MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennesseans will vote on four amendments to our state Constitution in a few weeks.
Amendment 3 addresses slavery and involuntary servitude.
Right now, Article I, Section 33 of the Tennessee Constitution reads:
“That slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, are forever prohibited in this State."
Many argue that the language is offensive and morally wrong.
“It's clear that under certain circumstances, people can still be considered enslaved,” said Rep. Joe Towns, Jr. “That basically means that if you're incarcerated, that you can be considered as enslaved."
This needs more context. According to The Tennessee Secretary of State website, Tennessee's Constitution was adopted in 1796. It was revised in 1834. Then again in 1870, years after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
"Just to be clear, we did not have anything in our constitution going back to Pre-Civil War, slavery," said Rep. Tom Leatherwood.
The document from 1870 is still “the fundamental charter for the State”. It's been amended only eight times. The "Slavery Loophole,” as some call it, was never removed.
That's what Amendment 3 is all about.
"I think it's good to just get that language, the current language out of there," said Rep. Leatherwood.
"It seems like a no-brainer,” said Rep. Larry Miller. “We had the unanimous support of the House and the Senate."
The new language under Amendment 3 reads:
"Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime."
Tennessee and six other states will vote on the same topic this November. If you vote yes, you're agreeing to get rid of the old language.
If you vote no, you're agreeing to keep the constitution the same.
This is your choice and your vote on Election Day.