Bible-Thumping TN Lawmaker Can’t Answer Basic Church/State Separation Question March 31, 2021

Bible-Thumping TN Lawmaker Can’t Answer Basic Church/State Separation Question

I posted last month about how Tennessee State Rep. Jerry Sexton was on a mission to make the Bible the official state book.

He’s been trying to do this for years, but always failed because he’s basically a walking talking human failure. He’s such a failure that even the state’s Republican attorney general has told him this is blatantly unconstitutional. But he’s still going at it.

(Also on Sexton’s agenda? Giving fathers veto power over their daughters’ abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.)

Anyway, the Democrats are outnumbered in the Tennessee legislature, so there’s not much they can do to stop this bill — and no one’s expecting Republicans to do anything sensible — but Democratic State Rep. Johnny Shaw at least tried to get his colleague on the record on Monday about basic American values regarding church and state.

Sexton, as expected, failed the test.

SHAW: Do you believe that there’s a separation of church and state?

SEXTON: I’ll answer that question if you’ll tell me where… separation [of church] and state is in any of our founding documents in the United States government, in any of our founding fathers that have used that to found this nation and our Constitution. I’ll be glad to answer that when you show me where that is in our founding documents.

SHAW: Maybe I should put it this way: Do you believe that the government should dictate the U.S. to when to go to worship and when not to?

SEXTON: No, I voted for the bill tonight to not shut down churches.

SHAW: Well, then how can we make the Bible a state book if the Bible… if we can’t be obedient to what men and women say in our lives who are supposed to be… if you will, conducting us in the right way. For instance, the Bible says that obedience is better than a sacrifice. It didn’t say you shouldn’t obey your government. If you go to Romans, Romans says obey your government! So I’m confused as to how we’re going to make the Bible a state book, but we don’t disobey the same government that we make the Bible the book of.

Shaw’s responses aren’t exactly quotable. But Sexton’s answers were absurd. A lot of phrases don’t appear in the Constitution even if we think of them as constitutional principles; it doesn’t mean the concepts are illegitimate. The Freedom From Religion Foundation responds to that stale talking point this way:

The phrase, “a wall of separation between church and state,” was coined by President Thomas Jefferson in a carefully crafted letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, when they had asked him to explain the First Amendment. The Supreme Court, and lower courts, have used Jefferson’s phrase repeatedly in major decisions upholding neutrality in matters of religion. The exact words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the Constitution; neither do “separation of powers,” “interstate commerce,” “right to privacy,” and other phrases describing well-established constitutional principles.

Also, of course, the First Amendment says there can be no establishment of religion by the government. Forcing the Bible upon everyone as the quintessential state book, using weak arguments as to why the Bible is uniquely important to Tennessee, is easily an advertisement for Christianity.

Sexton doesn’t understand the law… which is bad since that’s his job. But he definitely wants to change it in a way that benefits his religion and not other ones. And since he doesn’t have any good reasons for it, he’s using the same-old Christian Right propaganda that’s never made any sense but continues to get paraded around as if it means the government can promote Christianity whenever it wants.

(via Raw Story. Thanks to Brian for the link)

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