Vivien Kellems, 1941

Tax Day Makes Me Wonder, Are There Any More Vivien Kellems?

Recently, I was throwing away some things that had accumulated in my dad’s attic, and I was intrigued by a yellowed, brittle page from the local newspaper because it was dated June 6, 1958, the month and year I was born. There was a wonderful article about my dad graduating with honors from the University of Chattanooga, but it was what I read on the flip-side editorial page that stunned me: “Courage Brings Persecution to Woman Fighting for Rights.”

The editorial was about a woman business owner in Connecticut, Vivien Kellems. The writer, Westbrook Pegler, said, “Miss Kellems has been a warrior for all of us for about 15 years in a personal campaign to restore our constitutional right to the profit of our work and talent.” Turns out she was a warrior because she refused to be an “agent” of the government for collecting federal taxes from her 100-something employees.

Here’s what she said: “If they wanted me to be their agent, they’d have to pay me, and I want a badge.” In essence, she was asking, What moral principle justifies the government forcing employers to act as its unpaid tax collectors?

In her 1952 book Toil, Taxes, and Trouble, which can be read here, Kellems wrote:

The most un-American phrase in our modern vocabulary is ‘take home pay.’ What do we mean, ‘take home pay’? When I hire a man to work for me we discuss three things: the job to be done, the hours he shall work, and the wages he shall receive. And on Friday when he receives that pay envelope, we have both fulfilled our contract for that week. . . . This system is deliberately designed to make involuntary tax collectors of every employer and to impose involuntary tax servitude upon every employee. We don’t need to go to Russia for slavery, we’ve got it right here.

She only surrendered her case against forced collection of federal taxes when it threatened to bankrupt her company, but she continued to challenge other aspects of the income tax for the rest of her life, calling it “a 1,598-page hydra-headed monster.”

Pegler rightly said of her, “Very few citizens have been willing to spend the time and mental effort necessary to learn that they are not free citizens but serfs under the amendment to give Congress the power to confiscate every cent of every person’s income every year.” And while Congress has never done that, the top tax rate during my lifetime was, for a number of years, 70 percent until slashed during the Reagan presidency.

But today it isn’t just the income tax that has reduced us from “free citizens” to “serfs.” Congress gives us a plethora of new laws every year that take away our liberties, all in the name of doing something good for us.

But worse yet is our United States Supreme Court. It keeps creating out of thin air new individual rights and setting them in a form of constitutional cement that thwarts our ability to govern ourselves as a society, no matter whom we put in Congress or in the Oval Office.

What the history of France tells us is that when the U.S. Supreme Court’s unrestrained governing principle of individual autonomy runs its course, we will find that it has failed to deliver on the promise inherent in that individualism of equality and brotherhood. Individualism doesn’t lead to equality and brotherhood but to greater inequality and chaos. When that happens, history also tells us that big government politicians come to the rescue, promising us that socialism will deliver the equality and brotherhood we desire.

So, when you read about income inequality, the phenomenon of Bernie Sanders; the millennial generation lauding socialism; and even Pope Francis suggesting a new, more equitable economic system; just know it’s coming to America.

What I don’t know is whether any Vivien Kellems will arise to stop what’s coming. But if they arise, I believe it will be because they were inspired by pulpits aflame with a radical form of the gospel, not a new one, just one too many seem to have forgotten. I’ll talk about that next week.

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

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event

binoculars with law books and gavel

Getting Perspective on a Tough Legislative Session

This soon-to-conclude legislative session brings some good news and some bad news for social conservatives. To be honest, it was one of the most stressful sessions in my twenty-four years on the Hill from a social conservative perspective. But I’m trying to keep my perspective rightly balanced.

The Good News Wasn’t Easy

The good news is that several bad ideas didn’t make it. Two of them we worked on and helped make sure they were, in our view, fixed. But it was tough sledding.

Our opposition to the original bills and repeated insistence on changes rankled a few folks, and, to be honest, I’m sure some tired of our steady stream of input. You hate to be a thorn in the side of those you consider friends, but we see our job as representing social conservatives as best we can and getting the job done for them.

The News That Was Hard to Swallow

The bad news is that some good ideas didn’t make it. One, for example, was a bill that would have protected our K-12 public schools from being run over financially by expensive litigation brought by the ACLU and other such groups if they had a policy prohibiting biological males from using the girls’ locker room and shower. It died because no one would second it, even for discussion purposes. Another good bill died because the bill sponsor didn’t show up for the committee meeting to present the bill; he thought an email his office had received had altered the time of the committee meeting.

History Gives Me Some Perspective

Reporting these kinds of things is not pleasant for me, because most of the members of the Legislature I genuinely like and I have been in their shoes. But what I’ve seen over the last two years of this General Assembly reminds me of one of my own experiences. I think it reflects what I’m increasingly seeing.

I was the legislative sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 127, which became Amendment 1 to the state Constitution. It removed the court-created “right to abortion” from our state Constitution.

Abortion is a touchy political subject, and I was asked by the Senate Speaker not to continue pressing the amendment for a vote in the Senate. I was asked not to do that because the amendment appeared to have no chance of passing in the House. I was told that, by making senators vote on the resolution anyway, I was going to destroy the collegial atmosphere in the Democratically controlled Senate.

That collegiality existed because many Republican leaders had struck a decades-old accord with the Democrats. Republicans would be nice and not get overly partisan, and Democrats would leave them in safe districts and without opposition. It did make for great collegiality, but it also kept Democrats in the majority and Republicans in the minority.

I refused not to push the resolution, not for partisan reasons, but because I thought fighting for the life of the unborn was the right thing to do. In time, Amendment 1 did become a partisan campaign issue, helping Republicans become the majority party, and collegiality in the Senate did wane.

Applying That History to Gain Perspective Today

But it now seems that the situation is reversed. Over the last two years, Republicans seem to have become increasingly preoccupied with maintaining collegiality among the members of their caucus and maintaining their majority status.

That is fine as far as it goes, but it increasingly seems to mean that Republicans shouldn’t ask other Republicans to take hard votes on controversial social issues. After all, those votes could invoke the ire of the LGBT lobby, provoking an economic boycott that would then dry up PAC contributions from large business interests.

The downside for us is that when we report things like this, legislators get mad. Some even refuse to visit with us, thinking that this hurts us. But this is where perspective is needed.

Liberals already accuse Christian social conservatives of being a wing of the Republican Party, and increasingly it seems, some Republicans think that’s what we should be. Therefore, we should never report anything negative about a Republican, and if we do, we’ll be “punished.”

But if our organization or I won’t report the bad with the good, then we deserve the accusations made against us by liberals. I don’t think my job or that of our organization or, for that matter, the job of any Christian is to be a cheerleader for the Republican Party. Rather, it is to strive to be a voice of conscience to all those who hold office as faithful witnesses of the God we serve and be faithful to the policy principles we think align with God’s Word and to those who depend on us to let them know what we really see happening. That is where I believe our loyalty must lie.

If trying to do that job means some politicians don’t like us, then perhaps that means we’re doing our job.

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

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event

silhouette of a head with puzzle piece missing with TN Capitol in the background

Tennessee Legislation Demonstrates Why Liberals Are ‘Mentally Unstable’

I sat in a Tennessee Senate Committee hearing two weeks ago, listening in one ear to a debate over “child marriage” while listening through the earphone in my other ear to a House Committee meeting in which the issue of gender identity vis-a-vis biological sex in locker rooms was debated. It struck me a few days later just how the arguments by liberals on both bills were both irreconcilable and perfectly reconcilable. How could they be both?

How Were the Arguments Irreconcilable?

In the Senate, liberals1 argued that the law should not discriminate in the assigned usage by minors of locker rooms and bathrooms relative to gender and that objective phenomenon like biological sex must always give way to subjective psychological phenomenon.

On the other hand, in the House, liberals reversed the argument. They argued that the law should discriminate between 17- and 18-years-olds in the licensing of marriages and that objective chronological age must always give way to the more subjective criteria of maturity. Some mother, married at the age of 17, was more mature in regard to marriage than Zsa Zsa Gabor with her nine marriages ever was!

I won’t take time to explain how a believer in the transcendent Creator God of Scripture could reconcile opposing arguments of the liberals in both cases, for that is not my point. The point, today, is that the second argument demonstrates that liberals are not, in fact, against all discrimination in the law. They really know that law, by definition, “discriminates” between one type of conduct and another or between one person or another, though they try their best to suppress that knowledge when they want to do something the law prohibits (of course, by “discriminating” against them).

Upon What Basis Will We Engage in Necessary Discrimination?

So the question isn’t whether we should or should not discriminate or whether the law should or should not discriminate. Rather, the question is this: On what basis should we discriminate? How shall we decide between those discriminating judgments that are either good or worth tolerating and those that are bad and should not be tolerated?

This is a question for which liberals who deny God or the existence of any pre-political, pre-governmental law by which human laws can be measured are at a complete loss.
It’s not that they don’t give answers to that question; it is just that, based on their premise of autonomous human beings, they cannot provide a basis upon which to judge the rightness of the various answers. Their whole premise is that there is nothing outside the individual person by which the ideas of the individual person can be judged.

The most commonly accepted answer among liberals is pragmatism—what is best for the most number of people. That answer is great if you are among the larger number of people and not so great if you are in the minority.

And, of course, those enlightened liberals who believe in the sovereignty of man’s reason know that arguments based on authority, popularity, and the like rest on logical fallacies. They are logical fallacies because, absent other evidence, a belief that what is best for the most number of people in a particular situation is just as likely to be false as true.

How Liberals Reconcile the Otherwise Irreconcilable

And therein is the ground upon which I could say that liberals’ arguments in these two situations are reconcilable—their denial of objective truth.

When we deny that there is any objective truth imposed on us or to which we are subject, then we can do and say and think whatever we want. We can be as illogical and irrational as we want to be.

Better yet, no one can say we should not think irrationally or illogically. For that would be a real rule, and the liberal denies the existence of real rules. To be consistent, liberals must say we are free from the rule that reason or logic should be the rule!

The Real Reason Liberals Can’t Insist on Reason and Logic

Here, though, is the problem liberals face. If they allow room for just those two transcendent, imposed rules of determination—rationality and logic—then they have cracked open the door of the vault in which they have locked away God.

Transcendent, imposed rules can only come from a transcendent Creator God, and we are subject to those transcendent, imposed rules only if we are His creatures. But if that’s the case in these two instances, then we are subject to our Creator in all instances for we are, at all times, creatures.

This is a thought too horrible for the liberal. But here is the really horrible thought that the liberal ignores: He or she is, by definition, mentally unstable, for his or her thinking rests on nothing stable.

I think the Apostle Paul put it this way: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).


  1. I use the term liberals to refer to the post-modern person who denies that there is any transcendent Creator or any metanarrative that explains reality and the course or direction of history. I do not use Democrat or Republican because those labels are meaningless when liberalism is defined the way I’ve used it. Many elected Republicans are liberals, as so defined, who don’t realize they are liberals or are simply afraid to fully embrace their liberalism because it brings particular results they don’t like.

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

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event

law books and gavel

Will I Lose My Law License?

The Tennessee Supreme Court will soon be considering a proposed change to the rules of ethics that govern licensed attorneys that could well result in my disbarment because of the things I’ve written the last few weeks about marriage.

The proposed change adds a commentary to illuminate the intent behind our rule prohibiting discrimination. The proposed commentary says it is unethical for a lawyer to “engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law.” (emphasis supplied)

The Supreme Court provided attorneys an opportunity to submit their opinion about the proposed commentary. I suspect that the opinion I filed with the Court was rather unique. Here is an abbreviated version of what I said:

I hereby voice my objection to the new proposed Rule 8.4 . . . because, to my knowledge, neither the Board of Professional Responsibility nor the Tennessee Bar Association have provided a foundation upon which the meaning of the word “discrimination” and its grammatical variations can be determined and, therefore, it has not provided a basis for determining that the various listed offenses are, in fact, discriminatory or how a lawyer can know or reasonably know whether his or her actions are, in fact or in principle, discriminatory.

Law, in order not to be arbitrary, must rest upon sure and fixed standards and definitions. To do otherwise is what prior generations of legal philosophers would have called lawlessness.

Unless any act that anyone claims to be discriminatory is going to be held discriminatory by all, then there must be some standard by which an act is determined to be unethical and unjust discrimination. Otherwise, we who are to be defenders of the law have become lawless and rightly susceptible to claims of injustice.

For instance, the current commentary to current Rule 8.4 prohibits discrimination on the basis of age. But TCA § 36-13-506 uses age as a basis for discriminating against the treatment given different perpetrators of rape. There is “mitigated statutory rape” and “statutory rape,” as distinguished from rape. Are those laws unethically and immorally discriminatory, and would the advocacy in favor of keeping those laws in favor of all rape being treated the same, regardless of the victim’s age, be unethically discriminatory?

Many would scoff at this example, but those who scoff at the serious question of the basis upon which we determine something to be ethical and justifiable discrimination or unethical and unjustifiable discrimination expose their ignorance. Even by saying my example is a poor one and irrelevant, they are, in fact, exercising a form of discrimination, discriminating between examples they believe to be relevant and those they believe to be irrelevant and doing so on the basis of a standard for determining relevancy.

Their scoffing betrays the denial of the question I beg this Court to answer—Is there a standard upon which we have determined that discrimination proposed in this new commentary on our ethical obligations is good or bad, and what standard will be applied to future claims of discrimination?

This becomes particularly problematic given that the proposed commentary on the rules prohibits conduct “the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination.” If one holds to certain belief systems, for example, the beliefs flowing from the orthodox, historic doctrines of Christianity regarding the nature of human beings and human sexuality, the nature of the social order, and natural law, then a lawyer saying or doing something consistent with those beliefs would not “know” or “reasonably know” his or her comments or actions about same-sex marriage or “sexual orientation” to be discriminatory. Rather, for that lawyer not to say them would be a denial of his or her core beliefs.

Until this Court, the Bar Association, and the Board of Professional Responsibility can articulate for the members of the bar a standard for determining which acts constitute discrimination that should be prohibited and those which may be allowed, in my view none have any business proceeding on what would be an undefined and therefore arbitrary basis.

Arbitrary, rootless law grounded only in the excogitative genius of those who then happen to control the apparatus of power is the definition of tyranny and is a threat to liberty, not just to me, but to all.

As George Mason, delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 said, “No free government or the blessings of liberty can be preserved to any people but by . . . frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”1 I beg of this Court to consider those fundamental principles.

So, proceed as you must, but know that for me, I stand on the side of Patrick Henry—give me true liberty, even if it means you take my license.


  1. Quoted from Charles Warren, The Making of the Constitution, 804.

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

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event

Constitution of the United States and the Liberty Bell

What Are Inalienable Rights and Liberty Worth to You?

After my mother went to heaven, my dad eventually remarried. After the marriage ceremony, the minister asked my dad and me to join him in his office, and we’d get the marriage license and application for the certificate of marriage signed. I now appreciate more fully the meaning of what was a humorous exchange between them.

My dad’s response to the minister? Bewilderment! He said, “You mean at my age I have to get permission from the state in order to get married?”

The minister was horrified and immediately wanted to know if they were going to be sharing a motel room that evening.

Dad’s response was effectively, “Of course. We just got married.”

Marriage between a man and a woman should never be considered or seen as a right conferred on us only by the government. Government didn’t “create” marriage. From the Christian’s perspective, God did1 and governments simply acknowledge that pre-existing fact.

The minister’s problem was that he was so steeped in statist thinking that it did not even cross his mind that they were married in God’s sight. He was worried they’d be living in sin until after their honeymoon because they didn’t have a state license.

I say, “Poppycock!”

What’s the Source of the ‘Right’ to Marry?

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, early in our history state marriage laws did not confer the right to marry but only allowed for the “registration of marriages” and to provide “evidence of the marriage.” The “right to marry,” the Court said, was part of the common law because it was inherent to the complementariness of the male-female relationship.

But over time states arrogated to themselves sole power over marriage, saying effectively you can only get married if we give you permission and you can only get married if you agree to our terms and conditions for doing so.

When states did that, men and women didn’t object that their inherent, inalienable, pre-governmental right to marry was being usurped. That was understandable. At the time of the state’s power grab, the state’s definition and the terms and conditions for a lawful marriage lined up with Christian beliefs. Even non-Christians were okay because they could use a government official, rather than a minister, to legalize their marriage.

My dad, born in 1931 into a different era, had assumed that at his age he had a right to marry apart from the state and got hit, unexpectedly, with the fact he didn’t have that right.

At the heart of Obergefell is this idea: When states chose to forsake the Higher Law that defines and establishes in a man and a woman the right to marry and made marriage its sole domain, they subjected themselves to the mercy of the U.S. Supreme Court and its interpretation of what the “higher law” of the Constitution imposes on them.

Of course, states never thought the U.S. Supreme Court would impose a new definition of marriage on them via constitutional “interpretation.”

The Really Big Underlying Issue

So, as we think about whether the state should stop licensing marriages and allow a man and woman to exercise their pre-governmental right to marry and register notice of that marriage with county clerks or the state’s office of vital records, we need to realize that the issue here is bigger than marriage.

If there is no pre-political type of law, call it what you will and ascribe to it what source you will, and law only comes from the pen of a legislator or judge, then there can be no inalienable rights for anyone.

Inalienable rights rest on the proposition that there is a form of “law” that pre-exists the lawmaker and which the lawmaker must acknowledge.

You may not think marriage is one of those pre-existing laws, but if something that has been going on for millennia is not a right that pre-exists government, then what chance do other rights-life, speech, guns, and religion-have in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s pen? All of these other rights, but not marriage, have been widely suppressed by governments at one time or the other.

What Will Our Position Say About Us?

Fighting to take the creation of marriage out of the state’s hands and therefore the Supreme Court’s hands will lead to a super-sized Human Rights Campaign boycott. But if we’re silent when that fight comes, what will it say about us?

I would hope our silence would not evidence a willingness to give up on inalienable rights or to say they are not worth the cost, if any, of enduring a boycott.

When I think of defending the common law right of a man and woman to marry against government usurpation and absolute control of that right, I can hear the echo of Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death.” I hope you hear him, too.


  1. Non-Christians might ascribe marriage to natural law or common law arising out of common sense and long-established tradition that pre-exists government.

Commentaries in the Marriage Series:

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

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event