KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (LifeSiteNews) — The Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee canceled its plans to require COVID shots or weekly negative tests of its employees after yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the mandates.
Jennifer Mills, the Knoxville diocese’s human resources director, issued an email to employees at 2:59 p.m. January 13 and again at 4:15 p.m. announcing that their COVID shot mandate policy was rescinded.
“I am pleased to announce that as of today, the Supreme Court BLOCKED the vaccine mandate. Therefore, the Diocese of Knoxville is RESCINDING our vaccine mandate policy effective immediately,” she wrote.
Before the Supreme Court decision, Deacon Sean Smith of the Knoxville Diocese had emailed those concerned about the tentative vaccine mandate stating “emphatically” that he was “NOT in favor” of the mandate, since it “violates the rights of conscience.”
Smith explained that the diocese felt compelled to initiate enforcement of Biden’s jab mandate, since otherwise they would have faced “crippling fines beginning January 10.
Had they not issued a vaccine policy, he wrote, “the Diocese would have been subject to an initial penalty of $136,532 due to “willful” non-compliance. On top of that, the Diocese would have been subject to a $13,653 fine “per violation,” which would increase 10-fold for repeated violations. No business, much less any diocese in the U.S., could long remain operating under such punishing fines designed to force compliance or bankruptcy.”
Mills confirmed to LifeSiteNews on Friday, “We told our employees from Day 1 that if the Supreme Court blocked it that we were going to rescind it. The only reason we were doing it is because we were under threat of severe penalties from OSHA, if we didn’t follow through on the policy. It wasn’t a policy that we wanted to put into effect.”
Jim Wogan, the diocese’s communications director, had previously noted to LifeSiteNews that while the Knoxville Diocese “isn’t in favor of mandates,” “Bishop Richard Stika has advocated for vaccines if a person is medically able to receive them.
The diocese had issued a notice shortly before Christmas informing its employees that they “must be fully vaccinated no later than January 31, 2022 or submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test every 7 days from a medical professional and wear a cloth face mask over his/her face and nose while at work.” The diocese made clear they would not cover the cost of weekly COVID tests, which would instead be “incurred by the employee.”
The announcement of the diocesan mandate spurred Jenny Hay, an active member of St. John Neumann Church in Farragut, Tennessee, to begin a “Defund the Diocese” campaign in an effort to sway the diocese to retract their shot/testing/mask mandate.
Hay wrote to the campaign participants after the diocese’s reversal, “We are so grateful to everyone who supported this campaign with prayers, fasting, and action. We serve the God who made heaven and earth! So long as we honor him in everything we do, he will provide everything we need to accomplish his will.”
Hay is now again encouraging members of the Knoxville Diocese to “generously support” its activities, including those of its churches, schools, and charities. “We really are the Body of Christ to East Tennessee,” added Hay.
She emphasized to LifeSiteNews that even while the campaign was ongoing, it is important to “remin[d] people that they still have an obligation to give … you have to find some other place to give your money, or we become spiritually sick. You cannot allow this type of campaign to be an opportunity for people to keep more for themselves or it just won’t work.”
Cara Wright, another active member of the Knoxville Diocese, told LifeSiteNews that she is “grateful … that the employees in our diocese will not have their right of conscience, regarding vaccinations, violated.”
The Supreme Court decision takes on added importance for Catholics in dioceses such as Knoxville because of American bishops’ frequent policy of denial of religious exemptions from COVID shot mandates.