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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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Picture of the Memo related to the heartbeat bill and a sleeping baby

A Constitutionally Defensible Reason for Supporting the Pro-Life ‘Heartbeat’ Bill

What is going on in the legislature between the pro-life “fetal heartbeat bill” camp and the pro-life “trigger bill” camp makes no sense to a whole lot of ardent pro-life citizens. The bills seem to be caught up in some kind of power struggle between legislators. Here, I think, is the way forward.

The Overlooked Questions

I appreciate that some well-intentioned, pro-life legislators like Lt. Governor Randy McNally think the fetal heartbeat bill is too aggressive and defense of it will be a waste of taxpayer money and effectively put that money in the hands of Planned Parenthood and its attorney. I appreciate that other equally well-intentioned, pro-life legislators like Rep. Micah Van Huss and Rep. Timothy Hill think the trigger bill is too passive.

What I do not get is the fight between these two camps. Why not be aggressive in passing legislation that might lead to the reversal of Roe v. Wade if a constitutionally grounded defense of it is available? And why not also have the trigger bill in place in the event that legislative effort fails in court?

Why Supporting the Trigger Bill Alone Is Indefensible

The reversal of Roe has to be the ultimate goal of the pro-life community. If it is not, then “pro-life” is not the correct moniker for that community. Whatever that community is, I am not part of it.

But if the reversal of Roe is the goal, it will never happen unless some pro-life law is passed and a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that law goes before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Depending on some other state to pass a bill and defend it on solid enough constitutional grounds to cause Roe’s reversal is why many pro-life legislators and citizens find the trigger bill too passive.

They rightly ask: Why should Tennesseans forfeit their opportunity to be pro-life leaders in the effort to overturn Roe and, instead, be content with tag-along status, following some other state’s lead and trusting that state to do things correctly?

Don’t Ignore the ‘Evidence’ Calling for Roe’s Re-Examination

Now some in the if-we’re-not-sure-we-can-take-the-Promised-Land-let’s-stay-in-Egypt camp say that putting the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court now could result in the constitutional situation being made worse.

What?! When New York is applauding the fact that Roe makes infanticide constitutionally defensible and allowable, how could things get worse?1

If that’s what the law allows and the law does not call it murder, it is time to act and use that as evidence for a constitutionally grounded argument for re-examining Roe that some pro-life lawyers have allowed the U.S. Supreme Court to ignore for far too long.

Why Opposing the Heartbeat Bill Is Indefensible

For those legislators, lawyers, jurists, and citizens who have been held captive by the notion that rights are limited to those enumerated in the U.S. Constitution and Roe-like “emanations” flowing from them, it is easy to overlook the availability of the long-dormant Ninth Amendment as a constitutional defense of the heartbeat bill (per a proposed amendment in the Senate).

For the life of the unborn and the end of constitutionally protected infanticide, it is time to turn to the promise of life’s inalienability without due process of law that was bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers in the Ninth Amendment.

The Ninth Amendment expressly prohibits a construction of enumerated rights in the Constitution that would “deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

But if that is a constitutionally given and protected right, its prohibition should apply with even greater force to rights that only “emanate,” using Roe’s terminology, from the Constitution as a result of the “reasoned judgment” of as few as five Ivy League lawyers.

What Does the Ninth Amendment Protect?

But what are these rights that Roe’s construction of the Constitution cannot deny to others?

Washburn University law professor Jeffrey Jackson advised the following in his 2010 law review article entitled “Blackstone’s Ninth Amendment: A Historical Common Law Baseline for the Interpretation of Unenumerated Rights”:

[T]hey were those rights that the framing generation believed they inherited from English constitutional and common law, with important modifications stemming from the experiences of American colonists . . . [I]f the goal is to determine what was the general consensus among Americans at the time of the framing and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the formulation of rights in Blackstone’s Commentaries should form the baseline.2

And what did Blackstone, who was so influential among our nation’s lawyers and jurists, say?

He said there were three “absolute rights,” meaning those “such as would belong to their persons merely in a state of nature, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it.” They were “the right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right of private property.”

Blackstone then expounded the meaning of the right of personal security as follows:

The right of personal security consists in a person’s legal and uninterrupted enjoyment of his life, his limbs, his body, his health, and his reputation.

Life is the immediate gift of God, a right inherent by nature in every individual; and it begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb. . . . An infant en ventre sa mere, or in the mother’s womb, is supposed in law to be born for many purposes. It is capable of having a legacy, or a surrender of a copyhold estate, made to it. It may have a guardian assigned to it; and it is enabled to have an estate limited to its use, and to take afterwards by such limitation, as if it were then actually born. . . .

This natural life . . . cannot legally be disposed of or destroyed by any individual, neither by the person himself, nor by any other of his fellow-creatures, merely upon their own authority.

However, with respect to “personal liberty,” Blackstone said it “consists in the power of locomotion, of changing situation, or moving one’s person to whatsoever place one’s own inclination may direct, without imprisonment or restraint, unless by due course of law.”3

In this light, it is clear that the kind of expansive liberty given by Roe to one human being to the fatal detriment of another human being is not that which the Ninth or the 14th Amendments protected.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas put it well:

As used in the Due Process Clauses, “liberty” most likely refers to “the power of locomotion, of changing situation, or removing one’s person to whatsoever place one’s own inclination may direct, without imprisonment or restraint, unless by due course of law.” 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 130 (1769) (Blackstone). That definition is drawn from the historical roots of the Clauses and is consistent with our Constitution’s text and structure.4

In other words, this is not some cockamamie legal theory I’ve dreamed up in my own head. Let’s use it!

Paying for Abortion or for Protecting Inalienable Rights?

I agree with those who, like Lt. Gov. McNally, rightly do not want to see taxpayer money go to Planned Parenthood for defending the poorly written and constitutionally indefensible House fetal heartbeat bill.

But now that he and the members of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee have been given a good amendment rewriting that bill and now know that a constitutionally grounded argument can be offered in support of it, they need to ask themselves this question:

Am I willing to spend $1 to $2 million—one-half of one percent of our budget—to defend the promise of the Ninth Amendment to our Constitution that not all rights come from positive law, that some rights are inalienable without due process of law, and that the most basic right of them all is life, without which any notions of liberty are meaningless?

I sure hope they would. If you ask me, it’s a small price to pay to try to preserve our constitutionally protected God-given rights compared to the cost paid by our Founding Fathers to secure them for us.

We owe at least that much to our courageous ancestors and to those not yet born who will follow us.

Read the Memo about the Fetal Heartbeat Legislation Testimony


NOTES

  1. “Cultural elites have more recently pushed to transform the super-liberty into a super-affirmative-entitlement—a claim-right that imposes upon all of us not just a duty to abstain from interfering in abortion, but also an affirmative duty to support and even subsidize the abortion industry’s practice. This evolution is illustrated in their insistence that taxpayers must pay subsidies to abortion providers and that people of faith and well-formed conscience must be forced to pay for abortifacient drugs.” Adam J. MacLeod, “Texas Lawmen and the Lawless Court,” Public Discourse, July 7, 2016. When that happens, but I suspect the pro-life lawyers will wish we had acted now in an effort to stave that off.
  2. Jeffrey D. Jackson, Blackstone’s Ninth Amendment: A Historical Common Law Baseline for the Interpretation of Unenumerated Rights, 62 Oklahoma L. Rev. 167, 171 (2010); see also, Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584, 2632 (Thomas, J., dissenting)(“The Framers drew heavily upon Blackstone’s formulation, adopting provisions in early State Constitutions that replicated Magna Carta’s language, but were modified to refer specifically to “life, liberty, or property.”)
  3. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 119-120, 125-129 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1893).
  4. Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2632(2015).

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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A mom holding her baby

Just How Pro-Life Are Tennessee’s Republican Legislators?

I’m not sure I know what happened Wednesday when pro-life Republican House members split their vote and killed the pro-life bill that would impose more stringent limitations on abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on abortion are ever “overrule[d], in whole or in part.” I know our Republican legislators are, by and large, pro-life, and I’m thankful for that, but what is going on has made me, and many in the pro-life community, wonder just how deep those pro-life convictions run.

Was There a Substantive Problem with the Bill?

As noted, the limitations on abortion set forth in the bill, House Bill 1029, become effective upon the happening of a contingency—a change in the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence—which contingency has resulted in it being called the “trigger bill.”

I support that bill. There is nothing wrong with that bill, in itself. Though a legal question about the bill was raised during the hearing on Wednesday, it was, in my view, more than adequately answered.

Assuming the adequacy of the answer was appreciated, there was no reason in terms of the substantive language of the bill relative to abortion for any solidly pro-life legislator to vote against it. Even the Republicans who voted against it would say that.

So What’s the Problem?

The issue, I fear, is being complicated by another pro-life bill that I also support in precept, the so-called fetal heartbeat bill, though, as I’ve written before, even I wouldn’t defend in court the version passed by the House.

Some pro-life legislators believe that a heartbeat bill, even if properly drafted and supported by legislative testimony, is too aggressive constitutionally. They fear it will be held unconstitutional by a federal court and $1–$2 million will be spent “in vain” trying to defend it.

Others believe the trigger bill is too passive, because it’s based on some other state having the courage and the fiscal resolve to pass and defend a law that might result in Roe being reversed.

For the ‘life’ of me, I don’t see the conflict between passing them both, assuming the Senate is willing to get the fetal heartbeat bill in as constitutionally a defensible posture as possible and the House will accept that fix.

What’s Wrong with Spending .005% of the State Budget to Seek Roe’s Reversal?

I have to ask: What is so wrong with the state making a one-time “investment” of up to $2 million to try to bring about the demise of Roe v. Wade in a total budget of more than $38.5 billion?

To put this supposedly “unconscionable” cost of defending the fetal heartbeat bill in perspective, pro-lifers need to understand that we’re talking about one half of one percent of the total state budget. The legislature has increased its own administrative budget for this year alone by way of more than $2 million, and, unlike paying a one-time legal bill, this amount will be recurring year after year.

In my opinion, legislators unwilling to spend such a paltry amount, comparatively speaking, on trying to defeat Roe are just not that pro-life.

The Trigger Bill Has Value, Too

Defeating Roe, however, is an uphill climb; thus, having the trigger bill passed and on the law books for when that day comes also seems to me a good, pro-life thing to do.

Predicting today that the legislature will be as strongly pro-life when Roe is reversed as it is now is presumptive. Passing the law now avoids that presumption and is based on a well-proven legislative axiom: It takes more work to pass a law when public opinion may be against you than to prevent the repeal of the desired law when it is already on the books. Get what you want while you can.

But some appear to be afraid that one bill will pass and not the other, and then those who “lose” will think the enacted policy is not the best one we could have had. So each “group” is trying to impose its will on the other.

Who Is Really Pro-Life?

I submit that those who are really pro-life should put aside this either/or perspective and pass them both and pass them with language that ensures their compatibility.

I am committed to doing that because trying to get Roe reversed while also making sure that if that effort fails, Tennessee has the most pro-life laws possible already on the books when that reversal finally comes, is to me the most pro-life position.

Fighting over which of the two strategies is best, when neither necessarily or logically excludes the other, is not very pro-life 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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Tanco v. Haslam Final Order and silhouette of a man with a question mark

Meet My Tennessee Political Hero

Political heroes are hard to come by these days. But there is a current officeholder in our state who tops my short list. In a lineup of random politicians, you might never suspect he’d be a political hero. Let me introduce you to him and tell you what he did.

Unlikely Looking Hero

My political hero is 77-year-old Bradley County Commissioner Howard Thompson. His formal academic education ended with his high school diploma (which only matters if your name is Lori Loughlin or Felicity Huffman). He drives a pick-up truck as part of his flea market business, not as a political “common man” ploy.

What makes him a hero is that he was willing to do something out of the ordinary that he knew would be misunderstood by most, including his fellow commissioners, in order to defend what he believes.

What My Political Hero Believes

Lots of Tennesseans and elected officials, including, I suspect, most of his fellow commissioners, believe like Commissioner Thompson. He believes:

• marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,
• both the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution should be upheld,
• the dual sovereignty of state and federal governments established and protected by those constitutions is important, and
• the separation of powers taught in eighth-grade civics means courts don’t make laws.

What Makes Him a Hero

But the difference between Commissioner Thompson and other political officials was his willingness to take a measured, strategic, and non-revolutionary state-militia-at-the-courthouse approach to defending those beliefs.

As a “lowly” county commissioner and citizen, he did the only thing he could do to defend his beliefs (and probably those of most of his constituents)—sue his own county’s clerk for violating the Tennessee Constitution by issuing a license for marriage to two people of the same sex.

Before you think that qualifies him for quack status, not hero status, read on. His understanding of basic civics and willingness to act on his beliefs is what separates him from other politicians.

Thompson Understood What Most Didn’t

Commissioner Thompson is a gentle, humble soul who would never impugn the integrity of his local county clerk or his fellow commissioners, but he understood the constitutional gravity of what began taking place the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

That decision purported to say that the 14th Amendment prohibited state laws that defined a marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.

Even if this conclusion is accepted, Commissioner Thompson intuitively knew that our whole state was acting lawlessly. The lawsuit proved him right, even though the presiding judge dismissed it last week.

Tennessee’s Constitution Is Being Ignored by All but the Commissioner1

Page 2 of the Tanco Final Order and Permanent Injunction, signed by Judge Trauger.

Page 2 of the Tanco Final Order and Permanent Injunction, signed by Judge Trauger.

He was proved right by the Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction issued by federal district court Judge Aleta Trauger after and as a result of the Obergefell decision in the same-sex “marriage” lawsuit that had been filed against the state of Tennessee, Tanco v. Haslam.

The second page of Judge Trauger’s order says, in full:

Article XI, section 18, of the Tennessee Constitution and Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-3-113 are invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to the extent that they exclude same-sex couples from the recognition of their civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples, when their marriage was lawfully entered into out of state.

The “to the extent” language means the injunction applies only to the provisions of Tennessee’s laws that govern the state’s recognition of marriages “lawfully entered into out of state” when that out-of-state couple moves here.

Thus, the injunction does not apply to the provisions of the Tennessee Constitution and the referenced statute, Tennessee’s Defense of Marriage Act, that govern what laws the state can have for the licensure of marriages, the licenses being issued by Tennessee’s county clerks.

That means those provisions of our state’s constitution limiting the power of the state to license anything other than a marriage between a man and a woman are still in force. And those provisions will lawfully be in force until some judge enjoins their enforcement or the people vote to repeal the amendment.

Since neither of those things has happened, all of Tennessee’s county clerks are going beyond the statutory authority they have been given by issuing a license for a relationship called a marriage that is defined without regard to the biological sex of the parties.

And they are doing so in violation of the still-applicable provisions of Tennessee’s Constitution.

When Did Courts Start ‘Making Laws’?

I know some will foolishly say, “But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. The Court legalized same-sex marriage. You can’t deny same-sex couples their rights.”

Such is foolish because they, including many lawyers and judges, have forgotten what Commissioner Thompson remembered from his eighth-grade civics class, “Courts can’t make laws.”

If a license for this new understanding and form of marriage is to be issued by the state, then the state’s legislative body must authorize somebody to issue it. Judges can’t, and county clerks weren’t.

By the express terms of Tennessee’s Constitution, county clerks’ duties can only be “prescribed” by the General Assembly.

But the General Assembly has never prescribed to our county clerks any duty to issue a license for a relationship defined without regard to the biological sex of the parties, even if U.S. Supreme Court now wants to call that kind of relationship a marriage.

If people would just think about it for a moment, they’d realize that being authorized by statute to issue a license for a relationship defined in terms of the biological sex of the parties is fundamentally and logically not the same as having authority to issue a license for a relationship defined without regard to the biological sex of the parties.

Commissioner Thompson understood these basic constitutional principles and he stood up for them, or at least he did until the judge said he didn’t have a right (“standing” is the legal term) to bring suit to stop this lawlessness.

Not in Vain

But, Commissioner Thompson, don’t despair. In the coming months, I trust you will find that your heroics have not been in vain.

If you now appreciate what Commissioner Thompson did and want to be part of stopping the lawlessness, let me know by sending an email to FACT Director of Communications Laura Bagby at laura.bagby@factn.org and be sure to put “Thompson” in the email subject line. Just don’t expect all your friends to consider you a hero if you do.

NOTES

  1. Actually, Commissioner Thompson’s pastor, Guinn Green, understood and joined him in the lawsuit, as did a couple of pastors and citizens who filed a similar lawsuit in Williamson County. But Commissioner Thompson is the only elected official among them and therefore the only one that risked any political heat.

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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