Photo Credit: Public Domain
Published June 28, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
The Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s new transgender bathroom law on Friday, claiming the law is “unconstitutional” and that it is a violation of First Amendment rights “against compelled speech.”
The new law requires business to post signs identifying transgender-friendly restrooms beginning July 1.
According to the law, businesses must display a sign if they choose to allow “a member of either biological sex to use any public restroom within the building.” The law does not specifically mention transgender individuals, but businesses that allow them to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity would be mandated to post the signs.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Tennessee business owners – Kye Sayers owns Sanctuary Performing Arts in Chattanooga and Robert Bernstein owns Bongo Roasting in Nashville. Both businesses have transgender-friendly restrooms.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-Tennessee, says that mandating businesses to post the signs is a problem.
“Forcing businesses to display a stigmatizing message for political expedience is unconstitutional,” Weinberg stated.
“Furthermore, by targeting the transgender community, these government-mandated signs marginalize and endanger transgender individuals. Tennessee should be embracing and protecting all Tennesseans, not passing unconstitutional discriminatory laws.”
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The lawsuit argues that enforcing the law would be an extreme violation of customers’ privacy.
“It is impossible to ascertain whether or not someone is transgender by looking at them,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs do not have anyone guarding their restroom doors to ask for their birth certificates, inspect anyone’s genitals, or interrogate any other aspect of their sex. They do not even know how they would attempt to do so without gross intrusions into the privacy of their employees, customers, and clients.”
Bernstein also believes the law is a violation of the business owners’ free speech.
“As a former journalist, I believe strongly in free speech. Politicians have no right to force me to post a controversial, ideologically-motivated and inaccurate sign in my place of business,” Bernstein stated. “I have worked hard to create a welcoming environment for all in the restaurants that I own, and I don’t intend to stop now.”
Republican lawmakers have repeatedly said that the law is not meant to target any particular individuals, including transgenders, and that it does not stop anyone from using any restroom they choose. They argue that the new law is simply a means of protecting privacy.
Representative Tim Rudd of Murfreesboro, the sponsor of the law, says there is no discrimination present in the law and that businesses are not limited in which restrooms they can allow individuals to use.
“The ACLU’s lawsuit is baseless, inaccurate, and are obviously based on the plaintiffs’ ideological views or political opportunism. Many of the plaintiffs’ stated reasons for filing the lawsuit have nothing to do with the law itself,” Rudd stated. “It would seem they have not read the law or are simply pushing their own political agenda, or both.”
“The law is not ideologically-motivated or inaccurate,” Rudd continued. “The law also does not alter, limit or affect a business or a person’s free speech. The law does not require property owners to guard the entrance to a restroom, or to ascertain whether or not someone is transgender, nor prohibit anyone from entering or using restroom facilities. The law is in fact very limited in scope.”
Rudd says that the purpose of the restroom signs is to allow individuals to know what to expect when they use facilities.
“Women and parents of a female child have a right to know if a man could be waiting on them in a restroom. They also have a right to know if a property owner’s policies could give cover to sexual predators waiting to prey upon women and children. At the same time, this law also provides protections for members of the transgender community using restrooms marked opposite from their biological sex. If a woman or man sees the warning sign upon entering a restroom that allows the opposite biological sex to enter, people are less likely to be shocked or respond in self-defense,” Rudd said.
This is not the first time the new law has been subject to controversy. Shortly after Governor Lee signed the bill into law, Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk announced that he would refuse to press charges against businesses that refused to post the signs.
Funk stated that the law was “transphobic” and said that his office would not “promote hate.”
Representative John Ragan of Oak Ridge called Funk out, stating that his decision was “more than marginally offensive to the concept of constitutionally ordered government.” He asked the state attorney general to provide guidance as to whether Funk’s refusal to enforce the law would be reason for his removal from office.
Ironically, Funk is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit because of his role as top prosecutor in Nashville. The suit also names Tennessee State Fire Marshal Carter Lawrence, Tennessee Director of Codes Enforcement Christopher Bainbridge, and Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston.
The state will be represented by the state attorney general’s office and has issued a statement of their commitment to upholding Tennessee law.
“Our attorneys are reviewing the lawsuit, and we will defend state law,” spokesperson Samantha Fisher stated. “We cannot comment further on a pending matter.”