FFRF: Tennessee’s anti-science attacks persist 96 years after Scopes trial

Clarence DarrowWhat would Clarence Darrow say?

This week marks the fourth anniversary of the dedication of Zenos Frudakis’ bronze statue memorializing Darrow, which the Freedom From Religion Foundation gifted to the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tenn., site of the famous Scopes trial in 1925.

It seems that the state of Tennessee has not changed much in the 96 years since the Scopes trial, whose anniversary was also marked this week. It’s particularly appalling that another egregious Tennessee attack against science occurred this week itself: the firing of Tennessee’s top vaccine official for doing her job to promote Covid-19 vaccinations.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus has announced that she’s become the 25th among state and territorial immunization program directors to quit, retire or be pushed from office during the pandemic.

“That’s nearly 40 percent of us,” she notes in her announcement. “Along the way, we have been disparaged, demeaned, accused, and sometimes vilified by a public who chooses not to believe in science, and elected and appointed officials who have put their own self-interest above the people they were chosen to represent and protect.”

In Fiscus’ case, prior to promoting vaccination of teenagers ages 12 and up, she had reached out to Tennessee’s Department of Health to confirm the state’s Mature Minor Doctrine, resulting from a state Supreme Court ruling. That allows some vaccination of minors over age 14 without parental consent. She received confirmation that the doctrine was “blessed by the governor’s office … feel free to distribute to anyone.” She accordingly copied and pasted that language into a memo distributed to providers administering Covid-19 vaccines. One recipient was upset, she wrote, that minors 14-17 years were able to receive medical care without parental consent, and posted her memo to social media.

“What has occurred in the time between the release of this memo and today, when I was terminated from my position … can only be described as bizarre,” she explains in her statement. A member of the Government Operations Committee even called for dissolving the Department of Health in the midst of a pandemic, she reported, even though one out of every 542 Tennesseans has died from Covid-19 and less than 38 percent of residents have been vaccinated.

Not only was Fiscus fired, the yahoos in charge in Tennessee halted all vaccination outreach for children — not just for Covid-19, but even back-to-school messaging on measles inoculations, for example. (More than 30,000 Tennessee parents didn’t get their kids vaccinated against measles last year, due to the pandemic.)

As Fiscus notes, “What can I do to protect people against Covid-19?” should be paramount on the minds of our public officials. “Instead,” she charges, “our leaders are putting barriers in place to ensure the people of Tennessee remain at risk, even with the delta variant bearing down upon us.”

Fiscus correctly put her finger on the problem: “They believe what they choose to believe rather than what is factual and evidence-based.”

FFRF completely agrees.

“The people of the United States should not tolerate the religious bozos at any level of government who have prolonged this epidemic, derided science and equated opinion with fact,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “Thanks to the extraordinary delivery by science of Covid-19 vaccinations, and the extraordinary dedication of physicians and medical workers such as Dr. Fiscus, our nation is in a position to defeat the novel coronavirus. But, as Clarence Darrow knew, first we must defeat another deadly virus: religiously inspired anti-science propaganda.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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