by Steven Hale
State legislatures are, generally speaking, horrible places.
For all the necessary functions they perform, these houses of state government often serve as incubators for depraved minds and rotten ideas (whether they come from legislators themselves or a no-assembly-required ALEC package). In fairness, that's probably been said about newspapers. But in the confines of the statehouse, these pieces of intellectual excrement are formalized, filed and given a fair chance of becoming laws. This is bad.
You know this, of course. For the last several years, Tennessee has been a leading leader among the country's batshit factories. Last year, in fact, Mother Jones ranked our legislature No. 1 on a list of the 50 Worst State Legislatures. (Get it? They're all bad.)
Still, we're honor-bound to tell you what they're up to. So in an effort to do that, while also sequestering some mind-numbing ideas with the hope of protecting the occasional important discussion that goes on around here, we introduce Tennessee's Legislative Stupidity Index©. Using the LSI, we'll rate legislative proposals according to their relative stupidity on the following scale: Not Stupid; A Little Stupid; Half Stupid; A Lot Stupid; and Full Stupid. Consider this our attempt to jump on the grenade. We're over-thinking this stuff so you don't have to.
Without further ado, we kick things off after the jump, with the latest proposal from...oh come on you know.SB1425: The Merry Christmas bill.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield (aka The Red-Headed Strange) is at it again with a bill that would allow schools to "educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations" and allow students and staff "to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations" including "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukkah" and "Happy holidays." The bill would also allow schools to display things like a menorah or a nativity scene, so long as the display includes more than one religion or a "secular scene or symbol." Lastly, the bill stipulates that such a display "may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief."
Why It's Some Stupid: Like so many bills that crop up in our legislative briar patch, this bill solves a problem that doesn't really exist. Campfield says his bill is aimed at stopping "silly lawsuits" about holiday greetings and symbols. And yet he admits to Tom Humphrey (Pause here for another reason why state legislatures and stupid bills are stupid: Tom Humphrey is a veteran not-stupid guy who should not have to write about this) that he's not aware of such a lawsuit in Tennessee. If there is a War On Christmas — and there is not — it's not being waged in our state.
Whether it's intentional or not, this talk about holiday greetings serves as a play-action pass for the more substantial goal of affixing religious symbols to civic institutions (a la the bill signed by Gov. Bill Haslam last year, that allows counties to display the Ten Commandments on public buildings). Instead of working to keep government out of religion (a worthy goal for people of all religious persuasions) religious conservatives keep trying to force religion into government, apparently in the service of the notion that we live in a Christian Nation (no matter what the First Amendment may say).
Lastly, instead of being outraged at the idea that public schools should avoid displaying cheap, plastic nativity scenes on their property, why isn't Campfield outraged at the fact that there are so many cheap, plastic nativity scenes for sale? Why is the separation of church and state more upsetting to some than the corporate co-opting and commercialization of days and symbols that are sacred to so many? That's stupid.
Also, first bill out of the chute? Really, Senator?
Why It's Not More Stupid: Because, frankly, though the length of this post may not show it, we can't really work up too much outrage about this. In principal, we see the problem with giving expressions of religious belief a government stamp of approval. But let's be real: the words Merry Christmas are arguably secular at this point. (See the point above about how the holiday has been culturally co-opted.) The teacher saying "Merry Christmas" to your child may well be envisioning polar bears drinking Coca-Cola as she says it. But beyond that, there are surely worse things that could happen to your child at school than hearing a teacher wishing them merriment over the next few days. Campfield is fighting against a problem we don't have, but we agree with him insofar as any lawsuit that arises from a greeting is indeed silly.
And, well, having seen the General Assembly's handiwork before, we'd like to give ourselves some wiggle room here.
We rate this: HALF STUPID.