Tennessee voters can change state constitution to prohibit all forms of slavery

One of four proposed amendments on Nov. 8 ballot
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Posted at 5:18 PM, Aug 22, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — More than 150 years after it was outlawed, the Tennessee Constitution still allows slavery and involuntary servitude as forms of criminal punishment. This November, voters have the power to finally take that provision out.

The amendment is one of four proposed changes to the state Constitution.

Constitutional Amendment 3 would change language in Section 33 of Article I.

Currently, it says slavery and involuntary servitude is prohibited, except as a punishment for a person who has been duly convicted of crime.

The amendment would replace it with the following language: “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.”

"We don't want persons who are incarcerated to be slaves. We don't want any punishment for any crime to be likened to slavery," said Harold Love Jr., the pastor of Lee Chapel AME Church in North Nashville.

Love, who is also Democratic state representative for Nashville, said this is the closest Tennessee has ever gotten to banning slavery for good.

"We have a chance collectively to make a tremendous statement about what direction we want our state to go in," Love Jr. said.

All proposed constitutional changes need to be approved by the legislature during two successive legislative sessions with an election in between. Only after that, when there is an election for governor, can voters consider constitutional amendments.

"I would encourage other faith leaders to get behind this movement and say we want to remove slavery from the state constitution. It's not about Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green, Libertarian or any other party. It's about doing what's right for our state," he said.

Voting yes will amend the Tennessee Constitution, and voting no will keep the current language.

This year, voters in Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon and Vermont are taking up similar amendments. Similar language is also still in the U.S. Constitution.