, you know, obeying the law?

You can read the whole article if you like, but you may find it a bit disappointing. He doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what the problem really is, beyond a general feeling of resentment and frustration whenever the ACLU puts a stop to state-sponsored favoritism for Christian supremacists. Nor does he even seem to have any specific ideas about how to achieve his goals. In the end, he seems to be leaving it up to his constituents to come up with ideas for how to fight against those who stand up for the First Amendment.

Then again, maybe this is just a good way to get votes: complain about the “problem” so that the yokels know you’re a good ol’ boy, but then don’t really do anything about it, so that you can keep using the ACLU as a dog whistle. Hey, it’s worked before.


  1. Gregory says

    Never mind the fact that the ACLU has often come out on the side of Christians who really are being denied their First Amendment rights. For example, they sided with Alma Lovell in Lovell v. Griffin, which overturned a city ordinance requiring a permit to distribute literature such as religious tracts. The ACLU was also instrumental in Martin v. Struthers, which upheld the right to go proselytizing door-to-door and Cantwell v. Connecticut, which upheld the right to preach on street corners. They successfully defended the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket military funerals. They defended students in several schools around the country when the districts tried to ban the wearing of rosaries. They defended Christian students in Floyd County (Virginia) High School who had been ordered by the school to remove copies of the Ten Commandments from inside their personal lockers. They have written countless briefs in support of the religious rights of prisoners, including many Christians, who had been denied access to religious services, scriptures and ministers. They have sided with churches in numerous lawsuits when the church was ordered not to distribute food to the homeless or denied zoning permission for new buildings and offices. And that is just a sample; see here.

    The perceived “threat” of the ACLU to these wanna-be theocrats is that they insist on rights for EVERYONE, not just special priviledges to a subset of Christians.

  2. The Lorax says

    It’s interesting to use the excuse, “don’t drag poor educational institutions into a lawsuit, since they can’t fight it, thus they will by necessity cave.” I’ve heard it applied to a great many other things.

    But, yeah. First Amendment pretty much takes care of all of that. Funny, that law has been on the books for over 200 years and people still don’t know that it’s there.

    • Len says

      “don’t drag poor educational institutions into a lawsuit, since they can’t fight it, thus they will by necessity cave.”

      It also gives those “poor educational institutions” a way out when they’re challenged for breaking the law (which obviously comes as a surprise to them). They can’t afford to fight the lawsuit, so they are “forced” to back down – without the lawsuit being tested in court and showing that they acted wrongly.

  3. Brian F says

    It pleased me greatly to see that the only three responses in The to Rep. Watson were telling him to get his head out of his fundamentalist Christian ass.

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