Thursday 25 April 2024

Bill That Would Ban Pride Flags In Schools Fails In GOP-Controlled TN Senate

 The Republican-led Tennessee state Senate failed to pass a bill that would ban the display of ideological and political flags, including Pride flags, in public schools across the state.

Senate Bill 1722 was introduced by Republican state Sen. Joey Hensley and was a companion to a bill that passed the state House with overwhelming support. In a vote on Tuesday in the state Senate, however, SB 1722 failed to reach the required 17 votes for a constitutional majority as 13 lawmakers voted to pass the bill while six voted in opposition. Eight Republicans did not participate in the vote, The Tennessean reported.

SB 1722 “prohibits LEAs [Local Education Agencies] and public charter schools from displaying in public schools flags other than the official United States flag and the official Tennessee state flag.”

Republican state Rep. Gino Bulso introduced the companion bill in the House after parents expressed concern about LGBT Pride flags being displayed in classrooms.

A previous version of the bill allowed for schools to display the American flag, the Tennessee state flag, the POW/MIA flag, and flags such as those that represent Indian tribes, a city, county, or metropolitan government, and an official school flag, among others. But an amendment from Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire was passed by the state Senate on Tuesday prohibiting schools from flying any flags other than the American flag and state flag.

Ultimately, the bill’s passage was blocked as five Democrats and one Republican, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, voted against it, while eight Republicans skipped the vote. McNally said in a statement shared with The Daily Wire that he was concerned about constitutional challenges if the bill became law, such as “an adversarial First Amendment ruling against the state.”

“While Senator Gardenhire’s amendment language was a significant improvement, I believe comments made early in legislative process caused irreparable constitutional damage to the bill in my view,” McNally said. “Several members expressed interest in studying the subject of the bill over the summer in order to avoid a likely constitutional challenge. Because an adversarial First Amendment ruling against the state would be a near certainty if the bill passed, I voted no.”

The Republican senators who did not participate in the vote, according to The Tennessean, included: Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), Sen. Bill Powers (R-Clarksville), Sen. Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro), Sen. John Stevens (R-Huntington), Sen. Page Walley (R-Savannah) Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson).


Sen. Haile told The Daily Wire that he doesn’t want flags that promote “controversial ideologies” in schools, but “legal guidance” from the state’s attorney general showed that there are Constitutional concerns surrounding the bill.

“As a grandfather, I firmly believe political flags promoting controversial ideologies have no place in public schools. As a conservative, I support the legislation in principle, which is why I voted for it in committee. After receiving new legal guidance from the Attorney General, there are constitutional concerns about this legislation and its ability to survive a First Amendment constitutional challenge,” Haile said. “If passed, that legislation would be tied up in court instead of keeping divisive symbols out of the classroom. The best path forward is to continue to work on this issue so that we can pass a constitutionally sound law to ban divisive flags from schools once and for all.”

Haile’s concerns were echoed by Sen. Reeves, who added, “I believe we need a better bill that will withstand court scrutiny.”

Sen. Watson told The Daily Wire in a statement that he did not vote in favor of the bill because it would also prevent the POW/MIA flag from being displayed on school grounds.

“I have a consistent record of supporting veterans and wanted the sponsor to delay moving forward with the bill until we had worked out the deficiency. The sponsor elected to move forward,” Watson said. “I was not going to vote against our veterans, POW and MIA.”

The Daily Wire has reached out requesting comment from each of the Republican state senators who skipped the vote on SB 1722.

Tennessee Republicans’ failure to pass the bill banning Pride flags on school grounds comes the same week the GOP-controlled state legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on school choice legislationthat was pushed by Republican Governor Bill Lee.

Lee said earlier this week that he was “extremely disappointed” that families “will have to wait yet another year for the freedom to choose the right education for their child.”

Lawmakers hope to end the 2024 legislative session this week, and a new General Assembly will be sworn in after the elections this fall.

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