Black lawmakers in Tennessee are calling for Rep. Sheila Butt to lose her leadership post in the state House of Representatives.
The plea comes after Butt took to the House floor Thursday to defend a Facebook post that many are calling offensive. But, so far, Republican leaders are standing by the Columbia lawmaker.
Butt delivered a two-minute speech defending a post she made in January, in which she called for creation of a Council on Christian Relations and a NAAWP, a play on the NAACP and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Butt quickly took the post down, and she told lawmakers she was disappointed anyone had taken offense.
Butt said the post was meant to promote inclusiveness, by calling for greater representation for Christians in conversations between government officials and interest groups. She also said she was standing up for Tennesseans' First Amendment rights.
“I strongly believe that this nation is better off when we all adhere to our Christian values and beliefs.”
Many legislators applauded the speech. Afterward, the House’s third-ranking Republican, Glen Casada, issued a statement that urged other lawmakers to defend “western values and culture against radical Islam.”
Black lawmakers, however, were united in their anger. The legislature's Black Caucus voted unanimously for Butt to lose her title as GOP floor leader, a largely ceremonial position. Caucus chairwoman Brenda Gilmore said Butt had previously questioned interracial marriage and seemed to minimalize slavery — statements black lawmakers agreed should be considered racist.
“If you just take that one remark, I would agree that all of us are human and we misspeak. But when you take it in its totality, I think there there’s been a pattern established and a tone is being set.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell resisted their plea. She said Butt didn’t speak for other Republicans. However it would be up to her GOP colleagues to decide whether she should step down.