Jackson Sun: Tennessee Can Do Better to Protect Religious Liberties


Editor’s Note: The following op-ed was published in the Jackson Sun on October 15, 2022, and is authored by Dr. Sean Evans, chairman of the Department of Political Science at Union University.

While Tennessee Volunteer football fans are excited about being ranked #6 in the nation, all Tennesseans should be excited that Tennessee is ranked #7 in religious liberty protections. And just as Volunteer fans hope to climb higher, Tennessee can do more to protect religious liberty.

The First Amendment’s free exercise clause protects the right of individuals to believe and act on those beliefs. The Founders believed that religion was important in developing the virtues in people necessary for self-government. Moreover, the right to speak, publish, assemble, and petition the government would be meaningless without the freedom of thought and conscience the religion clauses protect. Today, religious liberty also promotes pluralism as people of different faiths live together peacefully and caring for the poor, orphans, refugees, and other disadvantaged people.

Tennessee does well on allowing religion as a reason for absentee voting, providing religious exemptions for vaccine requirements, exempting employers from contraceptive mandates that include abortifacients, having a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and providing healthcare conscience exemptions for individuals and private hospitals in refusing to participate in an abortion, sterilization, or distributing contraception.

However, Tennessee does not provide immunity from civil lawsuits for refusing to provide an abortion nor immunity from criminal liability or punitive government action for refusing to participate in an abortion, sterilization, or the distribution of contraception. This failure means that a nurse or doctor who believes that abortion, sterilization, or contraception is morally wrong could be sued for damages or threatened with the loss of their medical license. These threats could make these individuals choose between their livelihood and their conscience which is wrong.

Read the entire article in the Jackson Sun here.