beauty pageant crown

Why Miss USA Made Some People So Angry

When I read of the flap over the comment Kara McCullough, the newly crowned Miss USA, made that health care was not a right, I couldn’t help but think of a conversation I had a few years back with my now 86-year-old dad. It helped put the question of rights in context for me, and that helped me better understand why people were so angry with her. Perhaps it will help you, too.

Of course, the first thing we have to do is make sure we understand what McCullough meant. I don’t think she meant that people did not have a right to seek out medical care when they need it. And that’s certainly not why she was criticized. She was criticized because she doesn’t seem to think that people have a right to health care that entails a right to have someone else pay for it or at least help pay for it.

And that brings me to my conversation with my dad. He was born in 1931 into what we might today call poverty. His family subsisted off of what their 30 acres in Ringgold, Georgia, could produce. Here’s the conversation:

DAVID: Dad, when you were in high school, didn’t you want to play sports, at least in the winter when it wasn’t growing season?

DAD: Sure. I wanted to try to play basketball.

DAVID: Wouldn’t grandpa let you?

DAD: No, he said I could play.

DAVID: Then why didn’t you?

DAD: Because he told me that if I broke my nose or some other bone, I’d just have to get used to it being broken, because they didn’t have money to pay a doctor to fix it. And he let me know I’d still be expected to keep up my chores and help with planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall. So I chose not to play.

Amazing. It never entered the minds of those in my grandfather’s generation that someone owed them medical care, particularly if the need arose from a decision they made that harmed their health.

I’ve never asked my dad why they didn’t think they had a right to have someone pay for their health care, but I think I know why. It’s because they and we as a nation once understood what a true right was.

A true right is one that inheres in the nature of things, or, as our Founding Fathers would have said, a true right is one that is endowed on us by our Creator. True rights are pre-political. True rights don’t come from government; never have and never will.

If the government doesn’t “owe” me something, I really can’t be angry that it’s not given to me. But if I think government “owes” me something, that I have a right to something, then my anger is righteous and justified.

So what do we make of the anger expressed toward McCullough? To me, it simply means an increasing number of us believe rights come from government, not from God. And that tells me something else. I should expect the size of government to keep increasing. After all, it has a really big job to do, one that previous generations thought only God could do.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Nature Isn’t Natural Anymore

A new law stating that words used in Tennessee’s statutes should be given their “natural and ordinary meaning” provoked a firestorm of controversy by the proponents of same-sex marriage. It appears that the word “natural” in the legislation is the problem. But if so, then we really have a problem.

After the bill passed, the head of the state organization that led the opposition to the bill told a reporter that the word “natural” in the new law concerned him. Specifically, he said, “We know the way ‘natural’ is typically used in respect to our relationships. Our families aren’t natural.”

That is a very telling statement. According to Webster’s Dictionary, “natural” means “being in accordance with or determined by nature.” Thus, what we have is an acknowledgment (probably unintended) that people don’t “typically” think of a sexual relationship between two people of the same sex as being “natural.” In other words, a same-sex relationship that is sexual (as distinguished from social) is not “natural” within the “natural and ordinary” meaning of the word “natural.”

But it is also an acknowledgment that the kind of family that same-sex married couples have is not natural in the same way that families of a married man and woman are. Whether a man and a woman actually have children or are physically capable of having children is not the issue in this context; it’s that having children is “natural” to that type of relationship or, in Webster’s words, “in accordance with nature.” Nature will never produce a family through the sexual union of two people of the same sex.

I don’t say this to demean anyone because, after all, I’m not the one who said the relationships and families at issue were not “natural.” I’m just calling attention to what was said. But my point is simply this: It is hard to forever suppress nature. It bubbles back up in our consciousness and comes out in conversation, sometimes when we least expect it. In the words of professor J. Budziszewski, there are some things we just cannot not know.

The only way for what is not natural to become natural is to give the word “natural” an unnatural meaning. And that is where we are headed as a society. We are being asked to give up believing that there are any things that are “natural” to our humanity and pretend that things are only what the law says they are.

In the context of the LGBT agenda, that means words like “marriage,” “fatherhood,” “motherhood,” and “family” will now only mean what we say they mean. They are mere words without meaning until we assign them meaning by a law; there is nothing naturally true about any of them.

However, the problem is that giving a word a meaning contrary to its natural meaning requires us to give a new meaning to all the words associated with that word. That necessity is currently reflected in our struggle to figure out what to do with marriage-related words in other laws now that our law has abandoned the natural meaning of marriage.

And herein lies our real problem—constructing a universe of meaning to replace the universe of meaning we “naturally” had. That is a God-sized task, and it begins with giving the word “God” a new meaning, too; it now simply means “us.” To me, that just doesn’t seem natural.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Judge, Bible, and C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters book

Christian Judge Ignores Wormwood’s Advice

The Screwtape Letters begins with Screwtape, an experienced demon, giving his demon nephew Wormwood advice on how to keep a person from becoming a Christian. Screwtape’s first bit of advice is this: Don’t allow the discussion of Christianity to be moved “onto the Enemy’s own ground.” But on the flip side, C.S. Lewis might have had the Angel Gabriel give similar advice to a Christian—don’t argue on the other side’s “own ground.” A decision last week by a Christian judge shows just how important it is not to unwittingly argue on the wrong ground.

Last week, Kentucky family court Judge Mitchell Nance decided to recuse himself from all future cases of adoption by same-sex couples. He did so because he does not believe it is in the “best interest” of a child to have gay or lesbian parents. As a Christian, based on his understanding of the nature of the family, a child is best served by the unique contributions that come from having both a mother and a father, contributions that flow from a belief in the complementariness of the two sexes.

But then, in my opinion, he made a mistake.

Conscientious Objection or Objectively True or False?

In recusing himself, Judge Nance cited his “conscientious objection” to “adoption of a child by a practicing homosexual.” This, he reasoned, was a kind of personal bias—not unlike being biased in favor of a friend who is a party before the judge. Then he noted that the ethics rules allow judges to recuse themselves from a case when they know they are “biased.”

His “mistake” is that he conceded that his beliefs about homosexual adoption and a child’s best interest are not true or false, but more like a “bias.” And the liberals nailed him on it.

One of them wrote:

It’s important to be clear on what Nance is not saying: His argument here is not that he believes gay adoption is wrong. It’s that, “as a matter of conscience,” he believes it harms the interests of children. Yet it’s impossible to square the circle: By placing debates over facts, which tell us that adoption by gay people does not harm children’s interests, into the realm of conscience, Nance conflates empirical claims with moral ones. He cannot meaningfully claim a “conscientious objection” to adoption by gay people any more than he can claim a conscientious objection to gravity. (emphasis mine)

Relying on a ‘Conscience’ Claim Could Backfire

Judge Nance retreated to an argument grounded strictly in conscience because the “other side” will only allow “empirical claims” based on “facts.” But in doing so, he allowed the “other side” to determine the “ground” upon which the debate could proceed and, for them, debates about the truth or falsity of “beliefs” are out-of-bounds arguments.

While Nance may think he has “won” because the LGBT community can’t “empirically” say his “conscience” is wrong, he may have unwittingly opened himself to a charge of discrimination. The ethical rules governing Kentucky’s judges say, “A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice . . . based upon . . . sexual orientation . . . .” Seems to me his own words will condemn him under this rule.

‘Conscience’ Claims Made Life Safe and Easy

Here’s the point: In recent decades, Christians have assumed it was safer and easier to just retreat to the subjective realm of conscience and concede that what we believe is subjective. That certainly made what Christians believe immune from attack.

But now that is catching up to us. Those arguments are not going to be allowed to get us out of doing things we don’t want to have to do. Beliefs are, to the other side, just “biases,” not right or wrong, true or false.

Contending for the Truth

At some point, Christians are going to have to argue for the truth of their religious claims and not be afraid to back them up with data. But in presenting the data, we must be careful not to make yet another fatal mistake, the mistake of conceding that data is determinative. We can’t concede that data alone is determinative because experience proves that data can shift over time. As with no-fault divorce, we may later lament and condemn what earlier we approved because the preliminary data looked “good.”

The only thing that endures forever is truth. And the only question is whether Christians are going to become more willing to contend for propositional truth such as whether a child’s interest is best served when he or she has both a mother and a father.

I hope we are because debating issues strictly on the ground of conscience will not work much longer. As Wormwood said in The Screwtape Letters, we can’t argue on the “other side’s” grounds and expect mere “conscience” claims to win anymore. For the other side, “conscience” is just another word for “bias.”

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Uncle Sam and the Tennessee Capitol building

Can Our Form of Government Continue to Work?

I heard from a number of “new” RINOs after last week’s commentary, and they, like me, are increasingly frustrated with the direction of our government. This week I’d like to suggest something more radical than a mere change in the function of our government. Based on a recent lobbying experience, I wonder whether our form of government will even continue to function as intended.

A Key Governing Principle: Separation of Powers

One thing our Founding Fathers were concerned with was a concentration of power within the structure of our government that would crush the liberty of the people. They were concerned with power becoming concentrated in the judicial, legislative, or executive branches and with the power of any two of those branches of government combining against the third. This separation of powers was important to securing liberty for the people.

And how was this separation of powers to be protected and preserved? Federalist Paper No. 51 by James Madison provides the answer:

[T]he great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. . . . Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.

What Our Founders Didn’t Count on

This was wise. Our Founders counted on man’s ambition for power to counteract encroachments by others on the power they were given. What they didn’t count on was the love of the position itself—they didn’t count on elected legislators being fearful of doing anything that would prevent their re-election.

A Current Example of the Unanticipated Problem

This session, the Tennessee Legislature was asked to enact legislation that would tell our judges that the words “mother,” “father,” “husband,” and “wife” meant what everyone thought they meant. That would seem unnecessary, but a judge was being asked to “interpret” the word “husband” in a particular law to mean “spouse” when the statute was clearly referring to a biological male who was the counterpart to a “wife” in a marriage. And he was being urged to do so at the insistence of our state attorney general.

As I lobbied state legislators, I was struck by this response from a key legislator, generally known by his constituency as a “conservative.” This legislator fully understood that the judge in the case I described was being asked to rewrite a statute, and he realized that the judge would be doing so because of same-sex “marriage” and not because the meaning of the word “father” itself had changed over time. He understood that the purpose of the bill was to let our courts know that they could not “modernize” our statutes through judicial interpretation.

But the legislator was hesitant to support the bill. The reason for his hesitation? Dealing with legislation on this subject was too politically controversial.

Specifically, he said he didn’t think the Legislature would want to deal with any legislation regarding existing family law. To vote for bills to “modernize” those laws to comport with same-sex “marriage” would irritate conservative voters, and not to vote for them would irritate LGBT activists. His assessment is probably correct. His conclusion: Maybe it was best to let judges deal with the problem.

And that’s what the judge did. He ruled that “husband and wife” could be interpreted to mean “spouse and wife.”

The legislative body has been given the constitutional power to protect its power to write laws by removing judges who encroach on that power. But there aren’t enough lawmakers who will exercise it. And judges, seeing that the Legislature will not complain when they arrogate to themselves a power to “modernize” the law, will love that power and exercise it more often.

Where Does This Leave Us?

What our Founders had assumed would happen in situations like this is that legislators would not want a judge to encroach on their power to write statutes and that they would do something to protect their power. Whether that assumption still applies was put at issue in my conversation with this lawmaker.

Thankfully, not all legislators share that legislator’s perspective and, thankfully, this particular legislator did vote for another, different bill that told the courts that any undefined word in the Tennessee Code should be given its “natural and ordinary meaning” unless the context clearly shows that a different meaning was intended.

But what I realized was this: If the “ambition” simply to hold legislative office overcomes the Legislature’s “ambition” to protect its power from encroachment by the judiciary, then the separation of powers will become a dead doctrine. And with its death will come the death of our liberty.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Republican elephant and the silhouetter of a man with a question mark over his head

Am I a RINO?

As I’ve watched Republicans over the last few years, I have developed an uneasy feeling that I am becoming a RINO, a term which, to the political novice, means “Republican In Name Only.” That may shock my conservative friends, but you may be a RINO, too.

To appreciate what I mean, let me provide a little context.

The Function of Law

I see law as having primarily a “negative” function. In other words, for me, law should function more like the Ten Commandments, which are “negative” in that they “negate” or restrain certain actions—the “thou shall nots.” The law identifies an evil—for example, various forms of stealing, dishonest dealing, killing, and destruction of private property—and seeks to prevent it. When law’s function is primarily negative, its function is rather modest.

The opposite view is to see law’s function as “positive.” Those who believe law has a positive function think the law’s function is to affirmatively improve the lives of people. Law’s function is to make your life better.

The Implications

I readily admit the positive view of law is more appealing than the negative view, particularly in our culture. Today, no one likes to be told no; “thou shalt not” is not popular. And passing laws to make folks lives better just sounds good and altruistic.

But when civil government thinks its job is to use the law to make a citizen’s life better, the government is now in the position of defining for you what makes your life better instead of you. And when making my life better is the government’s function, then government can come up with all kinds of things it thinks it can do for me to make my life better. Government gets bigger and bigger doing all its good things.

What That Means for Republicans

Republicans are people, too (though liberals might assail that assertion), and they don’t like being labeled “the Party of ‘No’.” So as I’ve watched members of Congress and the state Legislature over the last few years, I have found an increasing number of Republicans wanting to “do things” for people to improve their lives.

I also have this uneasy feeling that an increasing number of Republicans believe a strong economy is the government’s responsibility, that its function is to affirmatively “do things”—make “investments” with other people’s money—to make sure our economy is strong.

On top of that, many Republicans increasingly want to solve people’s problems and save them from the consequences of their wrong decisions. If they don’t, then they are hard-hearted, mean-spirited, uncaring, and uncompassionate. Of course, it takes lots of government programs paid for by other people’s money to protect the foolish from themselves. And, of course, the foolish tend to continue being foolish, which creates a demand for more government programs.

One way I plan to test my theory is to watch over the next several months as Republicans announce their gubernatorial aspirations. I want to see if some or all of them say something about wanting to help people, improve the lives of people, make things better for people, etc. I want to see if, by their statements, they effectively volunteer to shoulder responsibility for the state’s economy.

Are ‘Old’ Republicans the New RINOs?

It used to be that Republicans said things like President Reagan said, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” and “the most terrifying words in the English language are I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” and “where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves,” and “all great change in America begins at the dinner table.”

But those kinds of Republicans are fast disappearing, being replaced by the new breed of Republicans, who increasingly are just like Democrats—they think government is the solution; they would just go about it a bit differently from the Democrats. Like the Democrats, they now see the law’s function as positive.

So, if that is now what being a Republican means, I guess that makes the old RINOs the new real Republicans and makes me the new breed of RINO. My, how times have changed!

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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