Category: Political Theory

Gov. Abbott signs SB 24, church/state controversy reignited

Governor Greg AbbottFormer Houston Mayor Annise Parker drew national outrage in 2014 when attorneys for the city of Houston subpoenaed sermon notes and audio from pastors who had organized a petition to force the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) to a public referendum. Pastors who organized the petition said the HERO ordinance violated religious freedoms.

The pastors had collected the signatures needed, but several thousand were rejected when it was discovered that one of the pastors who collected the signatures was not a registered voter. With the signatures disqualified, the petition failed, and HERO was set to be enacted.

That’s when the pastors sued, and during the discovery phase of the suit, lawyers representing the city subpoenaed the pastors’ sermon notes to see if those pastors had violated the law by discussing, promoting, or giving instructions regarding the petition during worship services.

The resulting fallout had pastors, pundits and politicos criticizing the city of Houston to the point that Mayor Parker ordered the city’s attorneys to withdraw the subpoena. The pastors scored a victory, which led to a legal victory, which led to an electoral victory when Houston voters overwhelmingly rejected HERO.

Sunday, at Grace Community Church in The Woodlands, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took a victory lap as the governor held a bill signing ceremony for SB 24 during worship services. SB 24, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), prohibits local and state government entities from subpoenaing sermon notes, audio or video from pastors, and further prohibits those pastors from being forced to testify about their sermons.

The bill, seen as a response to Houston’s 2014 subpoena, went into effect immediately, however, the way the governor signed the bill reignited the debate over the separation of church and state.

Current law prohibits churches from influencing political elections, or the passing of legislation. While churches can weigh in on issues (such as abortion or same-sex marriage), they cannot lobby in favor of legislation on those issues, nor can they endorse candidates who support their views on the issues.

While President Donald J. Trump’s recent executive order instructing the IRS to stop enforcing the law that bans church involvement in the political process, critics note that the executive order can just as easily be reversed in the next Presidential administration, exposing politically active churches to prosecution, or loss of their tax-exempt status.

The separation of church and state is one of the pillars that upholds the freedom of the American republic. Historically, whenever the church takes control of the government, persecution against non-adherents follows. Whenever the government takes control of the church, blasphemy and heresy follow. Both situations become ripe with corruption.

That’s why Rev. John Leland, a Baptist pastor who preached in Virginia and Massachusetts, strongly advocated for the separation of church and state, supported James Madison, and was instrumental in promoting the passage of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In promoting the separation of church and state, Leland wrote:

Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.

That was the goal of the separation of church and state. Churches would not run the government. Government would not run the churches. Man would be free to serve God in a way that satisfied his conscience.

Churches should participate in the market place of ideas. When government seeks to regulate religious speech, it seeks to take control over the church. However, if churches become “dark money” organizations for political parties, they have not only violated the separation of church and state, they have also deviated from their God-given mission.

Furthermore, any law that forces a man to violate his religious conscience is a law that violates the very essence of man, and the three founding principles of our nation. So, with SB 24 in place, and Gov. Abbott’s and Lt. Gov. Patrick’s victory lap behind us, let us press onward to a world where man is free to believe, churches are free to preach, and where government governs well, and as little as possible.

Objectively analyzing Rand

Ayn RandHoward Roark was an idiot.

He represented himself in a court of law, fulfilling the old proverb, “A man who represents himself in a court of law has a fool for a client.”

He sat there at the defense table while a coalition of accusers bent on destroying his career testified against him. He never cross-examined. He never defended himself. He was thus found liable in a civil suit that cost him everything.

In the book, The Fountainhead, Roark was an architect who rejected long revered traditions and cultural influences, and designed buildings based on what was practical.  He cared less for critical acclaim, and more for producing a product that served his clients well. Those who commissioned his buildings were well pleased, even if their friends belittled their choices. Those who hated him aimed to destroy him.

Such was the set-up for the lawsuit that wiped Roark out in the middle of the book. A religious enthusiast contracted with Roark to build a temple for all religions. Roark initially refused, being an atheist, but relented at the insistence of the buyer, who was put up to it by an altruistic leader in New York.

Roark designed a temple that looked nothing like the classic temples of the ancient world, neither did it look like a church. The client was unhappy, and sued.

If I were Roark’s attorney, I would have argued that the buyer was warned the temple would not look like any temple ever built, that Roark was given total creative freedom, and that the services requested were delivered on time. If I were Roark’s attorney, I would have won that case. And I don’t even have a law degree.

Following Roark’s legal demise, his girlfriend marries another man, and Roark vows to wait until she leaves her new husband and returns to him. At this point of the book, I had to call “bullcorn!”

The Fountainhead is one of the definitive books of 20th century America. Written by noted philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead has inspired many successful Americans. Mark Cuban, an entrepreneurial maverick, says he reads it for inspiration. Cuban built his fortune online, founding and eventually selling Broadcast.com. He owns several other companies, and gained his biggest notoriety as owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team.

You can see a lot of Roark’s character in the way Cuban runs the Mavericks. From his battles with the NBA commissioner, to his taunting referees from the sideline, to his multiple attempts to incorporate Dennis Rodman into the roster, Cuban has lived up to his team’s name.

Still, Cuban fights. Roark surrenders.

In addition to the adventure of a maverick architect, The Fountainhead offers legal drama, romantic drama, irony and the occasional laugh. At face value, the book is a good read, and is the favorite of a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. The problem is, the book was not written to entertain us.

The Fountainhead is Ayn Rand’s philosophical manifesto written in novel form. The entire work was written to propose, explain and promote her political philosophy of “Objectivism.” With Roark being the embodiment of Objectivism, it comes as no surprise that his character has no soul.

Roark has no passion beyond his designs. He has no passion for his girlfriend. He has no passion to defend his practice in court. He pours his heart into his work, then offers it on a “take it or leave it” basis without passionately advocating for it. He just exists, an odd colored flower in the garden of New York.

Ironically, his lack of soul exposes the fallacy of Objectivism.

Boiled down to one sentence, Objectivism is the belief in that which can be verified through tangible means. It removes the aspects of faith and morals, and evaluates everything through the lense of what reality can be verified, what works, and what does not.

As a result, Objectivism promotes selfishness, individualism, to an extent, libertarianism, and social liberalism. And while Objectivism is very strong on individual rights (of which I strongly support), it falls short in that it denies the one thing that sets man apart from the rest of creation, his spirituality.

As such, when Objectivism was captured in one fictional character, that character turned out hollow. He had no soul. (Not that he didn’t have a soul, which he didn’t, he was fictional, but he didn’t have soul. There was nothing to him.)

In promoting her philosophy of Objectivism, Rand often discussed “the virtue of selfishness.” This virtue was lauded for its harmony with human nature. In order for there to be true harmony, each individual can only be expected to act in his own self-interest. Expecting an individual to act against his best interest is immoral, as is the individual who does not act in his own best interest.

Not only does this teaching run contrary to scripture, it denies man’s spiritual nature, and ignores American history.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote about the natural law, the inherent sense of right and wrong that is present in each individual. Whether that individual believed in God or not, that individual had a concept of right and wrong. We may argue about family values, and what does or does not constitute marriage, but we all agree that a man should commit himself to his wife, and that a man is not to just take whatever woman he pleases.

We may argue about what constitutes stealing, and what does not, but we all agree that it is wrong to go into your neighbor’s house and take his television. This is what Lewis referred to as “The Natural Law.” Of course, when he wrote about “The Natural Law,” Lewis was obviously referring to Romans 2, which says that when men who do not have God’s law, do by nature the things contained in God’s law, men become a law unto themselves.

And that natural law defines morality, and that law tells us that only doing what’s in our own best interest is not moral. When we follow such a lifestyle, the Holy Spirit convicts us and we have a guilty conscience. Objectivism denies that our conscience even exists. Objectivism has no soul.

Furthermore, if Objectivism were the pre-eminent philosophy of the day, America would fall. In his essay, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the role the Christian faith played in American society. De Tocqueville wrote that without faith, democracy would falter, because individuals only acting in their own self interests would tear the society apart. With the Christian faith, individuals felt responsible to contribute to society. Thus they did, and thus democracy works in America.

It was a sentiment also expressed by John Adams, who said that the Constitution was written for a moral and religious people, and that it was wholly inadequate to govern any other.

In addition to Objectivism not working for the afore-mentioned reasons, it will not work because it denies the Spirituality of man. We all are embedded with that natural law, and when it has been violated against us, we feel the hurt. Man cannot be expected to turn off his Spirituality. It doesn’t work.

So, while I applaud Rand’s efforts to stand up for individual rights, we must be careful not to blindly follow her entire philosophy. It goes against human nature, denies reality, and therefore can never work.