Moral Declaration in Tennessee

Governor Haslam, Lt. Gov. McNally, House Speaker Harwell, TN General Assembly

For the past 2 years during Holy Week, the General Assembly has voted down Medicaid Expansion and blocked access to health care for 280,000 Tennesseans. As we enter into another Holy Week, we refuse to be silent and allow this year to be the same. The attached document has been written by the coordinating group of clergy and organizers with Moral Movement Tennessee. This is the third Holy Week pleading with the Governor and legislature to expand the right to health care for our brothers and sisters. For them to continue to live in fear and without health care is cruel and unjust. Two people die every day from lack of access to health care in our state and seven rural hospitals have also closed as a result Your action is needed now.

To: Governor Haslam, Lt. Gov. McNally, House Speaker Harwell, TN General Assembly
From: [Your Name]

Moral Movement Tennessee Declaration

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

“Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:9

“That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.” Constitution of the State of Tennessee, Article 1. Section 2.

To Governor Bill Haslam, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, Speaker of the House of Representatives Beth Harwell, and the Tennessee General Assembly:

We, the undersigned clergy and faith leaders in Tennessee have joined our hearts, minds, and bodies in the cause of challenging the egregious inequalities and injustices that plague our communities.

The state of Tennessee has failed to advance the interest of the common good by impeding progress and neglecting policies that alleviate suffering, uplift the downtrodden, expand the rights of the vulnerable, and improve the quality of life for all of us who reside in this state.

Instead, over the course of the past few years, the situation has only been exacerbated by policy decisions made by your administration and the legislature. These decisions reject the right to health care for many of our poorest. They deny living wages and make affordable housing harder to access. Your decisions threaten women’s health; criminalize the poor; and attack workers rights. Moreover, your decisions undermine our democracy by targeting the voting rights of students, the elderly, minorities, the disabled and low-income residents. The resulting policies and laws hurt the least of these and the marginalized while serving no legitimate policy purpose.

With the legislative session entering its final weeks and you entering your final year as our Governor, we are moved out of our silence to speak up as we witness state-wide the devastating impacts of your decisions on the lives of the vast majority of Tennesseans. We write you because our various faith traditions compel us to act with a sense of urgency and moral obligation, not only as residents, but as human beings utterly disturbed by the lack of conscience reflected in the policies of this state’s government. Policies that hurt the poor or hamper the access of the marginalized are unjust, undermining the integrity and common welfare of our state’s residents. We urge another direction and advocate for a public policy agenda that serves the people of our state as intended in our constitution: “for the common benefit.” Our goal is to call all of us to higher ground in our governance, remembering that all our state’s policies and practices are being weighed on the scales of justice.

In forming this movement, we issue a moral call for:

HEALTH CARE FOR ALL-- Medicaid Expansion, Women’s Health, and Policies that Safeguard the Quality of Life for All Tennessee Residents. Preliminary action items: Reject efforts to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and fully implement it in Tennessee. Expand Medicaid and fully fund other essential health care programs for residents of Tennessee. Remove the barriers to affordable and high-quality health care currently faced by the uninsured, immigrants, and women.

ECONOMIC JUSTICE-- Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that ensure economic sustainability by fighting for employment, living wages, the alleviation of disparate unemployment, a green economy, labor rights, affordable housing, strong safety net services for the poor, fair policies for immigrants, infrastructure development and fair tax reform.
Preliminary action items:
Restore the ability of local governments to raise the minimum wage and pass other ordinances that benefit working people.
Raise the minimum wage to ensure that all Tennesseans make a living wage, indexed to inflation.
Tennessee must reform its regressive tax system which benefits the rich while hurting the common good.
Repeal policies that restrict local governments from enacting inclusionary zoning policies and other measures to ensure affordable, low-income housing.

VOTING RIGHTS-- The Expansion and Protection of Voting Rights For All!
Preliminary action items:
Repeal discriminatory laws which mandate voter photo identification and other measures that suppress the right of Tennessee citizens to exercise their right to vote.
Pass same day (on election day) voter registration. Increase access to polling locations on college and university campuses, in rural communities, and in minority neighborhoods.

RACIAL JUSTICE & POLICE REFORM-- Create fairness in the criminal justice system by addressing the continuing inequalities in the system and providing equal protection under the law for black, brown and poor white people.
Preliminary action items: All Tennessee residents shall be free from harassment, intimidation, monitoring and profiling by race, age, gender, or immigration status.
End and prohibit the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies in Tennessee.

EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER LAW-- Justice Without Regard to Race, Creed, Class, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Immigration Status or Physical Disability. Provide all Tennesseans with access to public services, voting rights, legal due process, freedom of movement, and all other rights guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions. Tennessee must enforce all laws that bar discrimination in this society.