screenshot of the Freedom From Religion Letter to Governor-elect Bill Lee, along with images of a church and the Capitol building

Inauguration Worship Service Drives Some Folks Up the Wall

The Saturday morning worship service hosted by Governor-elect Bill Lee’s inauguration committee is driving The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) up the proverbial wall, the so-called “wall of separation between church and state.” The Foundation sent a letter to the Lee campaign this week asking them to desist. I read the letter, and the Foundation’s view of the Establishment Clause isn’t just silly and its cited legal “authority” overstated, it’s deadly.

Just Plain Silly

What’s silly about the letter is the fact that Lee will not be Tennessee’s governor at the time of the service. He will not be “the government” yet. Furthermore, all the evidence points to the fact that all the inaugural events, including this one, are being paid for by private funds, not the government.

This is about as much an establishment of religion as Lee inviting all those who voted for him to join him last Sunday at his church, which is also supported with private funds.

Maybe next week, after he’s sworn in, Lee should invite the Foundation’s “more than 350 members in Tennessee” to join him at his church for worship and see if the Foundation sends him a letter for that. After all, then he will actually be “the governor.” Why, Lee may never again be able to wear a “Welcome-my-name-is-Bill Lee” sticker at church events without “establishing” the religion of which he is an adherent.

What makes this really silly is that in 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court said Reverend Paul McDaniel of Chattanooga had a First Amendment Free Exercise right to run for public office and held unconstitutional the provision in Tennessee’s Constitution prohibiting “ministers of the Gospel” from running for a state legislative position.

Imagine Reverend McDaniel’s shock if, after winning his election, he had found out the Establishment Clause required him to leave the pulpit!

Exaggerating the Function of Court Opinions

But let’s get to the heart of the legal matter, the letter’s reliance on “Establishment Clause jurisprudence,” not “the Constitution.” This distinction is important.

Opinions that form the “jurisprudence” on which the Foundation relies are not part of the judicial “power” delegated to and exercised by any court:

The operative legal act performed by a court is the entry of a judgment; . . . As valuable as opinions may be to legitimize judgments, to give guidance to judges in the future, or to discipline a judge’s thinking, they are not necessary to the judicial function of deciding cases and controversies.1

In other words, it is the Constitution that ultimately controls civil government in the United States and government officials, and that’s why Supreme Court opinions get reversed. Opinions are legally not part of the Constitution.

Organizations like FFRF hope elected officials don’t know this. But government officials who think the Constitution supports their actions and the “constitutional jurisprudence” thrown in their face is wrong should be bold enough to act according to their understanding of what the Constitution says. Sure, they will be sued, but that’s one of the main ways that bad “constitutional jurisprudence” gets changed.

This is not lawlessness. This is called a “check and balance,” a largely forgotten concept when it comes to checking and balancing the “constitutional jurisprudence” of the Supreme Court.

An Unworkable Establishment Clause Can Be Deadly

Moreover, the FFRF’s interpretation of the Establishment Clause is unworkable. That’s because it fails to understand the basic principle of antithesis, which says if something is X, then it can’t also be non-X. For example, a nation can’t be both at war and in a time of peace; a person can’t be both materially poor and be materially wealthy, etc.

The letter says that “Establishment Clause jurisprudence” means that “government may not . . . promote . . . religion over non-religion.” Really?

Please, don’t ask us to believe that prohibiting all religious observations, religious words, and use of all religious symbols by government officials doesn’t promote “non-religion” over “religion.” Denying religion a place in the public square is promoting non-religion in the public square!

But that’s not the worst of it. Believing that religion has no place in the government sector is a belief about religion. As Abraham Kuyper, a theologian and Prime Minister of the Netherlands, once wrote: “If you exclude from your conceptions all reckoning with the Living God . . . , you certainly bring to the front a sharply defined interpretation of your own for our relation to God.”2

What groups like this want is government actors/officials to embrace their views about religion and its relationship to government over other views on the same subject and to exclude those other views.

Let’s all be grown-ups here and admit that there is no such thing as religious neutrality.

Religious neutrally and its corollary, religious liberty, are tactics used by those who don’t like the religious views of the prevailing majority, whether they be Christians, Muslims, Jews, or atheists. They use it in order to get a seat at the lawmaking, culture-influencing table. Then they press their religious views until they become the predominate lawmaking group. However, the recently conquered and former majority religious group begins to insist on religious liberty, and around we go.

Among Christians, it’s the Devil who believes in religious neutrality. In fact, he’s good with you-can-believe-anything-you-want religion and for those unsure of what they want, religious neutrality is an option. But not God. In fact, if I recall correctly, Adam and Eve were told that religious liberty meant death.

The inability of leaders of groups like the FFRF to understand the principle of antithesis and their ability to get judges to buy into it has not only taken the Establishment Clause far away from its original purpose, but rendered it unworkable.

And unworkable, in this instance, means a false view of religion and God. That eventually leads to death, as it has since the very beginning, only here it’s the death of the nation that embraces it.


  1. Edward A. Hartnett, A Matter of Judgment, Not A Matter of Opinion, 74 N.Y.U. L. REV. 123, 126-27 (1999) (footnotes and internal alterations and quotation marks omitted).
  2. Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, p. 23 (WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1999).

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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Statue of King David, photo of Bill Lee, and the Tennessee flag star symbol

What Do I Expect from Bill Lee?

With Bill Lee going from governor-elect to governor next week, many have been speculating about what to expect from him during his administration. Here’s what I think about that question.

My expectations for Lee’s administration began to crystalize over the week as I thought about last Sunday’s sermon when the pastor taught on Psalm 4. It’s a psalm written by King David, a “politician” in his own right. It was written “for the musicians” and was, therefore, presumably one of the psalms that would have been used in public worship.

That King David wrote it for public consumption is what made the question he posed and answered in verse 4 stick out to me. He said, “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’”

I couldn’t help but wonder if those who said that to King David might have been at least subconsciously asking him, as we might be asking of Bill Lee, “What good thing or things are you going to do for us?”

But David, instead of issuing a list of past accomplishments and setting forth his royal “political” agenda for the coming year (which is what politicians and political parties do now, often based on poll results), answered this way: “LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.”

Now, why in the world would King David effectively say to his “constituents,” “Hey, don’t look at me. Look to God. The good we all need is going to come from God smiling down on us”?

Here’s what I think David would tell us, (and actually I think he did!), and then I’ll tell you how it relates to my expectations of Bill Lee.

Why David Answered the Way He Did

My first thought as to the reason for his answer was to turn to Psalm 51. There we’re told what David said after a prophet of God confronted him about his adulterous dalliance with Bathsheba, the wife of one of David’s soldiers: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (verse 5).

King David knows that, in God’s sight, there is no innate good in him, and, in Psalm 4, I think he is effectively telling his “constituents” that if they are waiting on him personally to provide the good for which they are looking, then they may be waiting a long time.

That interpretation of Psalm 4 probably sounds strange to most modern ears, even to many Christians. It seems to be stretching and extrapolating a bit too much from what David said in Psalm 51. After all, we all know people, even atheists, who do what appears to be “good things.” So what’s God got to do with whether Bill Lee will “show us any good”?

David’s ‘Self-image’ Problem Hits Bottom

That last observation and question are good ones. The question is one for which I probably had no really good answer a year ago. No doubt, some won’t like the one I have now, but here it is.

In the past, I probably would have said that all David was saying in Psalm 51 was that he has never been and will never be as good a person as God, comparatively speaking.

But I think it’s far more than that, because David also wrote these words found in Psalms 14 and 53, which the Apostle Paul quotes in Romans 3:10–11:

There is none righteous, not even one.
There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God.
There is none who does good, there is not even one.

Whoa! Say that last sentence again. No good from anybody? Come on!

How Is It That We Do Good Things?

The answer to this question calls for a longer answer than space allows, but here’s a thumbnail sketch of how I would answer.

The Christian believes the good he or she does is because of the saving grace of God. God’s Spirit begins to work in them to foster a love of what God says is good so that they become increasingly willing to choose what it is good (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 1:11, 2:10). Notice that David began Psalm 4 by referring to God as “my righteousness,” not touting his own.

But what about the atheist? I believe the answer to the good he or she does relates to a doctrine little discussed in broader Christian circles nowadays called “common grace.”

Common grace, as I understand it, means God restrains the evil in those who, unlike David, do not look to Him for their righteousness. In some, that restraint is greater, and in others less; think Stephen Hawking vis a vis Joseph Stalin. Hawking made some amazing scientific discoveries while actually mocking the God who gave Him his brilliant mind, while Stalin killed millions of people.

Here’s the way Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it in The Gulag Archipelago:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an un-uprooted small corner of evil.

These two kinds of grace work to bring about good because the image of God in all of us, though marred by the sin in us, was not abolished. For example, we all still think and create and, by virtue of the saving grace of God in some and His gracious restraint of evil in others, what we think or create can accomplish good. This means that our actions as God’s image bearers have real meaning, for good or evil.

However, because we live at the intersection of God’s work either by saving grace or common grace, the Christian joins the author of James in saying, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights (1:17),” the very person to whose lighted countenance David said his people should look for the good.

How This Applies to Bill Lee

So, Bill, if I may still call you that, the pressure is off you as far as I’m concerned to be the source of the good we need because King David got it right—I need to look to God for that. But I am looking forward to seeing what good things God does through you.

Now, Bill, that doesn’t mean I won’t be giving you my input about your policies and actions or letting others know about them, because they will have real consequences for good or evil.

But for now, this is my input, and it’s the prayer I’m asking God to grant with respect to you, taken from Proverbs 3:5–8:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.

If you do that every day and throughout the day, then that sounds good to 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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Bill Lee and silhouette image of business people

Are RINOs in Control of the Lee Administration?

I’ve received a few communications lately asking if Bill Lee is being surrounded by or surrounding himself with moderates and “establishment” Republicans, often called RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), and whether that is a portent of a moderate Haslam-type administration. I think I understand why these questions are being asked, and here is my answer.

The concerns that have been expressed are based on appointments made to Lee’s personal administrative staff and to his cabinet. Specifically, there are concerns about an individual who, in one case, gave money to Phil Bredesen in his U.S. Senate campaign and others who have either been employed by moderate Republicans or didn’t like Trump.

An Easy Trap to Fall Into

The first thing I try to remember in situations like this is what is known as guilt by association. For the academic types, this colloquialism is what’s called a logical fallacy, a form of an ad hominem argument. Here’s a personal example of why this is a logical fallacy.

As a college freshman, I almost didn’t ask a particular girl out on a date because I knew she had been seen at a movie and a church hayride with someone I didn’t like from a rival high school. I assumed any girl who would be out with him was “guilty” of being like him or at least liking people like him. So, surely, I thought, she wasn’t “my type.”

But she’d caught my eye, and I did some more digging. It turned out their “association” was not of the dating variety. Guilt by association could have kept me from asking out the wonderful woman who has been my wife for 37 years!

In other words, there may be all kinds of reasons why a person does something with or is associated with another person, so we need to be careful not to attribute all of one person’s qualities and beliefs to another.

For example, I suspect there are people reading this blog who work for or work with someone because that’s their job or part of their job, and they would not want the character qualities or views of that other person attributed to them. Perhaps the person just needed the job, and it was the best one then available.

Also, different people have different thresholds of disagreement they can stomach in their workplace and different ways of compartmentalizing their work and personal values. In a different environment, they might be different.

Giving People the Benefit of the Doubt

In fact, based on my personal knowledge of some of Lee’s appointments, I consider them allies, but I also know that doesn’t mean we will agree all the time. As to the others Lee has appointed that I don’t personally know, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Doing so, to me, is simply the charity about which the Apostle Paul spoke in Corinthians 13. There will be time enough for action if criticism of their actions is later deserved.

But What If They Are RINOs?

This question is where my thinking has changed the most over the last year or so. What I am trying to learn to do when things don’t turn out as I would have hoped is to call to mind what Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the “prince of preachers,” said in his sermon on Matthew 20:15: “There is no attribute more comforting to [God’s] children than that of God’s Sovereignty.” I am finding that to be true.

As to our personal situations, Spurgeon went on to say, “Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.”

The same comfort is also true when it comes to Lee’s administration and those whom he appoints to serve in his administration. In his book The Attributes of God, theologian A.W. Pink wrote:

The absolute and universal supremacy of God is plainly affirmed in many Scriptures. “Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all . . . And thou reignest over all” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12). Note “reignest” now, not “will do so in the Millennium.” “O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none [not even the Devil himself] is able to withstand thee?” (2 Chronicles 20:6). Before Him presidents and popes, kings and emperors, are less than grasshoppers (emphasis supplied).

So, to you who are concerned about Lee’s appointments, fear not. Any RINOs are nothing but grasshoppers in God’s sight! He has the Lee administration under His control.

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.