Legislation To Safeguard Religious Services During Times Of Crises Passes TN Legislature

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The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

Tennessee Legislation that was first filed in February of 2021 has passed the General Assembly with overwhelming votes in favor.

Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma-District 16) explained amended bill SB1197 during the Senate Hearing on March 24th, 2022.

“This (bill) prohibits a public official from limiting the lawful operation of a church or religious organization, including religious services, during a time of an emergency, major disaster, or natural disaster,” Bowling said, “It simply codifies our First Amendment rights in the Constitution.”

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Prior to taking the vote, several Republicans opted to speak in favor of the bill.

Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville-District 6) addressed one of the criticisms the bill had received from Democrats that stated people could use it as an excuse even if the church wasn’t open.  “I think law enforcement can sort through that,” Massey said and stated that churches should be trusted to respond appropriately in times of imminent danger.

“I do support this bill.  Churches, their primary concern is to take care of their members.  If there is a dangerous situation, churches all-the-time cancel their services because of snow, ice.  If there was rioting and looting going on in a church area, they are probably one of the first to be civically responsible,” Massey said.

Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville-District 9) said, “We all can go back just a couple of years, when government, and our state was not nearly as severe as other states were, starting shutting churches down.  And started telling people they could not gather to worship…started telling people that if you do gather to worship, you could only do it in groups of twenty or fifty…We reached a point in many areas of the country where people said ‘enough is enough – let us be responsible for ourselves, let us take our own risks’ especially when it comes to worship, especially when it comes to freedom of religion.  Let’s air on the side of liberty and conscience.  Let’s air on the side of freedom.  Let’s air on the side of protecting worship.”

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Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield-District 25) said, “I think the words ‘We the people’ have a tremendous meaning to someone who is elected.  I’m not so sure those words have the same meaning to somebody who is not elected.  What we’ve seen over this pandemic is positional authority being exercised by people who are not elected and therefore are not directly accountable to the people”

“To me this bill does something that we ought not to even have to discuss and that is, we’re giving the right for a church to remain open during a time of crisis when people need that encouragement more than any other time in their lives.  I support this bill,” Roberts said.

Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald-District 28) offered his support for the legislation, stating that he would cancel similar legislation he is currently running should this bill pass.

Hensley said, “This is a fundamental right that we should protect.  Freedom of religion and worship is one of those freedoms we need to protect at all costs.  Government should not be shutting down churches.” 

A final vote was taken and SB1197 passed with 25 Ayes votes and 4 Nay votes with all Republicans present voting in favor.

Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov

On the House side, HB1137, was sponsored by Representative Rusty Grills (R-Newbern-District 77).

Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov

House Bill 1137 passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives last year (2021) on April 12th with 70 Ayes, 18 Nays and 1 Person Not Voting with all Republicans present voting in favor.

Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov

When we first reported on this legislation last April, Representative Grills stated, “Stay-at-home orders and church closures imposed in other states due to the coronavirus pandemic has devastating consequences for many American last year.  The First Amendment guarantees the right of all citizens to freely practice their religion and to peacefully assemble at their chosen house of worship. This legislation ensures government does not infringe on those rights in Tennessee.”

Previously, Grills stressed the importance of maintaining those religious freedoms in Tennessee.

“I just don’t believe the governor by the stroke of a pen should be able to stop religious services. Everyone is worried to death about their physical well-being. But at the same time, our spiritual well-being is important because it has eternal value,” Grills stated. “So we need to make sure that our churches have the doors open and willing and ready to allow congregations to meet.”

About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com

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