NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — “Slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, are forever prohibited in this state.” That’s what the Tennessee Constitution says.
“Tennessee has come too far to have something like that to plague its image,” Clarksville NAACP President Jimmie Garland said.
But now, an amendment on the ballot in November might change that criminal punishment loophole.
“It’s ironic that it’s on the ballot in 2022,” Garland said. “I think it was 1865 when the slaves were set free.”
Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) introduced the bill back in 2019 before it weaved its way through the state legislature.
“What this will do is that it will take that exception out, it will ban slavery outright,” Akbari said. “Whether or not someone is incarcerated or not, they can never be put into forced labor.”
Though slavery hasn’t technically been in practice for a long time in Tennessee, both Akbari and Garland say the Supreme Court’s latest decisions have made this amendment all the more important.
“They are constantly trying to return laws from Washington D.C. back to the states,” Garland said. “For example, Roe v. Wade.”
“If the Supreme Court decides that states should manage certain issues, we want to make sure our Constitution reflects how we feel on that, so we can never go backward,” Akbari said. “You just never know what life will bring.”
The vote is largely symbolic. But symbolic or not, Garland argues that words matter.
“To tell me that it’s been outlawed, it doesn’t matter, it does matter,” he said. “If it’s in the books, it matters because somewhere down the line, someone is going to take it seriously, and they’re going to act upon it.”
Amendment 3 is on the ballot in November.