Photos of Raumesh Akbari and Jeff Yarbro with the title secularists of the week and a photo of Rusty Grills with the title theocrat of the week

Christian Heritage Month clash between FFRF Action Fund’s ‘theocrat’ and ‘secularists’ 

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FFRF Action Fund praises two Tennessee state senators as its “Secularists of the Week” for pointing out the constitutional problems in officially designating November as “Christian Heritage Month.” The bill, now on Gov. Bill Lee’s desk awaiting his signature, was introduced by our “Theocrat of the Week” in an effort to “encourage citizens to learn more about Christian heritage” in Tennessee. 

House Bill 2125 was introduced by Tennessee state Rep. Rusty Grills in late January and quickly made its way through the Legislature. Grills said, “This [idea] was given to me … by one of my constituents and she was wanting to honor the contributions that Christians have made to our country. So I just thought we would file it and name the month of November Christian Heritage Month.” The bill was rushed through a House committee without debate.

Grills, representing Tennessee’s 77th District, joined other Senate Republicans as co-sponsors on a 2021 bill seeking to designate the bible as Tennessee’s official state book, which thankfully died. In 2023, Grills also joined as sponsor of a bill that became law, which added “In God We Trust” to the official state seal, even though Tennessee’s motto is “Agriculture and Commerce” and already appears on the current seal. Grills obviously wants to center Christianity at the forefront of Tennessee’s state government, ignoring the non-Christian and nonreligious citizens in the state. 

Though Grills’ bill did pass Tennessee’s Legislature, there was pushback against the transparent violation of the separation of state and church by FFRF Action Fund’s “Secularists of the Week.” While debating the bill, Tennessee state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the minority leader of the Tennessee Senate, described her Christian background while also maintaining the importance of the U.S. Constitution. Akbari said that despite being a Christian, “I also serve as an elected official, and I understand the importance of separation of church and state.” She pointed out that Christians would not like it if a different religion were imposed on them by their government, so they should not force their faith on others. Akbari asserted, “When we have these conversations where we mix government and religion it really is dangerous.” 

Tennessee state Sen. Jeff Yarbro, representing Tennessee’s 21st District, also spoke out against the bill, saying he was not opposed to the idea of celebrating heritage, but objected to the attempts to rewrite American history. Yarbro acknowledged the wide range of spiritual beliefs among the Founding Fathers and their efforts to establish religious freedom and ensure that non-Christians would have ample space in our nation. 

Yarbro cited George Washington’s famous letter to a non-Christian community asserting, while quoting Christian scripture, that the government would not interfere with individuals in matters of conscience and religious beliefs. Yarbro noted that the first president expressed that non-Christians were just as much “part of the fiber of this country as everyone else … and that is equally part of our heritage in this country, that tolerance, and we cannot lose sight of that.”

“We’re grateful to have Akbari and Yarbro as advocates in Tennessee’s increasingly theocratic Legislature,” commented FFRF Action Fund President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.