The Briefing 10-28-14

The Briefing 10-28-14

The Briefing


October 28, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

  It’s Tuesday, October 28, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 1) New Jersey nurse reveals conflict between personal human rights and public health concerns Several issues in the news this week point to the issue of human rights; where those rights come from and how they are to be recognized and respected. And the first of them comes at the intersection of the human rights issue with the question of Ebola. Earlier this week the governors of New York state and New Jersey announced together a quarantine, an involuntary quarantine, for those who would return to the United States from affected regions in Africa and might be suspected of having contact with or actually contracted the Ebola virus. What makes this really interesting is that this comes after a medical doctor who had been in West Africa developed the disease and showed up at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, the first Ebola patient in that city – the nation’s largest. This has led to a great deal of public concern, and understandably so. And there was a major political development when the governors of these two states, that is Andrew Cuomo of New York state and Chris Christie of New Jersey, governors representing two different parties (Christie the Republican and Cuomo the Democrat; both breaking effectively with President Obama, the sitting Democratic president), both of these governors making their announcements in a way that directly contradicted the advice coming from the federal government. This is a reflection of the fact that a good many Americans, including a good many millions of Americans in New Jersey and New York, find the federal government’s response to the Ebola crisis to be insufficient, confusing, and inadequate. And thus you have these two governors, governors of two of the most populous states in the union, defying the President and the Oval Office and the Centers for Disease Control to boot. And then you had the news that came yesterday when a nurse returning from Doctors Without Borders service in West Africa was herself involuntarily quarantine. The nurse is Kaci Hickox, she’s a 33-year-old, and she became the first public test for this mandatory quarantine that governors Christie and Cuomo had put into place last Friday. Her lawyer, Stephen Heiman, announced yesterday that she had been released midday from University Hospital in Newark after she complained to the national media about the fact that she was being held against her will in this involuntary quarantine. According to Liz Robbins and a team of reporters for the New York Times, by the time the weekend was over this nurse, Kaci Hickox, had criticize the governors quarantine policy and had hired a team of lawyers to defend her own rights. This raises the huge question, whose rights? What rights? How do the rights of an individual play over against the necessity of public health? One of the things that became very clear is that voluntary quarantines were not very effective. In the case of the doctor who developed the disease in New York City, it became apparent later that he had traveled in the subway, had ridden in a taxi, and had also gone to a bowling alley with friends. In the cases of some of the medical personnel in Dallas, the situation was even worse with one of the nurses having traveled on commercial airliners just 24 hours before the full development of the disease. So one of the things that has become very clear in this is that a voluntary quarantine is only as good as the volunteer’s voluntary commitment to do it. And in the case of this nurse, it was the first case of an involuntary quarantine and she complained about it saying that she should be free to leave. And yet as Governor Christie made very clear, when she showed up in New Jersey she showed up with a temperature that registered high enough to register the concern of the Centers for Disease Control in order to expedite her testing for the Ebola virus. As the New York Times reports, “After…Hickox landed at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday, a forehead scan showed she had a temperature of 101… [that] prompted concern because fever is a symptom of the Ebola... [she]… later said that the reading came because she was flushed and upset. A later reading [by] an oral thermometer recorded a normal temperature, 98.6.” Governor Christie said, “If people are symptomatic they go into the hospital. If they live in New Jersey, they get quarantined at home. If they don’t, and they’re not symptomatic, then we set up quarantine for them out of state. But if they are symptomatic, they’re going to the hospital.” That kind of very firm decisive leadership on the part here of both the governor of New York State and of New Jersey is an intentional contrast with the confusion that has come from the federal government, and yet you have a rights claim here. Here you have a nurse saying that her rights were violated because of the involuntary nature of this quarantine. And the situation becomes even more acute when she makes clear that had she not been involuntarily quarantine she would have left. This raises a huge question, when do our individual rights become limited by the public good? When does someone who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus find that individual rights of mobility and freedom are conscribed by the necessity of at least some defined period of a quarantine. We’re looking here at one of the oldest questions of modern democracy: how in the world do you manage the balance between individual liberty and the common good? But we’re also looking at something that is even more sinister, we’re looking at something that should actually concern us a great deal. We’re looking at the fact that we have so now committed ourselves as a society to an unbridled and unfettered notion of human rights that the idea of an involuntary quarantine seems to sound many Americans like a prison sentence rather than as a matter of natural precautions for public health. In other words, we’ve now reached the point that our rights talk has so infected our moral discourse that most Americans, or least many Americans, find themselves unable to defend a common sense policy. It’s also interesting that the federal government is opposing the two governors in this action. And it’s the federal government, including the White House, putting pressure on them to rescind and reverse their decision; not because it doesn’t make public health sense but because of its symbolism – it might scare the nation. And furthermore, they’re saying that it just might be something that would dissuade doctors and other medical personnel from going to West Africa. That’s where public health rationality seems to come in to play in order to save this: ‘we desperately need medical doctors and medical professionals to go to West Africa, there is a crisis there, there is a contagion there, and there is a plague there.’ But having gone and risked one’s life, it seems like a very small thing than to forfeit the kind of personal freedom we all take for granted just for 21 days upon return in order to make certain that one does not spread that contagion here at home. 2) Ted Olson argues rights can change displaying radically different worldview from US Founders  A second illustration when it comes to our confusion over rights appears in yesterday’s edition of USA Today; the headline is this, “Ted Olson: ‘Point of no return’ on gay marriage.” No real surprise here, Theodore Olson, one of the two attorneys in the proposition eight case out of California – one of the two attorneys that had bound themselves together in order to legalize same-sex marriage coast-to-coast – Ted Olson the former solicitor general of the United States under Pres. George W. Bush says that the point of no return has now been reached. And in this case Mr. Olson’s commentary is actually directed not at the federal government he once served but at the current President of the United States, Barack Obama. Because as we discussed just a few days ago on The Briefing last week’s interview in the New Yorker with Pres. Obama had the President saying that he now is fully supportive of court action to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. You’ll recall the President said he now believes that the right to marry someone of the same gender is a fundamental right that should be respected in all 50 states. Now you have Ted Olson disagreeing with the President because the President said nonetheless he was willing for the courts to simply let these cases take their course. Ted Olson says, no the court needs to be very activist and actually to rule just as soon as possible in order to ensure that all Americans who want to marry someone of the same gender are free to do so. But here’s where the story gets really interesting in tying to the issue of rights. Ted Olson said according to USA Today, "I do not believe that the United States Supreme Court could rule that all of those laws prohibiting marriage are suddenly constitutional after all these individuals have gotten married and their rights have changed," So here Ted Olson was saying he finds it very unlikely that the Supreme Court would reverse course and fined constitutional those state constitutional amendments and laws that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman exclusively. He’s saying straightforwardly that the right to marry someone of the same gender is a new right; this is a new right that has been granted by the court to American citizens. The language explicitly used by Ted Olson is this, he says this, and “their rights have changed.” One of the things we need to note is that the founders of this country did not understand the notion of rights that changed. Furthermore, they did not understand any notion of rights that were invented by courts. They didn’t even believe in rights that were granted by government. Their notion was that rights were granted by the creator to human beings. And even the most secular of the founders of this nation spoke of nature and nature’s God in speaking of the fact that nature itself reveals the rights that were granted to human beings by the Creator, and bestowed in the sense of the natural order. Such that what the founders of the United States believed themselves to be doing was not creating rights, even defining rights, merely respecting rights – respecting right that the Creator had given. They didn’t understand the notion that one could invent new rights, they didn’t believe that these rights were invented at all, they believed that there are granted by the Creator. But now in the modern notion of human rights, this very radical notion of rights, you have Ted Olson saying that the Supreme Court is now unlikely to take back rights, new rights, that it has both invented and granted. Olson then said, "To have that snatched away, it seems to me, would be inhuman; it would be cruel; and it would be inconsistent with what the Supreme Court has said about these issues in the cases that it has rendered." Well there’s certain logic to what Ted Olson is saying here. I actually agree with them that it’s unlikely the court will reverse course, but that’s because I believe the court is unlikely take away rights it has invented. Speaking of the President’s position articulated last week, Olson said, "I think the thing he overlooks...(is) that there are people in 18 states of the United States that don't have this fundamental right that he has just announced that he believes in." Well there again, something very interesting. Here you have Ted Olson criticizing President Obama for being inconsistent, for saying that he believes it is a fundamental right but he doesn’t believe in it fundamentally enough to ask the Supreme Court to take a decisive action in its protection. Maybe Ted Olson’s onto something in terms of the inconsistency of President Obama, but he’s also onto something else. He becomes Exhibit ‘B’ of what it means now in this week to look at the issue of human rights and understand that there are those around us who actually believe that human rights are something invented by humanity; that can be defined and invented, even discovered by a human court. If that reassuring to social liberals, it ought to be frightening to is all for the very same reason that our founders would be frightened by this prospect because if government can invent rights, it can un-invent them. If a government can discover rights, it can un-discover them. Government, according to the founders, was merely to respect rights granted by the creator; and all of those rights, and no other, claimed rights. But we’re now living in a very different world and these two examples; one about Ebola and one about gay marriage serve to prove that point all too well. 3) Tennessee abortion vote test case of moral consistency Next, I have just returned from Nashville, Tennessee where there is a massive contest going on November 4 over the same question; the question of rights. In this case the question of abortion rights. Richard Fausset, reporter for the New York Times, tells us the state of Tennessee is now being described as an abortion destination. We discussed several days ago amendment one, the amendment coming before the voters of Tennessee that will allow them to adjust their Constitution to allow for a greater number of restrictions on abortion. And the scary thing about this story is the fact that the state of Tennessee, we’re talking after all here about Tennessee, has now become an abortion destination because it is the Tennessee Supreme Court that found within the Tennessee State Constitution protections for abortion rights that went even beyond the definition of abortion rights defined by the United States Supreme Court in the Roe V Wade decision back in 1973. This makes this a very important story and it’s also very important that the New York Times and other national media are taking great interest in it. Fausset reports on those he describes as abortion opponents who believe that Tennessee has for too long been a Bible Belt outlier due to a state Supreme Court decision in 2000 that ruled that the state’s constitutional guarantee of a right to privacy includes the right to an abortion. “Over the years [he writes], the ruling has served as a partial bulwark against the wave of abortion restrictions that have swept other conservatives states.” Now here’s something that’s really interesting. Here you have the New York Times defining this rights debate in the state of Tennessee over abortion as having to do with the fact that that state’s Supreme Court located a woman’s right to abortion in a right to privacy. So, by the way, did the Supreme Court in the Roe v Wade decision. But Tennessee’s state court ruled that that right to privacy goes far beyond even what the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade. And thus this becomes a very important test of moral consistency and of moral resolve because the vast majority of the citizens of Tennessee have registered again and again the fact that they have pro-life convictions. They state that they believe that abortion under most circumstances is wrong. Now on November 4, in terms of this constitutional amendment that will face the voters, they had the chance to actually vote in consistency with what they say they believe. But the advocates of abortion on demand are actually rather confident that the number of Tennesseans who say they believe that abortion is wrong is going to outnumber profoundly the number of Tennesseans who are willing to vote those convictions into law. And the reason for this is something that should also have our attention from a Christian worldview. It is because the defenders of legal abortion on demand in Tennessee are convinced that even those who say they are pro-life, even those who say that abortion is wrong, have been drinking so deeply of the wells of rights talk that they’re going to find themselves virtually unable to vote in consistency with that pro-life conviction when they enter the voting booth – and that’s really interesting. It’s also frankly scary because they just might be right. Could it be true that a vast number of Tennesseans, measured by the tens and perhaps even hundreds of thousands, say they believe that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life? And yet when they face the choice that allows them to amend their own state Constitution to come in line with those convictions, and thus to save human lives, they find that they simply aren’t able to do it because they have a higher commitment to a radical notion of human rights. They may not articulate that higher commitment, but the fact is that they do not vote to support amendment one on November 4 they will, by their failure to vote in that way, say they actually worship at the shrine of human rights more than they established their conviction of the sanctity of human life. That’s truly frightening but also gives us Exhibit C in terms of today’s consideration of the intersection between human rights, rights talk, and matters of right and wrong. 4) Controversy over means of paying for TN State school sex week example of moral confusion Finally before I leave the state of Tennessee entirely, yesterday’s edition of the Tennessean, that’s Nashville’s major newspaper, ran a story with the headline, “East Tennessee State University wonders about impact of sex week.” This is one of those stories that also should have our attention, not so much because a university in America’s holding sex week – that’s now hardly headline news, it’s alarming enough – it started at Yale University about a decade ago and ‘sex week’ is now a week of absolute institutionally supported sexual debauchery and pornography right there on the campus of a University that was once established by Christians primarily for the training of Christian ministers out of the concern that Harvard, even centuries ago, had already gone too liberal. The fact that an American university is holding one of these sex-fests on its campus, that’s not news, what is news and ought to have our attention, that this is taking place in the state of Tennessee. Oh and by the way, not even in a city like Nashville, considered to be perhaps more liberal by its urban concentration and the presence of a major university like Vanderbilt, but in this case it’s Johnson City, Tennessee – in the middle the Appalachian region and it is East Tennessee State University. And yet that university is now ground zero for the controversy over sex week and the story run by the Associated Press is actually rather interesting because it’s really not about morality at all. It’s not really about the fact that there would be a good many people whose moral convictions and sensibilities would be run over roughshod by this kind of sex week, it’s not just that someone might consider that it will be wrong for this kind of thing to take place on a college campus – a state college campus in the name of taxpayers – no, that argument is not even being made. The only argument here is about the way the funding might be spent for it and whether the funding should come from student funds that would come directly from the university or student entertainment funds that the students would control themselves. There is the recognition that perhaps some students would feel like their funds were being misused, that’s the only paragraph the really has to do with morality in the entire article. As the report states, “Central to the arguments against the sex-themed programming is the concept that some conservative students may not approve of events like condom scavenger hunts and sex toy demonstrations, and would get no benefit from the portion of their student fees going toward Sex Week.” So from a Christian worldview perspective, here’s another thing for us to note in terms of the moral confusion of our age. You can have something like sex week on a major college campus, and again we’re not talking about on the two coasts, we’re not talking about a major public university in an urban area in the Northeast, we’re talking about East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. And we’re not talking about a debate over whether or not this kind of organized debauchery and pornography on campus is wrong, we’re simply talking about the fact that it might be wrong to use the money that would come from conservative students for a program they wouldn’t enjoy or benefit from. So in other words, all that’s left is an economic argument. And what’s missing is the recognition of just how far as a culture we have now come; that on a campus in Johnson City, Tennessee, on the campus of a public, University East Tennessee State University, you can have sex week and evidently having sex week is not a controversial issue at all asked, just where the money comes from and how the money is spent and whether students who might not benefit by the program, to use the words in this news report, as she might feel that their funds were unjustly used. Oh, and when it comes to the University’s own responsibility keep in mind that at Yale the university is very proud of sex week. With its dean of students and others actually encouraging students to go and seeming to revel in all the pornography and other things that take place there. When it comes East Tennessee State University it appears University administrators are taking more of the classic Sgt. Schultz approach. They seem to say, ‘we know nothing.’ The University’s vice president of student affairs issued the kind of language that comes from a government bureaucrat. He said, “All of our polices and state laws allow student organizations to hold events on campus as long as reservation forms are filed and procedures are followed.” So there it is; all that really matters here is where the money comes from and whether it’s equitable to spend it. And so far as university is concerned, everything okay if the forms are filled out and all the policies are followed. So it’s vitally important that Christians, biblically minded Christians, understand this issue of human rights in a biblical perspective that actually honors and grounds us human rights in something other than the decision and whim of the human court. That does recognize that these rights are granted to us by the creator and the fact that we are made in God’s image. But the same biblical worldview also tells us of those rights have limitations and that those rights are not going to be newly invented in every generation and age. And furthermore, we are told in Scripture that the issue of rights, important as it is to a biblical understanding of what it means to be human, simply doesn’t cancel the whole idea of right and wrong; it doesn’t cancel morality. And at the end of the day it simply isn’t enough to say ‘it’s going to happen, we have no way to prevent it from happening, because all the forms are filled out and all the policies are being follow.’ But that’s the language of a very morally confused America, in this age of worldview confusion, and it’s a good thing that we know it. Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) New Jersey nurse reveals conflict between personal human rights and public health concerns

Unapologetic, Christie Frees Nurse From Ebola Quarantine, New York Times (Liz Robbins, Michael Barbaro, and Marc Santora)

2) Ted Olson argues rights can change displaying radically different worldview from US Founders 

Ted Olson: ‘Point of no return’ on gay marriage passed, USA Today (Susan Page)

3) Tennessee abortion vote test case of moral consistency

Abortion Capital of Bible Belt? Tennessee Vote Tests That Idea, New York Times (Richard Fausset)

4) Controversy over means of paying for TN State school sex week example of moral confusion

ETSU wonders about impact of sex week, The Tennessean (AP)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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