black horse and red elephant with TN stars symbol

Will the House Republican Caucus Avoid Riding the Moral High Horse on Monday?

As I continue to contemplate on the one hand the lascivious nature of the texts exchanged between the House Speaker and his Chief of Staff two years ago and accompanying issues of racism in the state House and, on the other hand, the moral outrage expressed by leaders on the Democratic side of the aisle, the image of the moral high horse comes to mind. I have ridden that horse myself, and here’s how I think it applies to the present situation, particularly the House Republican Caucus meeting set for Monday.

Dehumanization by Other Means Provides Democrats No Moral High Horse

No doubt, the way in which women and those with greater concentrations of melanin in their skin were spoken of in various text messages was dehumanizing. But I have to ask the Democratic leadership that has spoken so strongly to this scandal, What is more dehumanizing than calling a pre-born human being nonhuman in order to justify a unilateral decision by one human being to kill another?

Do those who allow the literal killing of another human being by saying he or she has no ethical or moral status at all really sit on a moral high horse from which they can righteously throw moral judgments at those who figuratively kill the image of God by dehumanizing words? I think not.

But, to me, the bigger question is whether the House Republicans will ride their own moral high horse out of their upcoming caucus meeting concerning this scandal.

Is the Moral High Horse Syndrome Avoidable?

A moral high horse is easy to mount and to ride. I’ve ridden one many times. I hope those who think I’m doing so now will read to the end before they judge.

The fact is we all get on our moral high horse at times, and perhaps we ride most high when we are commending ourselves for not being like those “other people” who seem to always be on their moral high horse.

The fact is we can’t escape making moral and ethical claims and judgments. And those who tell us not to judge others are, in fact, judging others in violation of their own standard.

So how, when circumstances require us to judge, as happens with public “scandals,” can we do so rightly without coming across as being on a moral high horse?

In my view, at least two things are required if one is to avoid riding the moral high horse.

A Right Standard of Judgment

The first is that there must be a true standard by which all judgments are made, one that applies to all of us, and that none of us get to make up and impose on others.

If we don’t have that kind of objective standard from outside of ourselves, then all we have is a collection of opinions that some among us, by a variety of means, will impose on others. That solves nothing. Those on whom that standard is imposed can always ask by what standard we are to judge whether the standard has been rightly imposed.

But that kind of standard necessarily brings God into the picture, and more people may dread that than they do those who are always riding on their moral high horse. God is, after all—and if you’ll pardon any seeming irreverence—THE Moral High Horse of all moral high horses.

Applying the Right Standard Is Counterintuitive

However, excluding God is actually the problem. That seems counterintuitive, but the God of the Bible is the answer to avoiding the moral high horse. After growing up in the evangelical church, I’m learning just how counterintuitive the true gospel really is.

A right view of God can do nothing but humble us, and humble us to the point that we feel like it would just kill us to admit, even to ourselves or to others, let alone when in politics to the public, some of the ways in which we fall short of the True Standard. But that’s exactly what we all need.

What’s counterintuitive about the gospel is that each time we are willing to experience one more of those deaths, we find a new life. We find that our appreciation for and understanding of the height and depth and width and length of God’s love and of His grace is in direct correlation to our level of humility. God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. And grace is the second requirement for avoiding a ride on the moral high horse.

Applying the Gospel Tenor

Grace doesn’t change the standard by which a Christian is to judge, which is what some non-Christians now demand and what some Christians, understandably running from the legalistic moral high horses who may be in their church1, now espouse. Instead, grace should change the tenor of the way in which we express that judgment, because we understand that every day we fall short of the standard we profess and hold out to others. It is in falling short here that I’ve most often mounted my own moral high horse.

How Will the Republican Caucus Respond?

The Republican Caucus will formally meet next Monday to judge or begin the process of judging whether Glen Casada is the person they want serving as Speaker, even if there may be no legal means by which he can now be removed. They are not judging whether he should retain his elected position as a representative nor whether he should be excommunicated from the Christian faith.

In my view, judgment as to whether he should remain as Speaker must begin by each of the non-freshmen Republicans searching himself or herself for the sins of commission or omission by which he or she may have supported a leadership team that over the recent years overlooked, allowed, or accepted not only the activities by staff that have now been exposed, but also such activities among one of its leaders.

Among the freshmen, they need to ask if they knew or consciously or subconsciously avoided knowing about the sex scandals of recent years and who the public figures involved were and make inquiries about the character of those persons in the present.2

Then, each needs to judge whether the existing Republican leadership in the House, from the Speaker on down, has demonstrated the marks of true gospel grace, forged from brokenness and humility before God, that will garner from the members a respect for the kind of moral and ethical authority that will be needed if the culture in the House is to ever change.

Absent a conviction among them that such has been demonstrated, it is my view that changes need to be made, but the members dare not ride out of that meeting on some moral high horse when they should be sorrowful and broken that changes would be needed in the first place.


NOTES

  1. Here I’m reminded of my own failure for most of my life to understand the true gospel, thinking I had to “do” something to improve what Christ had done, even as the Christians in Galatia began to think they had to do something more—be circumcised or adhere to practices associated with the ceremonial laws of Moses. To such thinking, the Apostle Paul responded, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4).
  2. When I was elected to the Senate, I’d never even met a senator other than the one I ran against and hadn’t been to the Capitol since a field trip in elementary school. But, over time, it became apparent to me that one of the members of the Senate was profligate, though I don’t know that I ever heard of the female staff member, lobbyist, and interns being preyed upon by him, though it may have happened. Perhaps I was naïve not to consider that possibility. Within my own Senate Caucus, though, I don’t think such predatory behavior went on. Not being the same person now as I was then, I can’t honestly say what I would have done had I known of such behavior, but in Ben Atchley and in Ron Ramsey I had leaders who I think would have addressed it had I gone to them.

Related Article: Casada, Cothren, Politicians, and Christians

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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Photo of the Tennessee House of Representatives and a silhouette of a man in a suit with a conversation bubble

Casada, Cothren, Politicians, and Christians

Earlier this year God broke and humbled me in a deeper and more profound way than ever before, yet it was deeply and profoundly life giving, too. As a result, the events of this week surrounding Tennessee’s House of Representatives, its Speaker, and his former Chief of Staff have weighed heavily on my heart. It’s not just because Speaker Glen Casada is a personal friend and I’ve met Cade Cothren; it’s much deeper than that.

I believe what is happening in our legislature reflects the heart-breaking state of what is called or passes for Christianity in our country.

Like profiling in politics or law enforcement, any broad generalization is sure to offend some, but all of us who profess to be Christian need to take a sober assessment of the situation in the House and what it says about us and what is being taught from our pulpits.

Why? Because almost all of those we’ve elected will tell you they are Christians. Most go to church rather faithfully. But with what we’ve seen this week from our Christ-professing legislative leaders, Democrat and Republican alike, I have to wonder why any non-Christian would find being a Christian attractive?

The False Separation of ‘Church’ and State

I know that some Christians (and non-Christians) reading this would say, “You are confusing the sacred and the secular. The House is a political body and not ‘the church.’” I understand that coming from non-Christians, but not from Christians. Such a statement reflects one of the greatest false dualisms in the history of Christianity. It draws the line between the secular/profane and the sacred between an ecclesiastical institution or hierarchy (a “church”) and that which is not within its narrow confines. So “church things” are good and important to God and politics is not.

It is this false and unbiblical dualism1, in contradistinction to what I often hear a pastor say rightly—“The Gospel changes everything”—that has led to the situation in the House.

The Cause of the Current Problems in the House

Having now dispensed with the aforesaid unbiblical limitation of God’s authority, we Christians need to consider what we read in James 4:1–10:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But He gives more grace.

Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you (ESV).

The Good Fruit of Painful Humiliation

But does not this Scripture passage in James conform to what Christians are told about the Christ we profess and into whose image God the Father desires to conform us?

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2: 5–11 ESV).

Do we not see here the deep humiliation of Jesus before the world? And, by the word “therefore,” are we not told that His exaltation by the Father over all things was the necessary (or we might say “logical”) fruit of His voluntary humiliation?

So, why is being Speaker or, for that matter, a party leader or even a state legislator (or “respected cultural commentator”) so important? Why would we think these positions are a “thing to be grasped,” if in grasping them, we let go of, or worse yet, spurn the real glory that never ends and cannot be corrupted that the Heavenly Father has promised by the indwelling of the very Christ He has already glorified (Colossians 1:27)?

I suspect it is because the sin that still tempts us also still makes us prone to “exchange the glory of the immortal God” (Romans 1:23) for “friendship with the world” (James 4:4) and, in Jesus’ words, to desire “glory from one another [instead of] the glory that comes from the only God” (John 5:44 ESV).

Getting the Perspective Right

But this is the scriptural coup de grace that nails all Christians, me included:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load (Galatians 6:1–5 ESV).

In Galatians, Paul has just explained the necessity of God’s grace because the righteous demands of God’s law are impossible for any of us to keep by human effort. So, “transgression,” even among professing Christians, is going to happen and we “deceive” ourselves if we think otherwise (1 John 1:8).

But unlike those who say grace allows the Christian to keep sinning so don’t worry about it (Romans 6:1) or to “wink” at the transgression by saying “there but for the grace of God go I,” restoration is needed, because we are supposed to love one another enough that we don’t  want one of our brothers or sisters in the faith to “fall short” of that real glory that awaits him or her (Romans 3:5–10, 23, 8:18).

Getting the Attitude Right Is the Key

But—and this is key—those who would see the transgression of a professing Christian and would seek to be a source of restoration need to remember that none of us are beyond doing that which we deem most heinous in others.

If we think that, then James says we “deceive” ourselves. We are thinking of ourselves as “something” and somehow better, particularly if our boasting is based on our supposed goodness compared to that of our “neighbor.” Before God, I will have to “bear” my “own load” of transgressions, because the true comparative is not my neighbor’s righteousness (or lack thereof) but Jesus’ perfect righteousness. That is why Christians are called to bear one another’s burdens, for some measure of transgression and our corresponding need of restoration is our lot until we are “set free from this body of death” (Romans 7:24).

In Conclusion

So, let all who name the name of Christ—preacher, layman, lobbyists, cultural commentator (me), and legislator—see this situation in the House—the grasping for temporal power and glory by individuals and parties by the means commended to us by the world—and for Jesus’ sake before a watching world “mourn and weep. Let our laughter be turned to mourning and our joy to gloom. [Let us] humble ourselves before the Lord” (James 4:9–10) and let Him decide who among us should be exalted, and we all know Who that is.

If that happens, then I suspect the situation in the House will resolve itself and the outcome will shock a watching world disillusioned with and put off by Christians and Christianity.


NOTES

  1. The line drawn by the Bible goes from God right down the middle of every human heart and every human institution. But the type of line-drawing cited above is too often heard from today’s pulpits. Recently, a good friend said his preacher, in what most would call an “evangelical, conservative, Bible-believing” church, used the story of Jesus telling Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11) as an illustration of Jesus “not caring about politics” and said Christians shouldn’t either. Really Jesus’ words were a declaration that all authority in the human realm finds its source in God to whom those who wield it will someday give an account. (See Acts 4:26–28; Daniel 4:30–37.)

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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Baby with a hat, symbols for male and female, and the Constitution of the United States

Tennessee Lawsuit Relies on the U.S. Constitution’s New ‘Dignity Clause’

Last week three individuals sued Governor Lee and his Commissioner of Health in federal court because Tennessee law does not allow individuals to change their sex on their birth certificate once they have figured out the “sex” with which they want to be identified. But the most telling and troublesome issue is this assertion in the complaint, “Tennessee’s Birth Certificate Policy . . . violates the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal dignity.” When did dignity become something protected by the Constitution and what does this ‘guarantee’ mean?

Where, you might ask, could the plaintiffs have possibly gotten the notion that the equal protection provision in the 14th Amendment guarantees not equal treatment under the law, but equal dignity?

Equal Treatment or Equal Dignity?

To answer that question, we must first understand why a constitutional right to equal dignity is so important in a case like this.

The Equal Protection Clause was intended to ensure that persons were treated equally under the law. But law, of necessity, makes distinctions and discriminates. For example, we discriminate on the basis of age when it comes to voting and with respect to punishment for certain crimes (rape and child rape).

Thus, the real equal protection question is whether a particular law “discriminates” on the basis of some standard for which there is no rational basis between the standard and the object or purpose of the law.

For example, the birth certificate law applies to everyone and everyone’s birth is listed and recorded the same way when it comes to designating the newborn as male or female. The three plaintiffs are not being treated any differently than any other person born in Tennessee. Their legal treatment, under the law, is equal.

Consequently, in order to prevail on an equal-protection-under-the-law claim, the plaintiffs would have to convince the court that biology is an irrational basis upon which to distinguish between or classify people on birth certificates. But biological differences are not arbitrary and, thus, can’t be irrational if birth certificates constitute a historical record reflecting a biological fact at a certain point in time.

That, therefore, explains why the plaintiffs start using the words “male” and “female” interchangeably with the word “gender identity.” They must substitute the concept of a subjective mental state for a biological reality for equal protection under the law to make any sense to the average person.

But that argument is a bit shaky. The average person isn’t quite ready to think, “Wow, I never thought about the fact that my biological anatomy was, in truth, never related in any way to whether I was a male or female”—though that must be the goal of the “transgender” advocates if they want their ideology normalized.

So, to get around that problem, the plaintiffs have to get a court to look at a birth certificate as a document reflecting a correspondence between one’s subjective mental state and one’s outward appearance, not a historical record reflecting a biological fact.

That, then, explains why the plaintiffs refer to the birth certificate as a “critical and ubiquitous identification document used in many settings to verify an individual’s identity.”

They now want the court to equivocate between identity as in one’s current appearance and identity as in a biological reality at the time of one’s birth.

Why the ‘Equal Dignity’ Clause Is Important to Sex-Related Claims

Certainly, the legislature could create different kinds of documents to accommodate differences between biological realities and appearances. The birth certificate would continue to be a record of a historical biological reality, and the legislature could authorize another different document, say a driver’s license or government-issued “appearance certificate,” in order for a person looking at it (a police officer or TSA official) to know that the person presenting the license is the person on the license or certificate.

But getting the Tennessee Legislature to do something like that is an uphill battle, and it doesn’t get at what the plaintiffs really want—the abolition of laws based on objective biological distinctions and the eventual abolition of them in the broader culture. So, as liberals do, they run to the court to get what they want.

However, to get what they want, they have to cloak what is surely a political issue and not an equal protection under the law problem under some constitutional-looking justification that a liberal federal judge will swallow.

And that is where “equal dignity” under the 14th Amendment comes in.

Where Is ‘Equal Dignity’ in the U.S. Constitution?

We are now ready not just for the answer to the original question about where the notion of equal dignity under the law came from, but to appreciate the seriousness of the U.S. Supreme Court decision from which it sprang to which too few have given adequate attention.

The answer is found in the last three sentences of the United States Supreme Court opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, wherein the Court said the following with respect to same-sex couples desiring to marry:

They [same-sex couples] ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

There you have it, a “right” to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

Few understand that Obergefell had to be about equal dignity under the law because, again, all males and females, regardless of who they wanted to have sex with, were being treated the same way under the law.

So, to those who think Obergefell was only about whether Bob and Fred or Suzy and Sally could marry each other and get certain marital benefits under state and federal law, I urge you to think again.


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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Pregnant woman and heart beat monitor

‘Fetal Heartbeat’ Bill Suffered from ‘Congenital’ Defects

Monday night, the so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill was put on life support and transferred to a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee this summer. There’s much not to like about what happened on this bill, particularly some of the parliamentary maneuvering. Lots of pro-life Tennesseans are incensed. But the bottom line is that the bill was birthed, legislatively speaking, with a ‘congenital’ political defect. Here’s the not-so-pleasant truth.

Defect No. 1—A Really Bad Start

The bill got off to a bad start. I’ve previously said why that is so, but the bottom line is that the version of the bill passed by the House was so poorly done that even I would not have defended it in court, let alone our risk-averse, jurisprudentially moderate attorney general.1

Unfortunately, a bad start is hard to overcome because, politically, a poorly written or poorly documented bill is the version that sticks in everyone’s mind as the bill goes forward.

As with people we meet, first opinions are hard to overcome, particularly when it comes to a bill’s constitutionality. Non-lawyer legislators, just like their constituents, don’t find it easy to understand why some words or phrases make a bill constitutionally defective, but others, perhaps not seeming that different, now make it constitutionally defensible.

Defect No. 2—Confusion and Overlooked Information

At 3:27 on Monday afternoon prior to the start of the 5:00 p.m. session when Senator Mark Pody’s motion to bring the bill to the Senate floor was to be voted on, I had a veteran senator call me. This senator thought the motion was to bring up the House version of the bill. He didn’t realize Sen. Pody had presented a completely different version of the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That’s a real problem when the thing the legislator thinks he or she is voting on is said to be unconstitutional by every lawyer you know. Sadly, I suspect there were other senators who were in the same position.

Moreover, I suspect few, if any, of the senators who were not on the Judiciary Committee had gone back to listen to testimony that had been offered to the nine members of that committee in support of the bill. I doubt any of them had read the written transcripts of the testimony I provided to the committee. I suspect they were going off what they’d been told about the constitutionality of the bill as it was a couple of weeks ago. (Refer to Defect No. 1, above.)

That sounds outrageous, but let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s hard to expect someone to meet with constituent groups off and on all day, attend committee meetings in between, go to constituent receptions in the early evening, and still have time to read the bills that are coming up the next day. To do that, a legislator has to work into the night. I did a lot of that, but session just grinds you down, and it becomes physically impossible to keep up.

That’s why lobbyists are important. They relay to legislators the latest information about a bill, make sure legislators know what they are voting on, and answer any questions legislators might have.

Defect No. 3—Going It Alone Is Hard

But, in the case of the “fetal heartbeat” bill, the organization that would normally handle that work on pro-life legislation was not in favor of the bill. It was not going to do anything to help toward the bill’s passage.

Given that our organization already had its agenda set before session started and this bill popped up, our one regular lobbyist had to follow through with the legislators we’d asked to work on our issues. Nothing will ruin a lobbyist’s effectiveness like leaving a sponsoring legislator hanging. We just had no capacity to take on the ton of work it takes to lobby another bill, particularly such a major bill.

I did put off the other work I had been directed to do by my board in order to provide Sen. Pody with a legal justification for his amended bill; however, the bottom line is that the House and Senate sponsors originally went forward with the bill knowing they had not sought any organizational lobbying support, and any presumption that they thought such would not be necessary proved wrong.

Defect No. 4—Leaving the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ Defenseless

In my effort to assume, for now, the best of the Republican senators, I told Sen. Pody that there was a sure measure of wisdom in not enacting a bill that the attorney general would not defend in court. This is particularly problematic since the only alternative in that case would be for the two Speakers to agree to hire outside counsel. Speaker McNally was not going to take my word on whether the bill was constitutionally defensible over that of the attorney general. I can appreciate that. Sen. Pody, to his credit, appreciated this problem and tried to get a letter from Liberty Counsel agreeing to defend the bill if passed, but there just wasn’t enough time.

Can the Defects Be Overcome?

Now, the question is whether those senators who on Monday professed their pro-life bona fides on the floor and those who have since professed them to disgruntled pro-life constituents will do what needs to be done this summer to make sure this bill is given every opportunity to pass in January and will garner their votes.

What has happened is that opponents of the bill this year have now laid their political bed among pro-life voters, and they will have to sleep in it.

Continuing to say, as some have done, that “this bill isn’t strong enough” or “this isn’t the right vehicle” is going to ring hollow with pro-life voters next year if they don’t attend the summer hearings to learn for themselves the constitutional bona fides of the bill or at least offer some of their campaign and leadership PAC funds to pay for the expenses of legal experts who will come testify in support of the bill.

But if they don’t do those things, then in my book they need to come up with their own different and better vehicle, or give a credible, legally demonstrative explanation for why any attempt to seek Roe’s reversal is a constitutionally foolish errand.

Time will tell as to how pro-life this Republican majority is in the Senate, but this year time was not on the side of those pro-life activists who wanted to be leaders in the effort to overthrow Roe v. Wade, not just wish the best to others.


NOTES

  1. I do not say that in a pejorative way. I think the attorney general would agree that my jurisprudential philosophy and understanding of constitutional interpretation and, particularly, my more limited view of the judicial power are more conservative than his.

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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Picture of crosses and a line drawing of a hand on the Bible with Tennessee flag stars in the background

Oath-Keeping in the State Senate at Eastertime

Most Christians will celebrate Easter this Sunday and on Monday, the Tennessee Senate will vote on a motion that would pull the so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill out of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee to the floor of the Senate for debate and consideration. It’s called a Rule 63 motion, and it is rarely made. But these two consecutive days will give us a window into our state senators’ views on oath-taking compared to God’s.

The Seriousness With Which God Takes His Oaths

To put our consideration of political oaths in perspective, it would be good to consider how God looks at oaths He makes. One might say that the whole story of the Bible is about oath-keeping, specifically the revelation of how God kept His oath to fulfill His covenant.

While the details and significance of God’s oath and covenant are often little discussed today, Easter is about a “new” covenant, a covenant made by God with Jesus, who the Apostle Paul described as the “last Adam” and the “second man” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45–47; see also Romans 5:12–17). In Jesus, Christians believe God kept His oath to fulfill the blessings flowing from the fidelity of Adam and his descendants to the covenant God swore to them as well as the sanctions flowing from their lack of fidelity thereto.

There is more that could be said about that, but here is the larger point relative to Monday’s Senate vote: Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension is a clear demonstration of how seriously God takes oaths.

The Oath Our Legislators Take

This is the oath our legislators take when they are sworn into office:

I [full name of legislator] do solemnly swear (or affirm) that as a member of this General Assembly, I will, in all appointments, vote without favor, affection, partiality, or prejudice; and that I will not propose or assent to any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to me injurious to the people, or consent to any act or thing, whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared by the Constitution of this state. (emphasis supplied)

To appreciate what the oath affirms, it needs to be put in the context of what it does not affirm and what I know is weighing on some senators’ minds.

Why do I know what may be weighing on their minds? Because a Rule 63 motion was before me back when I was a senator (1996, I think), and to my knowledge that was actually the last time such a motion has been made in the state Senate.

Wrongly Redirecting Delegated Authority

Whether it’s abortion or any other issue, one thing that naturally weighs on a senator’s mind in a situation like this is how his or her vote affects his or her relationship to the Speaker and the consequences politically and legislatively of bucking the Speaker’s wishes.

But the first thing to note about a senator’s oath of office is that there is no oath of fealty to the Speaker to do as he or she wishes or commands.

In other words, to cast a vote tinged with a desire to please, placate, curry favor with, or avoid the wrath of a Speaker and not on the merits of the issue is “ injurious to the people,” because it does “lessen [and] abridge their rights and privileges, as declared by the Constitution of this state.”

How? For one thing, the people from 32 of the 33 Senate districts did not vote to have the Speaker represent them. Voters do not delegate the authority they hold under the Tennessee Constitution to a legislator for that legislator to then make a de facto delegation of that authority to the Speaker to vote as he or she wishes.

But for the Christian legislator, the issue runs deeper: The legislator must consider, Do I believe that a certain relationship with the Speaker necessarily determines my effectiveness as a legislator from God’s perspective? Put another way, do I believe the Speaker is more sovereign over legislative matters on which I work and my political future than God?

The Quasi-Sanctity of the Committee System

Given the foregoing, to me the weightiest argument for voting against a Rule 63 motion is the one I heard as a senator—preserving the sanctity of the committee system.

The argument is that the committee process provides for orderly and due consideration of proposed legislation, and that the process will be destroyed if senators start filing a Rule 63 motion every time he or she is unhappy with a committee’s decision. There is a real element of truth to that argument, given that thousands of bills are filed each year.

Thus, Rule 63 motions should not be made for light or transient reasons. If either the issue or the exigencies of the situation to be addressed by the legislation were not compelling, then I would leave the action of the committee alone. The issue can be dealt with again in the next legislative session.

Is There an Oath to Uphold the Committee System?

However, in a senator’s oath of office, there is also no oath of allegiance to the committee system established by Senate rules by which his or her conscience is bound.

Moreover, Rule 63 exists in order that senators fulfill the purpose of their oath of office. By it, the Senate body as a whole recognizes that man-made rules for the administration of business should not stand in the way of some things, like, perhaps, protecting and securing God-given rights.

Not protecting and securing God-given rights and making the will of the majority of nine senators the absolute will of the whole body is, to me, “injurious to the people” and definitely has “a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared by the Constitution of this state.”

Would I Vote for the Rule 63 Motion?

Now that we all know why Rule 63 exists, here are the questions I would have to ask and answer for myself and before God, given the oath of office:

  • If protecting an unborn child’s right to life and asserting to the federal judiciary the reasons why the rationale employed by its decades-old abortion precedents no longer pertains is not important enough for the Senate as a whole to debate, what issue would ever be? After all, we are not just talking about medical procedures or the relationship between abortion rights and adult sexual liberty, but about the life and death of other, innocent human beings who get none of the due process assured by the Constitution.
  • Would passage of this bill add any weight and gravity to the push for Roe’s reversal by other states, given our knowledge that the U.S. Supreme Court can be highly motivated by cultural mood swings, as happened with reversing a 40-year old precedent in regard to same-sex “marriage”? In other words, are there any exigencies to be taken into here?
  • Should I depend on other states and their lawyers1 to have written their fetal heartbeat bills well and to have made the most legally compelling arguments? In other words, if their potentially feeble efforts are enjoined, I can count on their failure being thrown in my face next session and no one listening to my explanation as to why our bill and arguments are different and we should go forward anyway.

I can’t speak for others, but my answers would cause me to vote for the motion, because it would seem good to me to get started sooner rather than later the litigation process by which the inalienability of the right to life will be defended or denied.

And, at least to my mind, I would expect the God who created that life and bestowed that right to take very seriously my oath to defend its2 taking without being afforded due process of law.


NOTES

  1. Some senators might point to the fact that the attorney general is not sure the bill can be upheld as constitutional. Perhaps his arguments don’t win in court, but forfeiting on the front end the opportunity to win doesn’t seem to be a good alternative. The fact is the Judiciary Committee members and the Speaker were given a legal argument for the bill along with law review articles and other materials supporting that argument. If senators are waiting until some attorney general tells them reversal of Roe v. Wade is a slam dunk win so that there’s no risk of putting money in the pockets of Planned Parenthood’s attorneys, then that will never happen. We have judges because lawyers don’t agree on what the law is or should be.
  2. If our attorney general cannot or will not defend an injury to the fundamental right to life with every argument he can marshal, then I have no doubt the two Speakers will serve their respective bodies by finding an attorney who will defend what the majority of them approved. Otherwise, each body can replace their Speaker if they have the political will to do so. The point is, there are always options, even if some are difficult or unpleasant to take. On more than one occasion, I directly bucked the express will of the Speaker with whom I served, so this complaint falls on deaf ears with me.

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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