- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

April 21

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on making the Bible the state book:

The Tennessee Senate on Thursday deployed wisdom and shrewdness in delaying for at least a year a bill that would designate the Bible as the official state book.

The vote came after Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued a well-reasoned - and obvious - opinion that the bill violated the church-state separation provisions of the federal and state constitutions. Similar efforts failed in Louisiana last year and Mississippi earlier this year, so Tennessee would have been the first state in the Union to so recognize the Bible.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station. Both are ordained ministers. The legislation quickly picked up a majority of lawmakers in both houses as co-sponsors.

When critics raised the question of the bill’s constitutionality, it was amended with secular justifications. The Bible’s effect on Tennessee’s history, culture and economy were cited.

Despite Slatery’s opinion, the House voted 55-38 last Wednesday to approve the bill. To local lawmakers’ credit, the vast majority of Knox County’s House delegation voted against the measure.

In the Senate, where the leadership opposed the bill, concerns raised by Slatery’s opinion prompted Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville to move to send the bill to the Judiciary Committee for further review. The Senate approved the maneuver 22-9.

The Judiciary Committee has already closed for the session, effectively tabling the bill, and senators rejected Southerland’s push to reopen the panel.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey opposed the bill because they say it demeans the Bible. But it is the constitutional shortcomings that make passage of the bill ill-advised.

Slatery’s opinion serves as a primer in constitutional law.

The U.S. Supreme Court has adopted a three-pronged test for laws that could violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. To pass muster, a law must have a plausible secular purpose, can neither advance nor inhibit religion and cannot entangle government and religion.

The endorsement, Slatery explains, exists whether it is intentional or not.

“Legislative designation of The Holy Bible as the official book - as an official symbol - of the State of Tennessee, when viewed objectively, must presumptively be understood as an endorsement of religion and of a particular religion,” Slatery writes.

Slatery points out the Tennessee Constitution is even stronger, providing “that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” The bill would violate the state constitution, he concludes, “even more definitively than it would violate the federal Establishment Clause.”

The Bible is a holy text for Christians that does not need the endorsement of the Tennessee Legislature, and the state does not need to get embroiled in lawsuits it cannot win over an official symbol. Tennesseans who are Christian and Tennesseans who are not benefit from keeping religion out of government and government out of religion.




April 22

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on holding slumlords accountable:

This is something that should have been done years sooner, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in collaboration with city of Memphis code enforcement officials, is taking action against a corporation that controls some of the rattiest apartment complexes in the city.

The corporation, Cordova-based Global Ministries Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Rev. Richard Hamlet, has received millions of federal dollars to operate the rent-subsidized apartment complexes, while transferring some of those funds from his low-income housing nonprofit to his religious nonprofit.

Officials are taking action after a detailed story April 12 (“Tenants suffer, say repairs aren’t made”) in The Commercial Appeal by reporter Maria Ines Zamudio, who spent weeks researching the company and talking to apartment tenants.

In a letter dated Monday, HUD ordered Hamlet to pay for the relocation of five of the tenants who live in the federally subsidized Goodwill Village and Warren apartments, some of the city’s worst, due to uninhabitable conditions.

HUD could force Hamlet to do the same for tenants in other apartments if Memphis code enforcement classifies units as uninhabitable.

GMF would be responsible for paying the moving expenses and rent for temporary units outside the complexes.

Code enforcement officers labeled 30 units at Warren as “uninhabitable,” following a code enforcement sweep. Another 10 apartments were labeled “uninhabitable” at Goodwill Village, according to a city spokeswoman.

This is a situation that goes beyond Global Ministries Foundation. Memphis, unfortunately, is inundated with rundown apartment complexes that are either federally subsidized or accept a high volume of federal Section 8 rent vouchers - vouchers designed to allow holders to find quality housing in the private sector.

In too many cases, though, the vouchers are being redeemed at homes and apartment complexes that sometimes turn out be as bad or worse than where the voucher holders originally lived.

Zamudio’s investigation of GMF highlighted a major problem with these federally subsidized programs: There is a lack of consistent follow-up, which likely would hold apartment owners accountable.

Last year, for example, federal inspectors gave Warren and GMF-owned Tulane Apartments a combined evaluation of 38, a failing score, but GMF continued to collect $2.3 million in rent subsidies from HUD for those buildings in 2014.

Also, HUD has been lax in follow-up inspections on troubled properties.

We also urged the Health, Education and Housing Facilities Board of Memphis to be more diligent in making sure the companies that are issued bonds for affordable multifamily housing have the financial wherewithal to maintain the properties.

Being an apartment landlord is not an easy job. Some renters can be rough on property.

Still, owners who accept government funds to purchase, build and operate decent housing have a moral obligation to keep those properties in good repair.

HUD has an obligation to make sure that happens.

And HUD, working with city code inspectors, should aggressively pursue slumlords who take advantage of government-funded programs at the expense of tenants.




April 21

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on blocking Iranian arms shipments to Yemen:

Does it amount to sword-rattling if the United States moves a powerful aircraft carrier into position to block prohibited arms transfers in the Middle East?

If so, it’s certainly a lot less provocative than calling in air strikes.

Moving a ship into a chessboard position of authority doesn’t carry with it the hatred-inspiring effect of an exploding bomb, but it can have a similar diplomatic result.

Nobody dies when an aircraft carrier changes location, but arms dealers will have to think twice.

The carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has moved to a position off the coast of Yemen, where it could intercept Iranian weapons shipments to rebels fighting the U.S.-backed government of Yemen.

With the Roosevelt, the United States now has nine warships off Yemen, including the guided missile cruiser USS Normandy.

The Navy has intercepted Iranian arm shipments to terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in the past.

“It’s easier for us to operate against a group like that if we have the cooperation of a stable government, as was the case in the past,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.

“But if we don’t have a stable government, as is the case in the current circumstance, we have to use other means to protect ourselves, and that’s what we’re doing.”



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