Tennessee’s Autonomous General

The office of the Tennessee’s Attorney General has been more of a focal point of political activity this year than any other year I can remember. From dealing with Washington’s health care legislation to how the Attorney General “gets” the job, one thing is becoming clearer about the office, and there needs to be a way to fix it.

And that one thing that needs to be looked at is the autonomy of the Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General is essentially the attorney for the state—the person charged with the duty of prosecuting various actions on behalf of the state and defending the state against legal actions. While there are other duties, those are the ones with which most people would be familiar. Unfortunately it is a very important position about which most people in Tennessee know very little.

Part of the reason so few Tennesseans know anything about the Attorney General’s office is because of the way a person comes to hold that office. Forty-three states have general, popular elections to fill the post of Attorney General. Tennessee is unique in having its Attorney General appointed by the Justices of the state’s Supreme Court.

There are some significant pros and cons to whether elections or appointment is the better process, which time doesn’t permit a discussion of. But because of the federal health care legislation passed by Congress, things are heating up this season about how the office of the Attorney General should be filled. And, to be honest, it’s time that the issue be put in a posture such that it can be discussed during the legislative primaries in August and the general election in November.

While appointment certainly takes “politics” out of the process of what is essentially a legal office, not a policy office, the Attorney General’s recent refusal to join other states’ Attorneys Generals in filing suit to stop the federal health care bill has irritated a number of people. Telling “protesters” that he isn’t going to bow to their demands is one thing, but now the legislature has gotten involved, and the response would appear to be the same.

The legislature, Tennessee’s policymaking body, is poised to pass a statute (House Bill 3433) declaring it to be the policy of Tennessee that citizens not be mandated to buy health insurance and not be financially penalized if they do not do so. But part of the bill directs the Attorney General to seek legal relief on behalf of the state’s citizens should the public policy of Tennessee be violated, most obviously by the federal health care bill. This is where the problem of autonomy in public office surfaces.

In issuing an opinion on certain other issues related to this bill, the Attorney General made passing reference to his belief that the legislature may not have the constitutional authority to interfere with the his prosecutorial discretion. And in some types of situations that might be true.

The state Constitution does not describe the Attorney General’s duties, but that doesn’t mean the Attorney General gets to “make up” his own duties as he goes along. And the absence of any constitutionally described and mandated duties has been the basis for legislation in the past to move all prosecutorial duties to a statutorily created “Solicitor General,” leaving the appointed Attorney General with only the task of publishing opinions issued by Tennessee’s appellate courts. Removing the Attorney General’s duties and giving them to another official would seem to be the ultimate “interference” with prosecutorial discretion, so how is telling the Attorney General to sue to protect certain public policies any worse? In fact, the Attorney General’s current duties are spelled out by statute. Section 8-6-109 of the Tennessee Code has, for years, said that the Attorney General shall perform “all duties … pertaining to the office of the attorney general and reporter under the statutory law.”

If the Attorney General is not subject to the legislature, then the only measure of accountability and safeguard the people have to ensure the discharge of that office’s duties is to trust the Supreme Court not to appoint or reappoint a particular Attorney General. At one time, when people could run for the state Supreme Court and when Justices were popularly elected, at least there was an indirect accountability of the Attorney General to the people. The people could always make whom the Court appointed Attorney General an issue in a judicial campaign.

But now that these Justices are appointed by the Governor and no one can run against the appointed incumbent Judge, the Attorney General’s office is virtually autonomous from the very people who created the office in the first place. This is not good. Autonomy of officials in government is never good.

The legislature is looking at a way of “fixing” this. Senate Joint Resolution 698 by Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) would call for a constitutional amendment to be put on the ballot in 2014 that would call for the popular election of the state’s Attorney General. The Resolution has passed the Senate, but it awaits action in the House.

Perhaps popular elections are not the best thing since this is, essentially, a legal position. Popular elections always measure popularity, but we all know that, in hindsight, the best candidate for a position is not always elected. But, at least there is a re-election on the horizon if the “wrong” candidate is chosen. Popular election of the Attorney General may not result in the best attorney being chosen, but at least through re-election the people have a way to remedy the “wound” inflicted on themselves by their original bad choice. Right now it looks like the people have no remedy, not even through their elected representatives.

It’s time for this issue to be discussed openly and publicly and not just left in the halls of the Legislative Plaza. Passage of SJR 698 this year will not put the issue on the ballot immediately. The resolution would have to be passed again by the legislature elected after this coming November.

It’s time this issue becomes one for all the people to discuss. In the past, as Senator, I generally didn’t support such resolutions, but the federal health care bill has raised issues of autonomy and accountability that have not surfaced in the past. Passing SJR 698 would make this office a topic for discussion with the candidates this fall because they will have to vote on it during the next session. This is the best way I know to ensure that needed discussion take place among our citizens.

Citizen Stewardship Sunday

On Tuesday, May 4th, something is going to take place that will affect every county across the state. It’s important. And for Christians it should be a matter of stewardship. So that’s why we’re calling for action on Sunday, May 2nd.

The important event on May 4th is the primary election for local government offices will be that day. Unfortunately, many people don’t vote in the primary for these offices. But primaries are important. Often times the primary determines who will hold these local offices, not the general election in August, because there are only candidates from one party running. For example, by analogy, while my election in 1994 was to a state office, I was elected to the Senate by virtue of winning the primary because no one from the other party qualified for the general election.

But our vote is not just important to the candidates and to our local communities; it is also important to God. It is important to God because, for the Christian, voting should be considered an act of stewardship.

As Christians we believe that, in the final analysis, all power wherever found and exercised comes from God. And God, in His providence, has allowed us to hold a measure of power and authority under our form of government, namely, the “power of the ballot box.”

So, even as Christians understand that we are to steward our time, talent and treasures as all being ultimately gifts from God, so too we should steward the authority we hold as citizens. Voting and casting as informed a vote as possible is a tangible expression of that “citizen stewardship.”

Accordingly, we have designated this Sunday, May 2nd, as “Citizen Stewardship Sunday” in the hope that churches across Tennessee will, at the very least, remind congregates of the election next Tuesday. We have a prepared a bulletin insert that we hope churches will find useful for this purpose. And we’ve prepared a brief video (click this link or view above) that your church might want to use.

Join us in helping get the word out about the primary election on Tuesday, May 4th.

Tell ICANN It SHOULD NOT

Creating a triple-X domain for pornographers to use could well increase the amount of pornography and obscenity on the web and make it even easier for children to come across it. Until May 10, the public can make comments about whether such a domain should be created.

The governing board that controls the Internet, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, otherwise known as ICANN, is once again considering establishing a triple-X domain for pornography. Before ICANN acts, find out what you can do to make sure more pornography doesn’t flood your home.

The creation of a triple-X domain has twice been considered by ICANN and twice been rejected, but it has risen its ugly head once again. While it might seem logical to have an identifying domain on which pornography and obscenity can be put, most people familiar with the porn industry and Internet usage believe it will actually increase the amount of porn on the Internet and make it more available to adults and children.

If you want to have a voice in this issue, ICANN is receiving comments by email, but the time for submitting comments is short; they are due on May 10! If you want to make a comment, you may do so by sending your email to icm-options-report@icann.org.

Here are some thoughts for your consideration, some of which you might want to include in your comment:

  1. Neither ICANN nor the company urging the establishment of this new domain is arguing that the triple-X domain would clean up the .COM domain and require all pornographers to move to the triple-X domain. The .COM domain is a cash cow for pornographers, and they are not leaving it. Since ICANN has no enforcement powers to make them leave the .COM domain, pornographers would simply expand to triple-X and maintain their current .COM sites, perhaps doubling the number of porn sites and doubling their menace to society.
  2. The triple-X domain will not make it easier to filter porn, even if all pornographers would voluntarily move there (and that will not happen). The problem with filtering is not that it is difficult but sadly that too few parents care enough to employ filters for the home or laptop computers used by their children. Even if most parents did use filters on home computers, kids have access to the Internet outside the home.
  3. Since most families do not use effective filtering services, the triple-X domain would merely make hardcore pornography even easier to find for children. Thus the argument that a triple-X domain would benefit children by “cleaning up the Internet” is without any basis in fact.
  4. U.S. citizens should not believe claims by some that the U.S. Congress could merely pass a law requiring all porn companies to leave the .COM domain for the triple-X domain. Any law attempting to force pornographers to relocate to a triple-X domain would likely be declared unconstitutional because under the First Amendment, all pornography is “presumptively protected” by the U.S. Constitution until it has been determined to be “obscene” or “child pornography.” Just as the U.S. Department of Justice cannot force porn stores to move or go out of business because it believes that such stores are operating illegally, the Department cannot force pornographers on the .COM domain to move or go out of business without first charging them with a crime and having a court make a determination of illegality.
  5. Hardcore pornography (or “obscene material,” as it is called in U.S. law) on the Internet is already a violation of U.S law. The point here is that if the U.S. Department of Justice is already not enforcing the laws on the books, what is to make us think they will prosecute pornographers for merely locating in the wrong domain address?
  6. If somehow all porn sites providing obscene material would actually leave the .COM domain for the triple-X domain, they would still be violating U.S. obscenity law, which prohibits such material on the Internet regardless of location. We don’t want to provide the Department of Justice a ready-made excuse to say to illegal porn companies, “As long as you operate under the triple-X domain, we won’t prosecute you for the distribution of your illegal materials.”

The Next Frontier

Between the attempts by the ACLU and adherents to philosophical naturalism in the science classroom to remove any thought of God from our schools and graphic demonstrations of sexual penetration through sex education, it is clear that liberals know that the classroom is the next frontier for controlling the direction of future generation of Americans. Will these “pioneers” of this new “frontier” seeking to “claim” the minds of next generation go there alone, or will those with a different worldview seek to stake out their “claim,” too?

The United States has been a frontier nation over the years. When it came to geographical expansion and exploration, in the early years the West was the frontier. Then space became the new frontier. But last week it became even clearer where the next frontier is in the so-called culture war.

Last week three events in the news have brought to the attention of those watching the news what many already knew: The public classroom is where the guns are aimed for those who want to reshape America. Actually, this isn’t anything new, but a couple of events in recent weeks woke up a few folks. We can hope that, as Japanese Admiral Yamamoto said after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, these events will have “awakened a sleeping giant.”

Specifically, on Monday night last week over 100 Cheatham County residents assembled to find out what could be done after their local school system signed an Agreed Order drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union in settlement of a lawsuit against the school system. Unfortunately, a lesson was learned the hard way that when the ACLU comes knocking in your town, you don’t rely on elected officials or the lawyers that their insurance carriers provide to protect your First Amendment rights. If any citizen hears of any lawsuit against any local governmental agency by the ACLU or the Freedom from Religion Foundation or even the threat of a lawsuit, that citizens needs to contact FACT or some public interest legal entity that specializes in defending religious freedom.

Sexually Graphic ‘Education’ in Davidson County Schools

Then it made the news that Nashville Cares, an AIDS awareness and education program in Davidson County, taught a sex education class at one of the local public high schools. To describe what was actually done—use of prosthetic devices to demonstrate visually how to have multiple-orifice sex—any more graphically than that would make most people blush or cringe.

While AIDS is an awful disease and we would never wish anyone to suffer from it, we also should not want our young people to be exposed to graphic demonstrations of sexual acts for which our bodies were not designed and which are not healthful. Yet, when a parent spoke out in objection, those in favor of such graphic demonstrations tried to divert the attention away from what was actually done in the classroom. By not wanting to focus on the propriety and necessity of what was actually done, it would appear that the objective of the visual, classroom demonstration of such sexual acts may not be so much to educate as it is ultimately to break down sexual inhibitions in order to advance a sexual agenda.

No ‘Equal Time’ in Knox County Biology Classes

But that was not all that took place in Tennessee’s schools. In Knox County, when a parent complained that his daughter’s biology textbook called the “Biblical creation story” a “myth,” the local school board concluded this was perfectly acceptable. So, while science seems to always resist dragging the Bible into the science classroom, it seems OK to drag it in if the purpose is to bash or ridicule it or those who believe there is a transcendent God behind what we see. It would appear, as with the sex education program in Nashville, there is something more at issue here than simply wanting to have the discussion of creation take place in a theology or philosophy classroom. No, it would appear that the purpose is to make belief in a God “behind” what is seen either not credible or irrelevant. Or perhaps the purpose is, by means of embarrassment as “backwards” and “unscientific,” to silence those students who would disagree. Supporters of the school board can protest their innocence to the contrary all they want, but those are real practical effects of the “myth” statement that was made.

For sure, scientists with a materialistic worldview would think any idea of a Creator a myth and “unscientific,” but the fact of the matter is that there are a number of credible scientists who now affirmatively state that neo-Darwinism as an explanation of origins has run its course. They believe that logical inferences drawn from observations could reasonably lead to the conclusion that the information in the cell and the exquisite, irreducibly complex molecular machinery in the cell indicate the existence of some intelligent, non-natural source for the information and design of the machinery. Makes you wonder what the school board might have said if someone had said that neo-Darwinism, as an explanation for origins, is a myth.

While Intelligent Design is not the same as the creation story in the Bible, both posit that there is a source of intelligence beyond nature that was in some way or other involved in the origins of things. But it would appear that giving equal time to this school of thought is not an acceptable option. Learn more about Intelligent Design,.

Don’t Keep Silent; Report Such Stories to FACT

If you should have a story similar to that of the Davidson or Knox County parent or, if as a teacher, you have felt you could not bring up Intelligent Design, will you let us know?

I hope so, because, you see, here is the real question: “Will these ‘pioneers’ of this new ‘frontier’ seeking to make a God-devoid, anything-goes ‘claim’ to the minds of next generation go there alone, or will those with a different worldview seek to stake out their ‘claim,’ too?” Time will tell.

National Day of Prayer: Alive, Well and Legal in Tennessee

National Day of Prayer celebrations are perfectly legal in Tennessee, despite a recent court ruling in Wisconsin. That means any mayor or city or county council in Tennessee is free to officially recognize the National Day of Prayer, even in government-owned facilities.

Considering the current state of affairs in Washington and across the country, the National Day of Prayer, scheduled this year for Thursday, May 6, is more important than ever. The day has deep roots in our nation’s history to which some organizations would like to lay the axe.

This annual event, which reminds citizens of the value of uniting in prayer for our country and its leaders, goes back to 1775 when the Continental Congress issued a resolution calling for a public day of prayer. In 1952, President Truman signed into law a resolution by Congress to set aside a day each year as a “National Day of Prayer,” and then in 1988, the law was amended by Congress during President Reagan’s term to make that day the first Thursday in May. Thus a national day of thanksgiving and prayer has been an essential part of our country’s heritage and culture. Historically, all 50 governors have issued proclamations in honor of this day.

Some Are Trying to Intimidate Those Who Pray

Not surprisingly, those who would like nothing better than to remove all vestiges of Christianity from our country try hard each year to prevent this event from happening by disseminating false and misleading information to governmental officials. Among other things, atheists and activist groups attempt to convince our state and local government leaders that recognizing this important day is illegal and violates the Constitution.

However, now they have taken their attack on this event to another level. The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed suit in a federal court in Wisconsin to have the law setting aside the first day in May declared unconstitutional as an establishment of religion. And last week, a federal judge ruled in its favor. At this time, we are waiting to see if the U.S. Justice Department will appeal the ruling. You can learn more about the history and legal precedent involved from the Rutherford Institute.

However, that decision is not binding in Tennessee. So there is nothing illegal or unconstitutional in a mayor or city or county council in Tennessee officially recognizing the National Day of Prayer. Furthermore, if a city or county allows a government-owned facility to be used by private groups and organizations for nongovernmental purposes, then use of that facility generally cannot be withheld for observances of the National Day of Prayer.

Tennessee Should Lead the Way in Invoking God’s Protection

In his Farewell Address in 1796, President Washington gave our country sage advice when he said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. [T]he mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them.” Public officials throughout Tennessee should lead the way in invoking God’s protection and guidance over our state by issuing proclamations supporting the National Day of Prayer.

Please encourage your mayor, city council members, county commissioners, and other elected officials to do so. And if they encounter objections or threats of litigation by individuals or groups opposed to this lawful exercise of governmental authority, or to the use of courthouses, county meeting rooms, and other public places for citizens to gather and pray together on May 6, please do not hesitate to contact the Family Action Council of Tennessee or our friends at the Alliance Defense Fund.