OPINION: Gov. Lee's got businesses' tongues wagging on Biden's common-sense vaccine edict

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Sep. 15—Some big Chattanooga businesses ducked their heads last week when called on by Times Free Press reporters to comment on President Joe Biden's vaccine mandates for employers with 100 or more workers. Perhaps they didn't want to get crosswise with state politicians — especially with the spit fight intensifying among Republican governors like Tennessee's Bill Lee and the president.

But Tennessee pastors are not so shy. They've wholeheartedly endorsed the Biden plan. And it's a good bet that business leaders are quietly patting those pastors on the back: With Tennessee continuing to be No. 1 in the country for new COVID-19 cases per capita, we all know our businesses must absolutely, albeit secretly, love the Biden edict. After all, there's nothing business loves better than the power of its bottom line.

Rev. Brandon Gilvin, pastor of First Christian Church in Chattanooga, didn't mind putting his hand up.

"Just last week I called on Gov. Lee to demonstrate moral leadership, which requires making decisions for the good of the whole body," Gilvin said in a Southern Christian Coalition news statement this week. "This means we fight to ensure that the most vulnerable among us are protected, because we are all beloved children of God, and we function together in society as a whole body, and not just our individual parts. And that's what President Biden's new COVID plan does."

But our local businesses wouldn't draw this red line. Instead they mumbled a lot hmm ah, hmm ah about how they are "reviewing" and "processing" and "evaluating" President Biden's newest COVID plan. The plan mandates companies with 100 or more workers to require those workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

Even mega insurer BlueCross BlueShield — an organization with health care profits on the line — seemingly straddled the fence, trying to stay above the politics between Republican governors and the president:

"Until we have more specific guidance, we'll continue our existing work to educate our employees and encourage them to get vaccinated," the company said in a statement.

Never mind that Blue's statement also said: "... We are already requiring vaccination for around 800 employees who have in-person contact with BlueCross members or other business partners."

"Requiring." "Vaccination." "For around 800 employees."

Shouldn't we also think of pastors as the CEOs of their churches? Of course we should. And here is what another vocal minister said of the year-and-a-half strong businesses have endured while making their own quite similar plans while pastors of the Southern Christian Coalition have been calling on Gov. Lee to do what he was elected to do — lead.

"Pastoring and leading a faith community in Tennessee has been difficult over the past 18 months," Rev. Dr. Lillian Lammers, associate pastor of First Congregational Church of Memphis, said in the coalition statement. "We have struggled with making regularly, sometimes daily, decisions about how to keep our congregations and communities safe while public health has been regularly undermined and put at the bottom of the priority list by Governor Lee and state leaders ... We have needed a governor to stop political posturing and instead prioritize the health and safety of our community members. But instead he has lacked the moral courage to demonstrate God-centered leadership."

Bradley Jackson, president and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, chalked the business resistance (once Biden voiced his plan) to making employers the vaccine police.

"I think for the business community, you know, they understand and believe that vaccinations are really the best thing that everybody can do to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic. They're not comfortable, I think, with being the enforcement authority," Jackson said.

Like they weren't already doing a lot of policing? Come on. That's hogwash.

BlueCross didn't have any trouble requiring some of its employees to vaccinate.

Most of our companies have no worries whatsoever requiring us to pay from our own pockets for extra insurance on our cars that they insist we drive to do their business.

And they have no problem at all requiring their workers to submit to drug tests.

Nor do they have a qualm in the world requiring workers not to smoke in the office, or in the car with another employee or even at all — or pay a surcharge on the insurance those employees already pay for. Hello, again, BlueCross?

Some people — mostly Republicans — want to tell us the vaccine mandate is unconstitutional. It isn't. We've known that since the Supreme Court said the smallpox vaccine mandate wasn't in 1905. We've been reminded more than once since then.

We've wasted 18 months waiting for businesses and workers and, yes, even governments, to do what common sense and science continue to tell us is necessary: Get vaccinated and mask up until COVID-19 can't find new hosts and mutate over and over.

It's easy to point fingers at Gov. Lee and the other Republicans caught up in their stubborn talking points. But why, why, why should the leaders of so many big businesses — which collectively have far more power than any governor — go along with those divisive talking points that endanger not just all of us but also their bottom lines?

Keep talking, pastors. Maybe soon, folks in high offices will listen.

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