Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Gary Humble of Tennessee Stands to the newsmaker line to weigh in on the removal from class by campus police of a Middle Tennessee State University nursing student, Avery Garfield, who refused to be vaccinated to continue her studies.
Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line now by our good friend Gary Humble, the founder and CEO of Tennessee Stands. It’s a grassroots conservative organization here in Tennessee. Gary, can you please enlighten me on this very bizarre story that we’ve reported on at The Tennessee Star by Chris Butler.
Headline: Law Enforcement Officers Force Unvaccinated Middle Tennessee State University Nursing Student Out of Class. Tell me that’s not a real story, is it?
Humble: That is a real story. And we met with her and her mom last night here in Nashville, and we filed a lawsuit in state court on Avery’s behalf and then had to move to federal court.
Leahy: Tell me the details. First, the incident in question happened yesterday. Did you file the lawsuit previously on our behalf?
Humble: Yeah, but the incident happened yesterday morning. I think she was on her way to an 8:00 a.m. class.
Leahy: Her name is Avery Garfield. She’s a Middle Tennessee State University nursing student.
Humble: Right. That is correct. And she was on her way to class, and the officers had been briefed about her. This wasn’t an instance where she showed up in class and the professor had an issue and asked her to be removed.
The school apparently had already worked with campus police. They were waiting for her in the hallway. They knew what she looked like. They knew who she was as she was approaching. And they sort of gave her the look.
And she said, you’re here for me, aren’t you? And they said, are you, Avery Garfield? She said, yes. And they escorted her off-premise. They were literally waiting for her as she showed up.
Leahy: Were these Middle Tennessee State University police officers or Murfreesboro City police officers or Rutherford County Sheriff officers?
Humble: These were campus police officers.
Leahy: Okay, now let’s go. When did you first file a lawsuit on her behalf? And what is the argument made in that lawsuit?
Humble: I can’t recall the exact date. The initial lawsuit would have been filed. I don’t know. Five or six weeks ago. This was almost immediately following an email that was sent by Dr. Jenny Sauls, who leads one of the liaisons who leads the nursing program, who had sent a memo out to all students saying that the vaccine would be required for nursing students. And in all caps, the memo said, NO EXCEPTIONS.
Leahy: Okay, so let me stop. By what legal authority does the MTSU nursing program coordinator send such a message to nursing students at MTSU?
Humble: It’s sort of convoluted. The last session, when we passed SB-187, which was now is now the law that says that the state, a political subdivision, or state agency, including public schools and universities, cannot require vaccination for COVID-19.
That bill was amended in committee and was amended in such a way that carved out a medical student or a student in a program like this where the student would possibly do rounds in a hospital or in a private situation.
And it carved out that situation where the public University could require a vaccine. That’s sort of the authority there.
Leahy: But she wasn’t doing rounds, was she?
Humble: That’s correct. And that’s part of the problem. There are opportunities for her to do rounds where she possibly would not be required to be vaccinated. That’s the issue with this “no exceptions” memo.
And by the way, the students were told, it was almost like a gag order. They were not allowed for her words, Dr. Sauls to speak with any of the interning hospitals or to speak with any member of the administration. This was a “no exceptions” policy, and that’s just the way it’s going to be.
Leahy: See, this is where I think you got a good case. You can see that a judge would have to take a look at the intent of that and the details, the letter of that law. I could see easily that her argument that well, that law doesn’t require me to be vaccinated just to sit in a class. I could see that argument.
And I could also see the argument that says the school doesn’t have the authority not to grant me an exception if the law grants me an exception.
Humble: That’s right. We call that arbitrary power. In addition, like you just mentioned, the idea that she’s sitting in a classroom with other students. That’s a 14th Amendment equal protection claim as well.
Leahy: What was the course? Was it like a course which only for nursing students?
Humble: That specific detail I’m unsure of. I just know it was specifically her 8:00 a.m. class yesterday morning. That’s a good question as well to ask her.
Leahy: I guess your argument would be there may have been other students in that class who were unvaccinated and were not targeted.
This looks like retaliation for having the temerity to file a lawsuit to challenge the policy of the MTSU and the law itself, I guess.
Humble: And that’s the thing. The fact that there was a premeditated conversation, obviously, that had taken place where the officers were waiting for her to arrive. And Avery would tell you that over the past few weeks, she felt harassed with various emails she’s received trying to coerce her into compliance and scare her. But she’s fearful, I think it’s been communicated to her that taking the stand could possibly cause a failure of her program.
Leahy: Her own personal failure, not the program’s failure itself. Is that correct?
Humble: Yes. The failure of her ability to proceed through the program and receive her nursing certification.
Leahy: Why are they acting so authoritarian here? Why aren’t they just looking at her case individually?
Humble: Well, that I don’t know. You’d have to ask them. The greater question is, why is seemingly everyone acting authoritarian? You know, apparently, we don’t have a right to make our own decisions anymore.
This is just seemingly the world that we live in now. But this was the next level of authoritarianism with the ‘no exceptions.’ And you shall not speak to the administration. It’s next level for sure. And I can’t imagine why that would be from a like you say, a public University.
Leahy: In terms of her own personal choices right now, she’s been targeted. Obviously, they want to get her out of the program. It would seem to me.
They’re not going to give her a fair shake. What does she do? Are there other programs or she could attend where she wouldn’t get this authoritarian view of herself?
Humble: Yeah, I believe so. I don’t know personally, of not being a nursing program person where those exist. But I have heard instances in Tennessee that are quite different where the people are backing down in some situations.
I think I can’t remember the name of the University, but there is an East Tennessee University that I do know had allowed their students to proceed through the program. And depending upon where they were going to do rounds, one of the more popular places to do those rounds would be Vanderbilt.
At that time, that would be between the student and Vanderbilt as to whether or not they were going to require vaccination. By the way, my understanding is, Vanderbilt has been in several situations accepting religious exemptions.
So it’s certainly plausible that Avery could continue through a program and even do rounds and receive an exemption to this requirement.
It’s totally asinine and arbitrary that they would continue this mandate, especially at such an early stage in a public university.
Leahy: Avery’s reasons for not taking the vaccine at present. Has she expressed publicly? Or do you?
Humble: She doesn’t want it. (Chuckles)
Leahy: Okay. Well, there you go. She looks to be in her early twenties or so.
Humble: Yeah. She’s a young college-age student. Healthy as can be. She’s made her own personal decision that she does not feel that she needs to take this medical treatment. And that’s that.
She does not want to feel coerced or forced into making a decision to do something she doesn’t want to do just to receive a certification for nursing. She doesn’t feel it’s right, and she’s not going to do it.
Leahy: Well, keep us posted on this. I think there’s a lot more to this story to come I imagine. Gary Humble with Tennessee Stands. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.
Humble: Thanks for having me on. I appreciate all that you guys do.
Leahy: All right. Thanks, Gary.
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