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Tennessee lawmakers threaten UT funding over 'Sex Week'

Andy Sher, Chattanooga Times Free Press • Updated Mar 5, 2014 at 8:20 PM

NASHVILLE (MCT) – Two Senate Committee chairmen are warning top University of Tennessee leaders that state funding for the university could be jeopardized if they don't rein in the "Sex Week" program being held this week on the Knoxville campus.

"We are writing to express our disapproval and dismay at the lack of leadership at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville regarding the events of Sex Week," wrote Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, in the letter. "This inaction is unacceptable."

The lawmakers' letter to UT system President Joe DiPietro and UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek says Sex Week organizers promote the event as a "sexual health event, when in reality the aim of the organizers is to thrust a radical agenda on the students of the University of Tennessee."

In February, the House approved a resolution condemning Sex Week on a 69-17 vote. The nonbinding measure is sponsored by Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, and is now under consideration by the Senate.

UT officials and organizers of the event say it is intended to educate student in an entertaining way on issues ranging from sexual assault to safe sex.

But socially conservative critics say the event, organized by the Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, features lectures given by a porn actress and filmmaker, a drag show, an aphrodisiac cooking class and condom scavenger hunt.

"Certainly, the university must understand that Tennessee taxpayers are not anxious for their legislature to appropriate new funds to this university when they see abuse of monies being used for this purpose."

In response to lawmakers' criticism last year, the university yanked taxpayer-funded support for the event. But some $25,000 in student fees are still being used and the lawmakers say its being supplemented by a university grant.

DiPietro and Cheek say court rulings on First Amendment issues protect students' free speech in these types situations. But Bell and Gresham say it's not a First Amendment issue, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling dealing with obscenity.

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