silhouettes representing male and female Tennessee gubernatorial candidates

What I Want in a Governor

The 2018 race for governor is taking off, with four declared candidates and another two or three looking to join the race in another month or two, so it’s not surprising that I got a call from a friend asking me about the names that are circulating and what I would suggest he look for in a gubernatorial candidate.

Barring some out-of-the-blue candidate whose name has not yet surfaced, I personally know all the candidates running for office, except for one. I have served in office with a number of them and even worked with them on specific pieces of legislation. I also personally like all of them that I know and believe all those I know to be Christians.

My point to this friend was that none of those things would make me choose one gubernatorial candidate over another. And that conclusion is based on two overarching observations.

First, culture is changing at an accelerating rate for the worse. Four years ago, I would have never thought we’d be talking about whether a junior high boy could use the girls’ locker room because he thinks he’s a girl.

Second, unprecedented legal issues are threatening our very form of government. Too many judges (federal and state) think they are gods whose powers allow them to transcend the limitations of federalism and violate the separation of powers. Tennessee has cities that think they should be autonomous, having forgotten that their powers come from the state. And Congress is inept, seemingly incapable of addressing any problem but proving more than capable of creating problems for our states.

Those two observations tell me that I don’t need to be voting for someone just because he or she has been successful in business or because I personally like him or her. Those observations also tell me that it’s not going to be enough that the person has been a great deacon, elder, or Bible study leader.

Given what is taking place in our country, what, then, will I be looking for in a gubernatorial candidate?

First, I will be looking to see who best understands and can articulate how our form of government is supposed to work. I’d like to see if there is a candidate for governor who can explain on even a basic level why the Supreme Court’s same-sex “marriage” decision was unconstitutional (not just immoral). That case touches on a number of constitutional issues related to our form of government with implications for the states. If a candidate can’t do that or blows off the question because the decision “is the law of the land,” then I’m not sure that candidate understands our form of government, understands what is going on constitutionally, and is up to the challenges that lie ahead.

Second, I will be looking for a candidate who (a) believes that there is a God-ordained moral order to the universe, a God-ordained structure to the family, and a God-ordained limit to the purpose and jurisdiction of civil government, and (b) is willing to defend those beliefs publicly when asked about them and govern on the basis of them.

To help flesh this out, one thing I will want to know is the reasons a candidate will or will not support legislation that tells a junior high girl that no biological male should be in her school locker room. That will tell me a lot about the worldview issues I just mentioned, and if a candidate does not even understand why this is such a telling issue, then that convinces me he or she isn’t ready to confront the issues ahead.

In my opinion, we can no longer afford to vote for a gubernatorial candidate so that we can brag about knowing a governor or because he or she has been successful in the private sector or because he or she has been faithful to and active in the local church. Those things are great, and I’d love to be able to say those things about our next governor, but they do not, by themselves, mean that that person is qualified to be governor in view of the challenges that lie ahead.

I’m looking for someone who knows how to govern under God and in accordance with our Constitution. Who are you looking for?

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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Tennessee map showing Bradley County

A Good Tennessee Marriage Court Ruling Provides Ray of Hope

I got an email from a lawyer friend this week in which he said, “I have become so jaded that I expect nothing good out of courts.” I didn’t realize how much I had begun to share his sentiment until I received a ruling from a Tennessee judge this week.

The ruling to which I’m referring denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit I filed in January of last year. The lawsuit was filed by me through an arm of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, the Constitutional Government Defense Fund. It was filed on behalf of a Bradley County minister and County Commissioner who were willing to challenge the notion that the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex “marriage” decision in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges, changed Tennessee’s marriage license law.

That the motion was denied means that the lawsuit can go forward!

The judge’s decision does not mean that our clients “win,” nor does it mean that the state can ignore the Obergefell decision. But it does mean that the judge believes this minister and County Commissioner have a right to have a state court determine the effect of the Obergefell decision on our marriage license law. Whether that law remains valid after Obergefell we’ll soon find out.

I can’t tell you how gratifying the judge’s decision was in the wake of the mixture of responses I got to the lawsuit from my fellow lawyers. Most of these lawyers, to be honest, just scoffed and never even heard me out. They would say some inane thing like, “You can’t nullify a Supreme Court ruling,” when that’s not what the lawsuit seeks to do. Among those who didn’t just scoff but listened to my legal theory, many said I was correct, and then added, “But the courts aren’t going to follow the law.”

I was beginning to think they might be right when a supposedly conservative judge dismissed a similar lawsuit we’d filed in Williamson County (now being appealed), but I continued to try to convince myself that there were still judges who would follow the law, regardless of whether they liked the result. I hoped and prayed that the judge in Bradley County might be one of those.

But when I got a letter from the judge on Tuesday advising the lawyers on the Bradley County case that he would be filing an opinion denying the motion to dismiss, I realized my self-talk had masked the fact that I, too, had become jaded. I found myself reading the letter multiple times to see if I was reading it correctly. I asked another lawyer in my office if the letter was saying what I thought it said. I even called the judge’s secretary to make sure I was reading it correctly.

I realized then that I probably had lost more faith in our judicial system than I had wanted to admit. But the judge’s ruling restored a bit of that faith.

The judge acknowledged that no court had ever decided what the effect of the Obergefell ruling was on our marriage license law, and that ministers and citizens had a right to know what the effect of that ruling was.

Our law says that marriage licenses can only be issued to male and female applicants, and Obergefell expressly said such laws are “invalid.” My clients are simply asking on what basis, then, are our county clerks issuing any marriage licenses, let alone licenses to same-sex couples.

I don’t know how the judge will answer that underlying legal issue. He may rule in a way that I believe is consistent with long-standing judicial precedent, or he may find a way around those precedents.

However, at least for today, we know there is one judge in Tennessee who is willing to follow the law, even if it puts him in the position of having to make a tough decision on the merits that one side or the other of the same-sex “marriage” issue isn’t going to like.

It’s nice to know I have a reason for not being quite so jaded for yet another day.

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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Rainbow, state of Tennessee, a gavel, and four sets of lesbian couples

Lesbians’ ‘Fake Liberty’ Threatens True Liberty

We hear a lot these days about “fake news,” but what about “fake liberty?” That’s exactly the kind of liberty four lesbian couples asserted in a lawsuit they recently filed against the state of Tennessee.

On May 7th, the lesbian couples filed suit in state court asserting that “a central part of the liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause” is the right to “bring up children.” Given that no one is preventing these women from having children or from parenting the child one of them has, what is their constitutional problem?

Essentially, they are claiming that as a matter of constitutional “liberty,” they are entitled to a birth certificate that indicates that a person with no biological relationship to a child is a “mother” simply because she is married to the person who bears the child.

As same-sex couples did with their demand that the state shows its approval of their relationships by the issuance of a marriage license, these lesbian women now want the state to “sanction” their child-bearing practices with the issuance of a birth certificate that gives a non-biological person the legal status of “mother.”

What Is the Real Issue?

Before anyone accuses me of being mean-spirited for not wanting two lesbians to both be recognized as mothers on a birth certificate, let’s make sure we understand what we’re talking about here. We are not talking about what makes for good public policy. We can argue the merits of birth certificate policy with our lawmakers at another time. We are here arguing about what the Constitution requires. That is the real issue.

And it is in regard to the constitutional claim that we need to pay heed to what Justice Clarence Thomas said in his dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, “[R]eceiving governmental recognition and benefits has nothing to do with any understanding of ‘liberty’ that the Framers would have recognized.”

What Is True Liberty in a Constitutional Sense?

Justice Thomas’ explanation of liberty is worth reading:

To the extent that the Framers would have recognized a natural right to marriage that fell within the broader definition of liberty, it would not have included a right to governmental recognition and benefits. . . . At the founding, such conduct [as marriage] was understood to predate government, not to flow from it.

In other words, the freedom or liberty one had to marry flowed not from a right to marry granted by the government, but from “nature” and from a kind of natural “conduct” that predated government. That kind of liberty and right makes sense. It is within our tradition that true liberty and true rights come not from government, but, as our Founders would have said, from our Creator. Certainly, none of the Founders or the Framers of our Constitution, who believed in limited government, would have argued that a person had a liberty right—that a person was free—to access benefits the government chose to give to marriage.

Applying a true understanding of liberty to the new lawsuit, I think we can safely say that none of the Framers would have said that liberty was the right of a person to be recognized by the government as a mother or father where such was not “natural” (inhering in the nature of things) and pre-political. And, clearly, no one would have believed that mere government action—the issuance of birth certificates for record keeping purposes—would have given rise to a liberty right to be recognized by the government as a parent.

Think of it this way: No one’s liberty, not even that of a heterosexual couple, is threatened by the state not issuing a birth certificate. The absence of a birth certificate would not change my status as the father of my daughter. I am, by nature and not by government action, her father. The lesbians are essentially arguing that they are not free unless they are granted a status by the government that the irrevocable Laws of Nature have naturally denied them.

Does Liberty Now Come From Government?

But here’s the point for today: We are headed into some dangerous territory when liberty morphs into a right to government action and liberty depends on a status granted by government. True liberty is endowed by our Creator, not granted by the government. And true liberty is freedom from government action, not a right to government action.

If we forget this, then we may have to relearn the hard way that a government that grants our liberty is a government that is at liberty to take it away.

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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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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