laughing baby

Shining the Light on Roe v. Wade and the ‘Heartbeat’ Bill Controversy

Next Monday and Tuesday the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear lawyers wrangle over the constitutional defensibility of a so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill. The version of the bill passed by the House is a ‘heartbeat’ bill. Contrary to what you probably believe, the Senate is not considering a ‘heartbeat’ bill. Here is what you need to know.

I will testify in favor of the Senate version of the bill. I did not support the House version of the bill. At the end of this commentary is a picture that shows what I’m talking about, but first, you need a little background history.

A Little History on Roe and Casey You May Not Know

In Roe in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court said it didn’t know what a person was, so the unborn could not be declared by state governments to be persons in the eyes of the law relative to abortion and protected from abortion from conception. Consequently, the state had only an interest in protecting “potential life” and that kicked in only at some point prior to birth.

This point was called viability, but it did not mean simply an objective determination of the presence of a living human being as opposed to a non-viable or dead one. This would be what we would call a medical diagnosis concerning the existence of a condition, here, a pregnancy and the existence of a second human life.

However, Roe picked a more subjective understanding of viability, something like what we would call a medical prognosis. It meant a subjective determination of the unborn child’s likelihood of survival outside the womb, with or without medical technological assistance.

What was particularly galling to the pro-life crowd was that Roe said the state had no interest in protecting human life until then, and thus, could not regulate abortion at all during the first trimester.

Then in 1992 in Casey, five justices could not agree on the constitutional reason for enjoining enforcement of the abortion regulation there in question. That, by itself, should tell you something about the soundness of the reasons given for the judgment in Roe.

The conflict among the five was that, contrary to Roe, three of the justices—O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter—thought the state had a “substantial interest in potential life throughout pregnancy.”

Here is what this looks like:

Roe's framework flowchart

The Particular Problem with the House Bill

Unfortunately, the House bill accepts the reasoning of Roe and Casey that the state’s interest is only in potential life and not from the point at which that life is known to exist. It also accepts the reasoning in Roe and Casey that a subjective prognostic determination of viability should continue to be used.

The only real difference between Roe and Casey and the House bill is that the House bill says that the prognostic meaning of viability should be based on when a heartbeat is detected, not on when the unborn child can survive outside the womb. The argument is that once a heartbeat is detected, the unborn child, if not aborted, will survive to term and become a person in the eyes of the law.

Basing an abortion law on the detection of a heartbeat has good political optics and makes for a great bumper sticker—“Abortion Stops a Beating Heart”—but to simply say to the U.S. Supreme Court the prognostic meaning of viability we want you to use is better than yours is to ask the Court to substitute one subjective prognostic measure for another. And it seems rather arbitrary to say one is better than another except that one will save more lives than the other.

Of course, I support that end result, but in my view, agreeing to the legal logic of Roe and Casey makes it easy for the Court to apply Roe and Casey to the House bill. Reversal of Roe under those circumstances will look like the only thing that changed was the composition of the Court, something that makes Justice Roberts ill and will make Justice Kavanaugh nervous.

What’s Good About the Senate Bill

I like that the Senate bill confronts the Court with the legal foundations of Roe, which no legal scholar thinks was sound, and makes them justify it. It rejects the subjectivity of the Roe/Casey viability standard and says that abortion is prohibited once it is objectively determined that a life exists, which may be prior to the detection of a heartbeat. Human Growth Hormone levels may indicate the existence of a living human prior to then.

But what I really like is that the Senate bill is unique and different from the ‘heartbeat’ bills passed in other states in one very important regard. It puts forward a constitutional basis for the law that has never been before the Court, namely, the state’s power, implicated by the Ninth Amendment, to protect those “other rights” referred to in the amendment and not already “enumerated” in the Constitution.

What Are Those Other Rights and Where Do We Find Them?

Law professor Adam MacLeod, a friend of mine, will testify on Monday that those other rights can be found in the common law, those “laws” that derive their “force” among us not from legislative enactments backed by the power of the sword, but from such a long course of development over centuries that we know them to be true and real.

One of those was the right to life, and the common law recognized that the child in the mother’s womb was treated as a person for any number of purposes, just as we still do in every area of law but abortion.

The Ninth Amendment envisions that government, created to secure our rights, could continue to make secure our rights even if not enumerated in the Constitution as such.

Basing the proposed law on the Ninth Amendment creates a collision course between the Ninth Amendment and the 14th Amendment.

No court has ever had to render a judgment on this conflict; therefore, no opinion has ever been issued to tell us how that conflict should be resolved. So, any lawyer who tells you the opinions in Roe and Casey are controlling because the issues are the same is just wrong. The issues are not the same. So I will urge the Senate to adopt the amended Senate bill or one like it.

In my view, it’s time to make the Supreme Court decide what it has not been required to decide for 46 years. The science of prenatal life is now on our side. The law has always been on our side, and abortion’s view of the person has become increasingly isolated from and inconsistent with the rest of legal reality regarding prenatal life.

The truth we always knew was suppressed in Roe to reach a politically desired result. It’s time to bring the truth into the light.

flowchart of how House and Senate view Casey

 


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 Joshua Harris' I Kissed Dating Good-Bye book and image of a cross

My Joshua Harris Moment and the Challenge of Christian Cultural Engagement

This week, Joshua Harris, a preacher who rose to prominence within certain segments of Christianity through his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, has now said, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” I honestly think I get where he’s coming from because of my own experience. I also think his admission directly bears on politics and culture in Tennessee and our country.

My Personal ‘Joshua Harris’ Testimony

I do not know Joshua Harris, and so to say I know where he’s coming from is admittedly presumptuous, but this comment by him bears on my own journey over the last couple of years. I was a “good kid” growing up. My moral compass was pretty straight. By “all the measurements that I [had] for defining a Christian,” I was one.

Then in law school I heard for the first time about the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and it added a new dimension by which I could “measure” my Christianity. Now an even greater reason for “being good” was introduced.

About 14 years ago, I found myself in a pew at the end of a Sunday evening service quietly sobbing into my hands and repeatedly muttering, “I’m just so tired.”

Life is a journey, but over the course of the last 14 years I have learned what might be shocking to many Christians: A Christianity understood as and measured by what I do is exhausting, and it is not the gospel.

Yet, I suspect my old perception of Christianity reflects the tenor of much of what passes for evangelical preaching today with its emphasis on three steps to having this in one’s Christian life and five steps to having something else. Preaching with that kind of tenor is what Christians even as recently as 100 years ago would have called legalism. To avoid Christian jargon and hopefully spark discussion, I’ve started calling it “Christian moralism;” it is “having a go” at reforming one’s moral values by personal willpower.

The End of ‘Christianity’?

Legalism or Christian moralism easily slips into Christianity because it appears to be a good antidote to and a means of inoculating Christians against the heresy of antinomianism, which means literally “against law.” It goes something like this: If legalism is bad, then antinomianism is worse!

Antinomianism is the “safe harbor” for those who don’t want to give up their basic belief in God and want to satisfy a felt need to “be right with God.” It is a belief that the gospel frees people from strict adherence to the moral law of God. Antinomianism allows the person to continue in the sin that legalism insisted he or she give up but by will power could not be done, and think he or she will be forgiven anyway because God is a God of love.

What’s ironic is that the tenor of the Apostle Paul’s preaching against legalism resulted in him being accused of antinomianism!

We know this by the fact he spent time in his letter to the Christians in Rome anticipating the charge that the gospel he preached was antinomian.1 In fact, Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones once said of Paul’s letter, “If your presentation of the Gospel does not expose it to the charge of Antinomianism you are probably not putting it correctly.”2

Even as legalism left Judaism in tatters when the gospel came in the form of Jesus Christ and the Temple was soon destroyed, I won’t be a bit surprised if the legalist spirit so often associated with Christianity will soon leave the words “Christianity” and “Christian” in tatters, too. I think the growing malaise toward and outright contempt for “conservative Christianity” is evidence of this trend, and more of the same won’t help.

The ‘Solution’ to Legalistic and Antinomian Christianity

Legalism and antinomianism both miss the point of the gospel, which, at the core, is God implanting a spirit or principle of life into a person so that normal human faculties (intellect, will, etc.) are redirected toward an affection for God and the glory that is God.

This is what Thomas Chalmers, the great Scottish preacher and cultural reformer, said on this matter, and I believe it bears directly on why Christians in political office and many Christians who support them seem to be so weak and unwilling to support laws that go against the current cultural flow of things:

To bid a man into whom there has not yet entered the great and ascendant influence of the principle of regeneration, to bid him withdraw his love from all the things that are in the world, is to bid him give up all the affections that are in his heart.

In other words, the world and that which is in it or a part of it is all there is for those who lack this principle of regeneration. And who will give up any affection that may be found in what this world has to offer unless it is replaced with a greater affection? No one.
To expect that is to expect the person to cease being human. That’s why Chalmers described the gospel as “the expulsive power of a new affection.”

How Joshua Harris ‘Connects’ to Christian Engagement in Politics and Culture

Here, then, is how I see Joshua Harris’ renunciation of Christianity relates to politics and culture:

When we as Christians in political office and Christians who are interested in the laws that politics produces and are concerned about our nation’s moral slide, allow this new affection for God and the glory of God to displace the greater affections we might have for office, influence, power, reputation, or possessions, then I suspect we will see a change in our country’s direction away from bigger civil government and away from a liberty that has turned to licentiousness.

Legalism and antinomianism both lead to death. The fact that many conservative Christians, I among them, think our nation is dying should speak to us about how we might have contributed to its condition and what first must change about us if the change we desire for our nation is to ever come about.

For further reading
The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance―Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson.

NOTES

  1. Romans 6:1,15.
  2. “If your presentation of the Gospel does not expose it to the charge of Antinomianism you are probably not putting it correctly. . . . What do I mean by that? Just this: The Gospel, you see, comes as this free gift of God–irrespective of what man does. Now, the moment you say a thing like that, you are liable to provoke somebody to say, “Well, if that is so it doesn’t matter what I do.” The Apostle takes up that argument more than once in this great epistle [to the Romans]. . . . You see–what is not evangelical preaching is this: It’s the kind of preaching that says to people, “Now, if you live a good life; if you don’t commit certain sins; and if you do good to others; and if you become a church member and attend regularly and are busy and active you will be a fine Christian and you’ll go to Heaven. That’s the opposite of Evangelical preaching–and it isn’t exposed to the charge of Antinomianism because…it is telling men to save themselves by their good works…And it’s not the Gospel–because the Gospel always exposes itself to this misunderstanding from the standpoint of Antinomianism.” http://feedingonchrist.com/lloyd-jones-on-the-gospel-and-the-charge-of-antinomianism/

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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Bernie Sanders at a political rally and dollar bills

Sanders, Tlaib, and the Minimum Wage

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist, says the minimum wage needs to be raised from $7.25 to $15 (though he’s unwilling to allow his employees to increase their gross income as a result!) and then U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib wants to raise him $5 to $20. What are we to make of this?

The fundamental question being raised by the Democratic Party is whether our governmental system that allows for free enterprise or capitalism has run its course and new structures are needed for American society.

The Pope Joins the Democrat’s Conversation

Even Pope Francis has raised this question (and I’m sure some protestants have as well, perhaps Ron Sider and Jim Wallis). In 2013, in Evangelii Gaudium, the pope wrote,

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. (emphasis supplied)

The solution, according to a growing number in the Democratic Party, is a change to socialism, beginning with the government fixing wages and profits by various means.

Ironically, this solution relies on that which the pope used to question free markets with only a twist at the end, namely, “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding [the] power [of the sword].”

One greedy person might harm me economically, but a greedy person wielding the power of the law’s sword against me is worse!

What the Pope Got Right

To his credit, however, Pope Francis did get right a part of the real problem. In 2015, he said,

Behind all this pain, death, and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil.” An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.

Are Republicans Exacerbating the Drive to Socialism?

Sadly, from what I see, too many in the Republican Party, even in Tennessee, don’t have the solution, either.

Too often nowadays we see legislation that promotes the common good found even in good old common sense, let alone the Bible—e.g., boys are boys and girls are girls, and the two should not undress in shared locker rooms—go down to defeat because of fears it will lead to a boycott that will hurt our economy. That is exactly what happened in the Republican-controlled Senate this past session.

So, while Republicans by and large still support an economic system that allows for liberty in our private economic relations, it’s ironic that its almost exclusive emphasis on material prosperity does foster the “destruction of human fraternity” that leads to calls for socialism.

What Lies at the Root of the Socialism Problem

The drive toward socialism is rooted in two things, the first of which the pope mentioned, greed. But greed is most often spawned by lack of contentment with what one has or one’s station in life. Any solution must address both of these root issues.

The problem is that these are matters of the heart, which law and politics can only deal with clumsily at best.

That’s because God alone has jurisdiction over the human heart, and it is therefore God alone who can fix it. But do Christians who profess belief in God understand what it is about the God reveled in their Bible that provides the fix?

The Solution to the Real Root Problems

The biblical fix is rooted in two major things. First, a belief that all of humankind exists and continues to exist at every moment in time only by virtue of an omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God. It is because of these beliefs about God that we believe Him to be sovereign and the Author of a transcendent law that He has imposed upon all His creation. Second, the fix is rooted in a Heavenly Father, who by an incredible act of condescending love, willingly cloaked His glory in the human flesh of His Son, Jesus Christ, in order that we, in the fragility of our human condition, might have some present comprehension of that and give us now a foretaste of knowing and experiencing that glory someday in fuller measure.

If these two things are true—and I believe them to be—then they provide a true, objective basis for us, subjectively as individuals, to have a real and true sense of equality and fraternity. As Abraham Kuyper said during his 1898 Stone Lecture presentation to seminarians at Princeton, this view of God and man “places our entire human life immediately before God.”

From this, he said,

It follows that all men or women, rich or poor, weak or strong, dull or talented, as creatures of God, and as lost sinners, have no claim whatsoever to lord over one another, and that we stand as equals before God, and consequently equal as man to man.

Hence we cannot recognize any distinction among men, save such as has been imposed by God Himself, in that He gave one authority over the other, or enriched one with more talent than the other, in order that the man of more talents should serve the man with less, and in him serve his God. . . .

It condemns not merely all open slavery and systems of caste, but also all covert slavery of woman and of the poor; it is opposed to all hierarchy among men; it tolerates no aristocracy save such as is able, either in person or in family, by the grace of God, to exhibit superiority of character or talent, and to show that it does not claim this superiority for self-aggrandizement or ambitious pride, but for the sake of spending it in the service of God. (emphasis supplied)

Herein lies both a reason for contentment and a rebuke to greed. After all, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6, KJV, emphasis added).

Those who attain to such wisdom will find it “better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it” (Proverbs 8:11, KJV).

Now if only I, and all the other people who profess biblical Christianity, would heed these words, live them, and then proclaim them.


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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hands of husband and wife showing wedding rings

Constitutionality of New TN Marriage Law and Personal Repentance

The other week I read in The Tennessean that the state’s lawyers did not satisfy a federal district court judge’s demand that they provide a “rational basis” for a new Tennessee law that bans ministers with online ordinations from performing marriages. To be honest, there really isn’t one. And that conclusion leads me to make public a personal confession I wrote to myself on April 26 of last year.

The Reason the ‘Online’ Minister Restriction Is Irrational

The reason there is no rational basis for prohibiting solemnization of a state-licensed marriage by a person whose “ordination” is granted via online submissions is that there no longer is any rational basis for state-licensed marriage itself.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis in its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision rejected the normative nature of marriage as male and female, which was based on a normative belief in the complementarity of two biological sexes.

But Obergefell treated marriage as a social construct, something we make up, instead of a real thing that civil laws only recognize and, in certain regards, regulate. According to Obergefell’s rationale, we can structure what it calls marriage any way we want, though only within such limitations as are permitted to us by a majority on the Court.

So, if marriage is not an objectively real thing, but something we make up and write into statutes, why does it need to be solemnized in the first place?

What about the objective nature of marriage can the state then protect from destruction or misuse by its licensure laws, other than perhaps minors who might marry without wisdom and parental approval? But the protection of minors doesn’t rationally require that the person overseeing the exchange of relational intention be ordained in a certain way or by a certain means.

Rationality is reason. Reason is the means by which we argue to valid or invalid conclusions from certain premises. So, if the premise is that marriage is a made-up thing, why can’t the qualifications for ministers as state-sanctioned marriage officiants be a made-up thing, too?

Let’s “get real” for just a moment—there can be no rational basis for the law in light of Obergefell’s rejection of objective realities regarding the nature of men and women

My Confession as a Christian Who Practices Law

Given that, what I wrote to myself on April 26, 2018, is relevant. It summarized my heretofore private reflections drawn from two books I’d finished reading, Joseph Story and the American Constitution and Idol’s for Destruction, and I hope it is helpful to others who are trying to make sense of what’s happening in law and our culture.

Charles Warren once wrote that we needed to:

[r]ecall that the words written by old George Mason of Virginia into the first Bill of Rights in this Country are still true, that: “No free government or the blessings of liberty can be preserved to any people but by . . . frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.” Our political system will break down, only when and where the people, for whom and by whom it is intended to be carried on, shall fail to receive a sound education in its principles and in its historical development illustrating its application to and under changing conditions.

Lord, as I was thinking about what I’ve learned post-law school about the “fundamental principles” upon which our law and Constitution were constructed compared to how we “do law” or think of law today, I can’t also help but think of what Herbert Schlossberg wrote in Idols for Destruction, “Idolatry in its larger meaning is properly understood as any substitution of what is created for the creator.”

If that is so, then by acquiescing without objection and challenge to the modern-day U.S. Supreme Court’s fundamental jurisprudential philosophy, have I not engaged in a form of Godless idolatry? Have I effectively been bowing down to man by accepting the positivistic view of law that now prevails in that sphere in which I work?

Oh, Lord, I can say as a matter of self-righteous justification that I have at least objected to the particularities of the jurisprudential reasoning employed in particular cases, like abortion. But still, I have effectively accepted an understanding of the nature of jurisprudence that is itself idolatrous in its exaltation of man as its source and in its reliance on sovereign human reason in place of reason understood in light of God’s Word.

How have I done that? By arguing in the past about the constitutionality of various pro-life legislative proposals only within the positivistic framework of law. How convenient to those who are opposed to having You over them that I was willing to limit my thinking and my arguments to the rules of positivistic law under their control and that they determine.

The bottom line, though, is that I confess I have lost sight of the bigger picture of what was happening in jurisprudence, because I was deceived into thinking of this process of change in the law from a biblical basis to a humanist, man-centered basis as only “secularization.”

It is, indeed, secularization, but, as Schlossberg writes, this “conveys only the negative aspect [of secularization]. The word connotes the turning away from the worship of God while ignoring the fact that something is being turned to in its place.Id. (emphasis supplied). I have put a positivistic, man-grounded, and man-centered view of law in place of that which is found in You as the Creator of all things.

My conclusion is this: I have been laboring for years in the “temples” of a false god, operating according to its theology without giving one thought to the matter of a reformation of the foundations of law itself. From that idolatrous thinking, I now repent.

Having Confessed, What Now for Me?

Having repented of arguing legal matters within a strictly positivistic, human-centered legal framework, I now have to confess that if I were to agree to operate within that framework, the online ordination law is irrational.

It can really only be rational if we return to a belief in an objective understanding of male and female complementarity and a belief that immaterial realities extend beyond such things as gravity to such a thing as marriage.1

That eventual re-formation is my goal and that explains why I cannot let go of challenging Obergefell and policies that deny the complementarity of the two sexes. For me to do otherwise would be idolatry.

NOTES

  1. This is not to equivocate on my earlier opinion that we need to do away with state licensing of marriages for an alternative means by which a marital relationship can be recognized in Tennessee. I mean only to say that a licensing law could be “rational” to ensure that those making a commitment to undertake the solemn obligations and responsibilities of a martial relationship understand the gravitas of that commitment by making sure that those who solemnize the commitment have a certain level of gravitas behind their credentialing.

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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U.S. flag and illustration of Abraham Lincoln

Needed: A ‘New Birth of Freedom’ That Will Scare the Left and Christians Alike

Though out of town last week during our observation of Independence Day, I couldn’t help but ruminate on Abraham Lincoln’s assertion as he surveyed the blood-covered fields of Gettysburg that we were a nation “conceived in liberty” and urged upon those gathered there a “resolve that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Was that freedom birthed, or do we need another one?

As I read about and participate in debates over “positive liberty” protected by the 14th Amendment (its protection of abortion, same-sex “marriage,” women going topless at the community pool) and “negative liberty” (not designing cakes or designing floral arrangements for certain weddings, not facilitating certain adoptions, not providing certain medical or counseling services), I’ve come to believe we need a serious discussion about liberty.

Fear of Liberty Among the Left

Many on the Left appear to be afraid of too much liberty. They claim a liberty to live any way they please, but to obtain that liberty, they restrict and threaten the liberty of all who disagree with them when it comes to our societal interactions. Their advocacy for a liberty at the expense of everyone else’s liberty shows they have an incoherent and inconsistent understanding of liberty.

Fear of Liberty Among Evangelical Christians

But, to me, it seems that many Christians have a similar problem. They are afraid of too much liberty because some on the Left (or perhaps simply some pro-LGBT business) may not serve them or might stop doing business with their businesses, at least in certain regards.

A Starting Place for the Debate

If we could all agree to eschew for a minute the chronological snobbery of modernism that says we know better than those who have come before us, I would like to suggest that we begin with a consideration of liberty as our Founding Fathers understood it and go from there.

A Short History on Liberty Leading to the Constitution

Some will dismiss the Founding Fathers’ understanding of liberty out of hand because of slavery and the legal and cultural limitations placed upon women and others who view themselves as a discrete minority. Such a reaction is natural and understandable, but because they didn’t get everything right doesn’t mean they got everything wrong.

Our Founding Fathers were knowledgeable of history; for the most part, wise; and largely operated out of a biblical ethic and understanding of the sinful nature of human beings. The context in which they framed our Constitution was that in which two institutions—the state and the Catholic Church—sought for centuries to exert authority over the other and over the whole domain of life.

But with the Reformation, John Calvin and those like Abraham Kuyper who followed in his train argued that the jurisdictions of civil government and the church were limited and that there was a third “sphere” within our human existence, that of various personal and interpersonal relations among private citizens. Clearly, there were struggles and tensions over the centuries related to how these three spheres overlapped and intersected, but there was now a “space” in Western civilization between the previous two dominating spheres.

Liberty Under the U.S. Constitution and Its Evolution

The United States may have taken the first best crack at balancing and defining those three spheres in the U.S. Constitution. It delegated only certain powers to the federal government that united the disparate states, leaving all residual powers and liberties to the states. It prohibited any particular religious sect from winning the patronage of the federal government. And the states then approved a Bill of Rights to affirm that the federal government had only delegated powers.

Here is the important part, though: The Bill of Rights did not extend to private interactions in that third, social sphere. There, liberty was to prevail.

In this, I believe they got the balance right, leaving it up to the people to regulate themselves and their interactions with one another. This was the liberty for which they were willing to give their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.

There were, of course, criminal laws that encroached upon liberty; even a free people had to decide what abuses of liberty deserved criminal sanction.

However, over time, those free people began to use their liberty to enact laws that encroached upon liberties not in the nature of crimes that the majority thought were being abused in order to compel otherwise private interactions.

I understand that, too. If businesses wouldn’t let me eat in their restaurants, stay in their motels, or work for them simply because I was a Christian or because of where I worked, my natural reaction would be to “want a law” to “protect me.” And, to a very real degree, that is what Christians want when they insist on a religious liberty exemption from some of the proposed “civil rights” laws they don’t like.

And now everyone tries to use the law to bend others to their will in interactions with each other.

John Adams Got It Right and the Reason He Did

There is much more that could be said and needs to be said, but I suggest that the only resolution lies in the Liberty Bell’s inscription, “Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof,” taken from Leviticus 25:10. It suggests to us something important—that our Founding Fathers understood the fount and foundation of liberty to be a biblical ethic and biblical understanding of human nature.

President John Adams later put it this way: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” George Washington had earlier said much the same thing in his farewell address.

Throw out a transcendent source of ethics and a right understanding of human nature, and society soon degenerates into every person or group of persons for themselves against all the others. That much Thomas Hobbes got right in Leviathan, and that’s what America now seems to have.

What Would Lincoln Say to Us Now?

While our Founding Fathers did not apply that ethic correctly in all situations, I suspect they would say to us, and I think Lincoln would now say to us, “A new birth of freedom doesn’t require new structures of government and more laws, but better people living by a better understanding of the biblical ethic and human nature, and a better application of that understanding to the situations we now face.”

Of course, what Lincoln might say to us now is speculation, but it’s worth noting and pondering that more than four hundred years before his famous Gettysburg utterance, protestant reformer John Wycliffe said much the same thing: “The Bible is for the government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

I think the two were on the same page.


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.