Published March 3, 2021
Nashville, TN – House Bill 10, a law protecting religious objections to compulsory vaccination or medical procedures in employment and other situations, died in a House subcommittee on Tuesday. Several legislators expressed concerns over the bill’s treatment of public health concerns. The bill failed with a count of 7 votes of no and 3 votes of aye.
Those killing the bill in subcommittee to prevent a vote on the house floor regarding religious objections were Representatives:
Robin Smith of Hixson – (615) 741-2548
Bob Freeman of Nashville – (615) 669-4443 or (615) 741-0709
Darren Jernigan of Old Hickory – (615) 741-6959
Sabi Kumar of Springfield – (615) 741-2860
Pat Marsh of Shelbyville – (615) 741-6824
Bob Ramsey of Maryville – (615) 741-3560
Paul Sherrell of Sparta – (615) 741-1963
Voting in favor of the bill protecting religious objections were Representatives:
Clark Boyd of Lebanon – (615) 618-3329 or (615) 741-7086
Mark Hall of Cleveland – (615) 741-1350
Bryan Terry of Murfreesboro – (615) 801-2999 or (615) 741-2180
Representative Smith was hesitant to get on board with the measure, stating that she was concerned that children in daycare centers may be exposed to potential harm if employees of those centers refused vaccines.
She insisted that she wanted to support the legislation, but she ultimately voted against the bill, saying, “Those children have a right to be free from tuberculosis, hepatitis A, and any other communicable disease, and they are placed in the care of others.”
However, many Tennesseans residing in her district feel that Smith’s vote was unduly influenced by pharmaceutical lobbyists, medical political action committees and others who benefit from forced vaccination in employment and educational environments.
A close examination of Smith’s contributors since 2018 show that Smith received over 30% of all campaign contributions from pharmaceuticals and medical professionals. Pharmaceuticals represent 300% more than any other industry on her donor rolls.
Top donors include:
• Independent Medicine’s PAC-TN (Tennessee Medical Assoc)
• Pfizer, Inc PAC
• GlaxoSmithKline, LLC PAC
• Eli Lilly & Co PAC
• Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp
• Abbvie Political Action Committee
• Astellas Pharma US
• Blue Cross Blue Shield of TN PAC
• Aetna Inc
• Humana Inc
• Pharma Tennessee PAC
Some Tennessee residents have expressed their displeasure with the vote of Smith and the other Representatives in Facebook posts.
Josh Fortner says, “They’re just showing their true colors. We know what side of this spiritual war she is on. You can’t serve God and money. She’s chosen her side.”
Ben Lapp says, ” Absolutely disgusting. Every politician who stood by while this happened needs to be held to account in 2022. We will not forget those who took freedom away.”
Whitney Choate says, “I’d like to see a bill that stops politicians from accepting contributions from big pharma, then maybe the people who run for office would do it because they really care about their communities and not just their bottom dollar.”
Representative Jay Reedy of Erin and Senator Mark Pody of Lebanon sponsored HB10/SB7, which would allow individuals to opt out of immunizations, including the COVID-19 vaccine, for religious beliefs – even in a pandemic situation.
The bill is one of several introduced in response to the government’s increasing regulation of vaccinations, masks, gatherings, and other things amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Defenders say that the bill protects people’s religious liberty. Opponents argue that the bill stands to endanger the public in specific instances where mandating vaccinations may be warranted.
Two amendments proposed by Representative Reedy also failed Tuesday. These amendments introduced exceptions which would allow entities to require “non-invasive” medical examinations or treatments, such as health screenings, under certain circumstances “as required conditions of employment or ongoing assessment of job performance”.
Additionally, one of the amendments also included a clause to require those medical procedures if they were deemed necessary for “the protection of the health and safety of others”.
Constitutional lawyer Larry Crain served as a witness in favor of the bill. He assisted Reedy with one of the proposed amendments and emphasized that exemptions on the basis of religious liberty are “matters of longstanding history.”
He continued, “They are a vital aspect of this nation’s respect and its deference to religious liberty as an unalienable right.”
One area of specific concern to some legislators was the potential impact of the bill on schools.
Tennessee state law currently mandates certain immunizations for children attending schools from infancy through college. Parents have the right to exercise religious exemption and waive those vaccinations provided there is not currently an “epidemic or immediate threat thereof”.
HB10 would change that slightly. The bill would allow individuals in Tennessee to refuse vaccination for religious reasons or “by right of conscience”. This would hold true even in a potential pandemic.
Representative Kumar responded similarly, “All of us want to support liberty.”
He made the point that it was the duty of the legislative body to protect public health through the creation of laws and not to lay aside that protection in the pursuit of liberty.
“In the middle of a public health emergency, there’s a threat to many lives, and if we cannot protect these lives then we are failing – although we are doing it in the interest of liberty,” he went on.
Representative Pat Marsh requested clarification of federal protection of religious liberty in similar cases and questioned the need for the bill at all. His view was that this bill addressed a concern that was not even an issue at this time since employers had not made vaccinations mandatory to his knowledge.
He went on to question the possible repercussions for business owners if the bill passed and their employees rejected vaccinations for religious reasons. He wanted to know if there would be potential legal consequences if a private business owner was to fire an employee whose vaccine refusal was causing a loss of business.
Last week, a similar bill banning a government mandate of the COVID-19 vaccine did move forward in the subcommittee. However, the bill is largely ceremonial because current COVID-19 vaccines are not FDA approved and could not be mandated even with emergency powers. This bill does not address forced vaccination as a condition of employment or remove old statutes criminalizing refusal to be vaccinated by a board of health in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Conservative reached out to all the Representatives that voted against House Bill 10, along with the House Caucus Communications Office, for comment at 7:32 AM CST on March 3, 2021 but received no reply.
Please check back with The Tennessee Conservative often as we continue to bring updates on this and other important issues.