Tennessee pastors condemn Gov. Bill Lee’s ‘opt out’ mask order


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Faith leaders across the state of Tennessee are condemning Governor Bill Lee’s order that allows parents to opt out of mask requirements for their children in school.

Lee signed the executive order Monday, saying in part, “while local decision-making is important, individual decision-making by a parent on issues regarding the health and well-being of their child is the most important.”

Tennessee pastors are now calling on local school boards to create and enforce temporary mask mandates while the delta variant is rapidly spreading.

“It’s ironic that he says he believes in local authority and when local authority have made decisions in the best interests in their own communities, he removes that authority when he or his base disagrees,” said Dr. Lillian Lammers, associate pastor of First Congregational Church of Memphis.

“It prioritizes individual freedom to hurt others over embodying the Christian ethic of loving your neighbor as yourself,” said Rev. Euguene Se`bree, associate pastor of Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville.

They say they will continue to demand that the governor to reverse the executive order.

“It is scary, it is frightening, it is enraging, and it is almost unbelievable that you have participated in the manner that you have to lessen the protections for our children,” said Rev. Aaron Marble, pastor for Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville.

Since signing the executive order, Lee has also received push back from healthcare and education officials. Thousands of healthcare professionals signed an open letter to Lee that states the order “threatens the public health of entire communities and our state at large.”

“Please allow our local health departments to guide school boards in mandating masks when local spread is high,” the letter states. “Please trust our expert recommendations as we strive to protect the health and wellbeing of the people of Tennessee.”

United States Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona sent a letter to Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn regarding the order, saying that the state’s actions “may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by Federal law.”

Tennessee is currently reporting 963,647 total COVID-19 cases. Shelby County reported 915 newly confirmed cases Thursday.

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