Republican Senators Take Issue With Tennesseans Rights To Religious Exemptions Enshrined In State Constitution

Mar 21, 2023 | Political News

A bill aimed at codifying the constitutional rights of Tennesseans to decline vaccines for religious reasons in the private sector failed in the Senate Commerce and Labor Subcommittee yesterday.

Senate Bill 1109 (SB1109), sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma-District 16), would have prohibited employers from firing or in any way discriminating against employees who submitted a religious exemption in lieu of complying with requests to get a vaccine.

The proposed law would also have allowed for a private right of action for injunctive relief and to recover compensatory damages and reasonable attorney’s fees against an employer who took adverse action against an employee who turned in a religious exemption.

Amendments to the bill would have exempted healthcare companies and also those employed by the federal government, the latter being protected by the U.S. Constitution, said Bowling.

Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro-District 14), a Pharmacist by trade, called the bill “an overreach due to Covid” and objected to employers being unable to take action against employees who submitted religious exemptions when asked to comply with a vaccine mandate.

Reeves gave Bowling a rhetorical situation where employers might mandate an influenza vaccine during an especially bad outbreak. In her answer, Bowling asked Reeves “as a Pharmacist” about the rates of efficacy concerning influenza vaccines.