A protest against masks organized by Tennessee Stands in downtown Franklin in November. (Photo: Tennessee Stands, Facebook)
In the six months since Tennessee Stands launched as a fresh conservative voice railing against pandemic policies — galvanizing resistance to COVID-19 emergency orders by state and local officials — the newly established nonprofit has worked to coalesce resistance to government mandates during the pandemic.
Tennessee Stands and its founder, Gary Humble, have filed lawsuits against Gov. Bill Lee and county officials, organized protests over mask mandates and business restrictions in town squares across Tennessee, established a loosely organized string of offshoot organizations on Facebook — Knoxville Stands, Memphis Stands among them — and lobbied for law changes, although there is no record Humble or others associated with the organization have formally registered as lobbyists.
The group is the main impetus behind a bill filed by state Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, to give parents the right to a religious exemption for any future COVID-19 vaccination mandated by schools. Current law says religious exemptions may be overridden during a pandemic. Pody said he has been working “very hard” with Humble, Tennessee Stands and others on the measure.
Humble, the group’s founder, is a Williamson County resident and father of young children who is also the impetus behind a Facebook group called Recall Williamson that is critical of school board members in his county who have supported mask mandates. Recall Williamson filed suit against the public school district over mask mandates. The suit was blocked by a court order.
Humble said in a December interview that he is a full-time employee of Tennessee Stands, which has not yet had to file tax returns revealing its funding sources.
Humble is a former pastor, whose most recent job was serving as CEO for Family Action Council, a conservative organization led by former lawmaker David Fowler that for years has weighed in on opposition to abortion. Humble spoke to Tennessee Lookout in December but has declined to comment or answer questions since then.
“We want accountability and we want respect for the state constitution,” Humble said in December. His group opposes what it characterizes as “government overreach” in “lawless executive orders” by Gov. Bill Lee. It has enlisted paying members who want to “reclaim our liberty.” Humble said Lee is violating the state constitution in issuing executive orders that don’t have the full vetting of the Tennessee legislature.
Humble’s group has proved successful in harnessing the unease and anger of Tennesseans opposed to what they see as government overreach in enacting pandemic policies including mask mandates, business and school closures. The group’s Facebook page posted supportive messages in advance of the siege of the U.S. Capitol last week and has since condemned shutdowns of social media sites including Parler, where the group regularly posted updates. Tennessee Stands has told its followers to join new social media sites including Telegram.
In a Nashville court late last week, Humble argued that he has been harassed and had to pull his children from school due to mask mandates. Humble said masks impact his asthma and impede Tennesseans’ freedoms.
Attorneys for the state are seeking to dismiss Humble’s lawsuit. No ruling has yet been issued.
Reporter Sam Stockard contributed to this story.
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