Road-Tripping With Jesus? 6 Batsh*t Crazy Right-Wing GOP State Bills
While the national press focuses on the shenanigans in Washington, DC with the new Republican-controlled Congress, GOP-led state legislatures continue pushing bills that can variously be described as pernicious, contemptible or outright absurd.
Here are five recent areas where state legislation has pushed the boundaries of either constitutional permissibility or common sense.
1. We Don’t Need No Education
Oklahoma made headlines last week when a legislative committee voted 11 to 4 in favor of a bill that would ban the teaching of Advanced Placement U.S. History in the state’s public schools. Conservatives are concerned that the classwork focuses too much on teaching “what is bad about America” and is not patriotic enough.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dan Fisher, specifically chastised the AP course for not teaching American exceptionalism. In place of the old curriculum, Fisher’s bill pushes AP classes to teach his own idea of the country’s “foundational documents,” a list that includes the Ten Commandments and speeches by both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
A similar effort to kill AP U.S. History in Colorado last year faltered after students staged walk-outs to protest being force-fed an idealized story of our nation similar to the one pushed by Fisher. In response to pushback in his state, which included a poll showing 96 percent of Oklahoma’s parents and students opposed his efforts, the legislator pulled his bill. He now says he will rework it because the language was “poorly worded” and “ambiguous.”
It remains to be see if the failed efforts to ban the class in Colorado and Oklahoma will have any bearing on similar efforts in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where bills to rewrite AP U.S. History standards have been debated for months.
2. Science and You
Georgia also might have an issue with science education, if state Rep. Tom Kirby (R) is any indication. Concerned that disease research that has resulted in the creation of glow-in-the-dark jellyfish could spin out of control, Kirby recently introduced a bill in the legislature that would make it illegal for scientists and medical researchers to use DNA “to create a human-animal hybrid.”
As few people are aware that scientists apparently are trying to grow a mermaid in a lab, Kirby expounded on his bill by telling an Atlanta TV station that while he has nothing against humans developing the ability to fly, it has to be “a natural genetic mutation,” and not some freakish artificial grafting of wings onto a live human like some airborne Frankenstein. Because that would be crazy.
Kirby also let the reporter for WMAZ Channel 13 know that he has nothing personally against centaurs and werewolves if they exist in the wild; he’s simply opposed to scientists accidentally creating one while mixing animal and human DNA in research to fight diseases. Which is totally a thing that could happen.
Someone in Georgia, please take Rep. Kirby aside and explain that The Island of Dr. Moreau was not a documentary.
3. Road Tripping With Jesus
Mississippi is near the bottom of states in so many quality-of-life rankings it is practically a national punchline. Instead of fixing its schools or reducing its poverty rate (the highest in the nation), the legislature recently tackled the pressing issue of congregants not being able to drive their church’s mid-sized buses because they lack a commercial driver’s license.
Current state law requires anyone driving a vehicle that holds more than 16 people to hold a CDL. The new law would exempt any church buses that can hold 30 or fewer passengers. Any other business or school in Mississippi that uses one of these vehicles would still need to have a CDL-certified driver.
One long-time CDL holder told the Clarion-Ledger the bill is “potentially dangerous,” as these 30-passenger buses have “long frames and much larger blind spots” than smaller vans. But who cares when there are church events to be attended? No wonder one lawmaker dubbed this bill the “Jesus Take the Wheel Act.”
Guess Mississippi won’t be doing anything about that number-two-in-traffic-fatalities-per-capita ranking anytime soon.
4. At Least They Are Encouraging Reading
Mississippi was also recently vying with Louisiana and Tennessee to become the first state to name the Bible the official state book. While one might think this would violate the First Amendment charge that government should not favor one religion over another, the Mississippi lawmakers who introduced the bill said it would be “completely symbolic” and not infringe on anyone’s right to the free exercise of religion.
While that bill failed to make it out of committee in the Mississippi legislature, Tennessee Rep. Jerry Sexton was not deterred. He recently filed a similar bill with his state’s legislature. One of his colleagues, Rep. James Van Huss also filed a religiously themed bill that would amend the state constitution to place God above governmental authorities. Which is fine if you live in a theocracy, which Tennessee is not. Yet.
Van Huss’ proposed language for the constitution would state: “We recognize that our liberties do not come from government, but from Almighty God, our Creator and Savior.” One can envision all sorts of future problems when state laws collide with this language. For example, does it turn any Tennesseans who do not worship the Judeo-Christian god, such as Muslims and atheists, into second-class citizens? And what happens when laws written under the new, more religious state constitution come into conflict with the more secular federal one? Because the country already fought a war about that little nullification issue, which Tennessee should remember.
5. Aim High
Van Huss is also responsible for a bill to designate an official state gun for Tennessee. Currently, six other states have an official state firearm, usually guns that have an historic connection to the state. Utah’s state gun is the M1911 pistol, which was designed by Utah native John Browning and was the official sidearm of the American military for 75 years. Arizona’s state gun, the Colt Single Action Army pistol, the military’s standard sidearm from 1872 to 1892, was considered the most obvious “Old West” gun to represent a state that was carved out of a hostile frontier during that era.
The proposed Tennessee state gun is the Barrett Model 82A1, a .50-caliber semi-automatic whose connection to the state is that it is manufactured in Murfreesboro. The Model 82A1 is what is known in the military as an “anti-materiel rifle,” which means it is designed to be used against structures like radar stations or lightly armored vehicles. That does not preclude using it against human targets, to which its .50 BMG bullets can do horrific damage.
One can argue that having the M1911 and Colt Single Action Army pistols as state symbols is problematic enough, considering the uses those guns were put to in pacifying both the Wild West in America and various foreign lands. But the Barrett Model 82A1 is still being used by United States as well as militaries and police forces all over the world. It is a particularly ugly weapon for a state to call its own.
6. Guns on Campus
At least Tennessee has not gotten in on the movement to allow college students to carry guns on campus, perhaps because its last attempt at passing such a bill failed in 2011. But 10 other states are working on such bills. The two most notable are in Florida and Nevada.
The justification behind these bills is ostensibly that arming female students would lead to a reduction in the large number of sexual assaults that take place on college campuses every year. Or, as Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore put it to the New York Times: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”
It’s not hard to see the problems in Fiore’s proposal. For one thing, allowing concealed carry on campuses means that potential rapists would also be armed. For another, statistics show that anywhere from two-thirds to 80 percent of campus sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and may consider a friend, which might make her less willing to grab a gun and start shooting. Plus it puts the onus of preventing rape on women instead of the actual rapists.
But the biggest issue may be that colleges are already hotbeds of binge drinking and loosened inhibitions for young people who still have not matured enough to make smart decisions. Adding firearms to this mixture seems like a recipe for disaster.
Still, there is a good chance that with the advances the all-armed-all-the-time crowd has made in the last few years, at least some of these 10 states will soon loosen restrictions on campus gun bans. Which will do nothing to lessen the dangers for some people on campuses, and will likely even increase them.
Welcome to the far right’s America.