A Republican Tennessee state lawmaker is now backtracking on his call for the elimination of higher education ― claiming he was speaking in “hyperbole.”
State Sen. Kerry Roberts deemed colleges and universities a “liberal breeding ground” during a furious rant on his radio show Sept. 2 while discussing SB 1236 ― a proposal for a total ban on abortions in Tennessee, which would outlaw the procedure from the moment a woman knows she is pregnant.
Using his conservative platform to rally support for the bill, Roberts recalled a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he attended in August in which a woman testified against the measure.
“We got some woman in there who just goes off,” the state senator said, giving his account of the scene in footage of his program posted on Facebook. “And it’s all about — pick every, every liberal bit of indoctrination that you can get in a university setting today. Far left — I mean, you’ve got all of these ‘intersectionalities’ and ‘white supremacy’ and ‘oppressive this’ and every buzzword in the liberal lexicon is being thrown at us by some woman who’s not even talking about the legal argument; she’s just going off on something.”
Becoming visibly angered, Roberts then began shouting into the microphone, declaring it was time to do away with colleges and universities.
“If there’s one thing that we can to do to save America today, it is to get rid of our institutions of higher education right now, and cut the liberal breeding ground off,” he said. “Good grief!”
Though Roberts did not identify the woman he was describing, it appears to have been Cherisse Scott, CEO and founder of SisterReach, a pro-choice nonprofit organization based in Memphis. During the hearing, Scott spoke out against the bill and was repeatedly interrupted before being cut off completely.
The source of Scott’s views, Roberts suggested, was higher education.
“She’s learned all of this stuff that flies in the face of what we stand for as a country, and here we are as legislators paying for this garbage to be taught to our children,” he said, claiming that the “murder” of innocent people is “the price we pay.”
However, on Monday, he downplayed his tirade, arguing that it was meant to be taken as a joke.
“My listeners clearly understood the humor and hyperbole of it,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “That was a week ago. But today, it’s a news story. ‘Tennessee Lawmaker Calls For Elimination of Higher Education’ the headline screams! That’s hyperbole, too.”
According to The Washington Post, the anti-abortion bill is likely unconstitutional, but for Roberts, that’s the idea.
Just before the hearing, the state senator told CBS News he believes it could become “a vehicle to lead the Supreme Court to consider, I hope, overturning or at least chipping away at Roe v. Wade,” the landmark case that established access to safe and legal abortion as a constitutional right.