No Laughing Matter

I laughed my way through my torts class my first year in law school.  We’d go over a court decision in class, and Professor Harper would poke fun at one of the two parties.  We’d all laugh.  Then came the end of the semester and the final exam.  At that moment I learned something that wasn’t very funny at all.   A commentary I just read about a bill pending before our state legislature reminded me of what I learned.

What I learned as I began to prepare for my exam was that I didn’t really know the subject matter very well.  I realized that I had completely missed the point of my professor’s humor.  His humor wasn’t just to make class more enjoyable.  It had been his way of pointing out what he thought about the legal arguments in the court’s decision.  I was supposed to have learned which legal arguments were good and which ones were dumb by virtue of what he made fun of.

Well, an editorial this week by an alternative “newspaper” in Nashville about a bill by State Representative Mark Pody missed the point of the bill by such a wide margin that it was almost funny.

Representative Pody and Senator Mae Beavers have filed House Bill 1150/Senate Bill 1241.  The bill would amend an existing section of state law by which the state government has delegated the law enforcement power that is a part of the state’s police powers to certain public and private colleges.  By virtue of that law, the power to arrest you has been given to entities that have no direct accountability to “we the people.”

The state, of course, is free to delegate that police power to others, but putting the power to arrest citizens into the hands of others should not be done lightly.  Think about it: if someone tries to infringe upon the exercise of your rights, it is the police to whom you would look to intervene, to protect you.  Thus, it would only make sense that the state not delegate such power to entities that the state already knows do not care about your rights or that disrespect them.

One of those rights that is fundamental to the fabric of America and protected by the First Amendment is religion.  So, the bill simply provides that the authority to arrest you will not be given by the state to any college in Tennessee, public or private, that discriminates against religion.  In other words, the bill prevents the proverbial fox from being placed in charge of protecting the rights of the hens.

So what did this alternative paper say?

I don’t know what state Rep. Mark Pody was doing during the State of the State, but it obviously wasn’t paying attention to Haslam’s “Let’s get everyone back to work” agenda, since Pody filed HB1046 [that bill was withdrawn and replaced by House Bill 1050], which aims to fire all of Vanderbilt University’s police officers.

… Pody can’t get the administration at Vanderbilt to bend to his will, so he’s going to take it out on the police force? Police officers at Vanderbilt have no say in deciding the policy of student groups. …

Pody still wants to cost them their jobs, because he can’t touch the people he actually wants to push around.

What I take from this is that, apparently, in order to “protect” Christian groups, Pody thinks it’s fine to act as un-Christian as need be.

The commentary fails to note that the bill applies to any college in Tennessee, not just Vanderbilt which, for its oppression of evangelical Christianity, has become a darling of liberals to be protected at all cost.  But, focusing on Vanderbilt isn’t the only thing the commentary got wrong.

The “job” loss accusation isn’t true.  Vanderbilt can “save” those jobs by not discriminating against evangelical Christian student organizations and keep its police force.

But even if discrimination is more important to Vanderbilt than having a state-sanctioned police force, such that it gives up its police force, this does not mean jobs are lost.  The fact of the matter is that those officers will most likely all be employed either by Vanderbilt’s new private security force, the kind used by almost all other “private” colleges, or by the Metro Police Department that will again resume responsibility for that geographical area and the people in it.

But the point made by the “newspaper” isn’t just not true; it’s the wrong point.  The point is that Vanderbilt is unaccountable to the public.  And it is not “un-Christian” for the state to choose not to delegate its duty to protect the religious liberty of its citizens to any entity that has shown, by its policies, that it does not respect religious liberty.

Perhaps if we put the question raised by this bill in another context, the point will be made more clear: “Would you entrust the protection of a citizen’s right to be free from racial discrimination to a racist organization?”

I presume the alternative “newspaper” would say “yes,” if it meant someone keeping their job.  And if the newspaper would say “no,” but thinks it’s fine to entrust the protection of a citizen’s right to religious liberty to an organization that doesn’t respect that right and, in fact, discriminates against those who exercise it, then that’s no laughing matter either.