‘It really does speak to the man he was’: Cooper signs Jeff Rieg law

Published 7:53 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The family and friends of late Washington resident Jeff Rieg are celebrating the passage of a law named in his honor.

House Bill 447, known as The Jeff Rieg Law, was signed last Friday by Gov. Roy Cooper which. As of Oct. 1, clergy can see “any patient admitted to the hospital who requests or consents to be visited by a clergy member … including a hospital stay that occurs during a declared disaster or emergency.”

Amy Rieg and her family were unsuccessful in their efforts to convince hospital authorities to let their pastor visit Jeff while he was hospitalized following a car crash. The family also requested permission to visit Jeff, but they weren’t given that clearance due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Administrators at Vidant Medical Center decided to permit a last visit by the family after Rep. Keith Kidwell intervened, but pastor Tad Tankard was still not allowed in to pray over Jeff, even as he died after being taken off life support.

“I just couldn’t get that out of my mind. It was wrong. That needed to be changed. It was a clear denial of religious rights guaranteed to us in the First Amendment of our Constitution as well as our state constitution,” Kidwell said.

The bill was passed 98-19 in the House of Representatives, with the Rieg family watching as four legislators who listened to Kidwell’s closing comments asked to change their votes from “no” to “yes.” Shortly thereafter, the Senate voted 46-0 in favor of the bill.

“It is an honor for us, as a family, to have Jeff’s name on this bill that permits families to have their clergy person available to them during a declared state of emergency,” said Amy Rieg, after learning of the bill’s passing. “It really does speak to the man he was – one who would never deny anyone the right to receive prayer for any and all reasons. There were times when Jeff would get a phone call near midnight, and he would get up and pray with whomever needed his support and help.”

Rieg thanked Kidwell, “who saw how important it was for those families who wanted their pastors, clergy, etc. with them in the hospital, but could not have that physical presence, touch, and prayer available to them. This legislation will make it possible for those who want that spiritual/religious support to be able to have it (and) will also make it possible for those who provide that kind of support to fulfill their responsibilities.”

This religious rights legislation may be the first of its kind in the nation.

“I’m not aware of any other state that has passed such a law,” Kidwell said, adding that the situation is personal to him now because his wife, Viki, has been hospitalized four times in the last five weeks for COVID-19 and related life-threatening complications. “The day after the law passed, we asked our priest to bring Viki communion, and he did. Three weeks before then, that very same priest was not allowed to visit.

“It’s important that everybody knows about this,” Kidwell said. “Get it out there everywhere. Take a copy of it to whatever hospital serves you, especially if they’re giving you problems. It’s your right, and the Riegs deserve to know that Jeff’s legacy is doing good for people in his situation, for families who want clergy to be there for them.”