The Briefing 04-21-16

The Briefing 04-21-16

The Briefing

April 21, 2016

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

It’s Thursday, April 21, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Court rules that schools cannot provide separate bathrooms based on biology, citing Title IX

The moral revolution accelerated greatly this week, especially on the issue of transgender rights. As a matter of fact, I think we will look back at this week to two very important developments and understand that they were absolutely key to the acceleration of what is changing in the moral landscape around us. Ground zero in these news stories is a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia and the US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington D.C. In both cases we have issues now coming to the fore that have occurred this week that will change the way this nation relates to the entire question of transgender rights. Moral revolutions accelerate on the basis of events such as these—the decision by a singular federal court and a statement handed down by the United States commission on civil rights.

First of all, as the Washington Post reports,

“A federal appeals court in Richmond has ruled that a transgender high school student who was born as a female can sue his school board on discrimination grounds because it banned him from the boys’ bathroom.”

Now before we go any further into the story, just consider how incomprehensible that opening sentence would be to any previous generation of human beings. Notice how the pronoun absolutely jumps out at us. I repeat,

“A federal appeals court in Richmond has ruled that a transgender high school student who was born as a female”—previously, in any generation of human beings, otherwise known therefore as a girl—“may sue his school board”—now there’s the pronoun that jumps out at us—“on discrimination grounds because it banned him from the boys’ bathroom.”

Now you have to ask a question in terms of the Christian worldview when you see a story like this. Here is a lede sentence in a newspaper as influential as the Washington Post, and what that tells us is that this is intended to make sense, to make immediate sense to the readers of the Washington Post. As I said, before we go further, we need to recognize that it would’ve made no sense at all to any previous generation of human beings. As the Washington Post says,

“In backing high school junior Gavin Grimm, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit deferred to the U.S. Education Department’s position that transgender students should have access to the bathrooms that match their gender identities rather than being forced to use bathrooms that match their biological sex. The department has said that requiring transgender students to use a bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex amounts to a violation of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.”

Joshua Block, an ACLU lawyer, that is the American Civil Liberties Union said,

“It’s a complete vindication for the Education Department’s interpretation of Title IX.”

Now at this point we need to step back once again. This means that you have a federal court of appeals that has stated that the Obama Administration’s Education Department is right in ruling that it is unconstitutional and a violation of the federal law known as Title IX for a school to say that a school student must use the bathroom of the biologically assigned sex. Now what makes this so newsworthy is that this hasn’t happened before. No federal court at this level has acted in any previous way that is so contrary to moral sense, and now you have the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a very important and influential appeals court in this country, handing down a ruling that is going to reverse the practice of many school districts around the country.

The immediate impact of this appeals court decision is limited to the states covered by the fourth district. But the impact of this court decision is going to be far more influential than that. As the Washington Post declares,

“The 4th Circuit is the highest court to weigh in on the question of whether bathroom restrictions constitute sex discrimination, and the decision could have widespread implications on how U.S. courts interpret the issue as civil rights activists and local politicians battle over bathrooms.”

Two big issues right here. First of all, embedded in that paragraph is the statement that,

“The Fourth Circuit is the highest court to weigh in on the question of whether bathroom restrictions constitute sex discrimination.”

Now let’s just state the obvious. When Title IX was adopted back in the 1970s by the United States Congress, no one would’ve assumed that sex discrimination had anything at all to do with who would use which bathroom in terms of a biologically assigned sex or a currently claimed gender identity. So here you have the federal law, passed under very different assumptions in a previous generation, that is now being applied with the argument that, we need to note, won in this court decision that the refusal to allow persons to declare their current gender identity in terms of which bathrooms they will use is a violation of sex discrimination. Now I don’t believe that even the advocates for transgender rights as recently as five or six years ago would’ve believed that that kind of argument would actually win in court. But now they’re making the argument, and clearly they are winning. What does that tell us? It tells us that the moral revolution has passed a very important point at which you now have the presumption that somehow a federal court is going to get to the point, one way or another, by one legal argument or another, to find in favor of the LGBT revolution. That tells us something. It tells us that every time anyone goes into court in a federal court or any other arena and is attempting to argue for what we might call a basic biological rationality, that position is now on the defensive. And the federal court in this case was willing to use a law that has to do with sex discrimination to extend it to LGBT issues.

Now we need to take note of what this means. This means that a federal court now says that it is unconstitutional for a school district to say that students are to use the bathroom, and by extension the locker rooms and changing areas, that would constitute identity by biological sex. Now here we have a huge, huge issue in terms of the moral revolution. And it is going to present Christians, Christian parents and Christian young people, with some immediate quandaries.

How in the world do you go into the intimate space of a bathroom or of a changing area or of a locker room, which would include shower facilities, when we now know that a federal court has ruled that it cannot be limited to students of one biological sex? It has to be determined instead by gender identity. Now this is not to suggest that those who claim that transgender identity are any more likely to be sexual predators. It is to state the obvious: there will be people of both biological sexes sharing the intimate space of bathrooms and changing areas and locker rooms. That in itself is the essence of the problem. But we’re now facing a moral revolution that says that is not only to be declared right, but absolutely mandated by the Constitution.

Part II

Official statement from US Civil Rights Commission identifies religious liberty as problem

The second big story in the transgender revolution has to do with the United States Commission on Civil Rights. David French, writing for National Review, got it exactly right when yesterday he wrote,

“Our nation’s centuries-old commitment to free speech and religious liberty was already under threat. But it took men wanting to use women’s bathrooms and vice versa for the Left to truly show its hand, plainly and unequivocally declaring that American legal traditions should be set ablaze.”

Why did he write that? Well as he says,

“The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights published a “Statement Condemning Recent State Laws and Pending Proposals Targeting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community” [yes, that’s how the federal government makes a description] — a statement motivated by new Mississippi laws protecting religious freedom and by North Carolina’s much-discussed “bathroom law.”

French then writes,

“The Commission claims that any law requiring men and women to use bathrooms that correspond to their biological sex ‘jeopardizes not only the dignity, but also the actual physical safety, of transgender people whose appearances may not match societal expectations of the sex specified on their identification documents.’”

Now what’s really going on here? The United States Commission on Civil Rights makes that abundantly clear when the Commission released a document, in their own name, in which religious liberty is directly undermined, not only that—it is explicitly so. The statement released by the Commission includes these words,

“Civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination, as embodied in the Constitution, laws, and policies, are of preeminent importance in American jurisprudence.”

Well, so good, so far. Where does this go? Point two,

“Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights.”

Now we need to note this date. The release of the statement came on April 18, 2016. On that date, we need to note, the United States Commission on Civil Rights declared that religious liberty is not the first freedom of Americans to be cherished as a right, but is rather the problem that must be overcome and must be, if necessary, conformed to the new moral revolution. I have never seen a statement that comes on the letterhead of the United States Federal Government that states explicitly that religious liberty is the problem. There is a further statement from the commission, and I quote,

“Overly broad religious exemptions unduly burden nondiscrimination laws and policies. Federal and state courts, lawmakers, and policy-makers at every level must tailor religious exceptions to civil liberties and civil rights protections as narrowly as applicable law requires.”

Now, once again, I have never seen such a statement coming on the letterhead of the Government of the United States of America. For that reason, I believe that we will be looking back to this document from the United States Commission on Civil Rights that is dated April 18, 2016 for many years to come. The question is, will this ruling stand and what impact will it have throughout the federal government? In terms of the second question, the answer is now very well foreseeable. This is going to ricochet throughout every department of the federal government. It will then be used as a template whereby religious liberty will be conformed to the issue of the moral revolution and to the reality of the LGBT agenda. Here you have the explicit statement that, as I quote,

“Federal and state courts, lawmakers, and policy-makers at every level must tailor religious exceptions to civil liberties and civil rights protections as narrowly as applicable law requires.”

Once again, David French has it exactly right when he writes,

“While this is standard leftist rhetoric — notice it omits any concern for women and girls who will be exposed to male nudity and could be rendered more vulnerable to sexual predators — what follows is perhaps the clearest and most unequivocal statement of radical progressive legal philosophy I’ve ever read. It articulates three principles that, taken together, would render religious liberty permanently subordinate to the interests and demands of LGBT activists.”

Now, I’d like to look at the actual statement from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and say that in some sense, David French has exaggerated the problem. But if anything, if this is even imaginable, it seems to me he has understated the problem, because this is not merely a statement from the United States Commission on Civil Rights, it is a statement that indicates what that Commission believes is what’s already going to be accepted by the American people. That’s what’s really crucial. When Christians look at a statement like this, they need to understand that here you have a U.S. Commission stating what it clearly believes should now be obvious to all Americans. This tells us just how fast the moral revolution is taking place around us—so fast that these two absolutely enormous events could take place in a single week, we need to note, without as yet much public notice.

Part III

Norwegian court says mass-murderer's rights violated by solitary confinement in 3-room suite

Next, two stories—one from Norway and one from the United States that remind us just how much human dignity has been undermined in our generation and how that’s reflected in confusion in the law. First of all, we go to Norway, whereas the Washington Post reported yesterday,

“Norwegian authorities have violated the human rights of mass killer Anders Behring Breivik by holding him in solitary confinement in a three-cell complex where he can play video games, watch TV and exercise, a court in Oslo ruled Wednesday.”

This, according to a court ruling from Oslo.

“In the surprise decision, the Oslo district court said the isolation that Breivik faces in prison for killing 77 people in a bomb-and-gun massacre in 2011 is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The statement from the court includes this language,

“The prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment represents a fundamental value in a democratic society,” the court said. “This applies no matter what — also in the treatment of terrorists and killers.”

As we’ve noted repeatedly on The Briefing, the minimization of human dignity, the subversion of the sanctity of human life, affects not only the headline issues we see virtually every day concerning abortion and euthanasia now, but also how we treat murder and how we treat terrorism and mass murderers. In the case of Anders Behring Breivik, the reality is that we remember that back in 2011 he set off a bomb that killed eight people and then went on to a camp where he shot 69 other people to death, including many teenagers. This was the biggest mass killing in Europe since World War II, and yet Norway is such a liberal society that it not only does not have the death penalty, it doesn’t have the sentence of life in prison. And so for the callous murder of 77 people Anders Behring Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Now you have the news coming from Oslo that a court has ruled that Anders Behring Breivik, having killed 77 people in calculated cold blood, has now had his human dignity denied by being held in solitary confinement. Now notice even the Washington Post sees the irony here. In the lede to the Washington Post story, they note that he is in isolation where he can play video games, watch TV, and exercise. He has a three-room cell that even the Times of London described as being more like a hotel suite than a prison cell. And yet the court has ruled that his constitutional rights, his human dignity have been violated.

Now when we look at a story like this from a Christian worldview, what do we need to ask? It is a fundamental question that is addressed in the Old Testament law and in the entirety of Scripture. Who should have our concern? The victims, or the murderer? In the Noahic covenant that is found in Genesis chapter 9, the Lord says to Noah that the capital punishment for murder is fitting because in committing intentional murder one has destroyed not only a human being, but explicitly a human being who is an image bearer of God. As the Lord said to Noah,

“The one who murders another forfeits his own life.”

But now you have the situation that there is such a tenuous hold on human dignity and the sanctity of human life, there is such a reluctance to make moral judgment, there is such a confusion about justice and about the guilt of someone who would kill 77 people, that the nation of Norway could only sentence this man to 21 years in prison. That’s just a matter of mere months for every single life that he killed in terms of calculated murder. And furthermore, you have this court that has now found that his human dignity is being subverted, because even as he has a three-room cell where he can play video games, watch TV, and exercise, he is cut off from human contact. Now that is where someone operating out of a biblical worldview has to ask the fundamental question, how does this person deserve any human contact? How does any sane society declare that justice is done by sentencing a man who killed 77 to just 21 years in prison? How can the death penalty be off the table and then even the issue of life in prison not permissible?

Here we’re looking at a moral confusion that is absolutely deadly, because a society that will not treat murder seriously basically invites murder and we shouldn’t be surprised that, given the fact that Europe has given itself over to a merely humanistic understanding of human rights, the authority of the European Convention on Human Rights has cited as the highest moral authority imaginable.

Part IV

Justice served? Accomplice in Manson murders could be released on parole in California

But this kind of confusion isn’t limited to Norway. Consider this story coming in recent days out of Los Angeles, California. As the Los Angeles Times reports,

“As Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten faces the possibility of parole in the killing of Rosemary LaBianca, her own words might come back to haunt her.”

Just a fast course in American criminal history—you might recall that name because Leslie Van Houten was one of those involved in the Manson murders. She was not only involved, she was one of the murderers. The words that might come back to haunt her according to the Los Angeles Times are where in 1971 she admitted that back in 1969, following Charles Manson, she had murdered a woman, stabbing her at least 14 more times after the murder had begun. But the background of this is as the Los Angeles Times reports,

“On Thursday, a review board recommended parole for Van Houten, 66. The ruling will be reviewed by the parole board’s legal team. If upheld, it will be forwarded to Gov. Jerry Brown, who could decide to block Van Houten’s release. A spokesman for the governor said Thursday that it would be premature for his office to comment.”

So this is how moral insanity shows up in our country. Here you have one of most infamous murder sprees in American history—to say the name Charles Manson and almost everyone understands exactly what happened back in 1969. The killing of multiple people by a death cult that not only killed them, but tortured them. And now you have a woman, age 66 who was 19 at the time of these horrifying murders, who has been approved by the California parole board for parole. It’s now going to be up to Gov. Jerry Brown. No one knows how he’s going to decide the case, but he should never have been presented this parole question in the first place.

What kind of society are we that would allow a criminal convicted of a murder such as this to ever face the possibility of parole? It is a society that is exhibiting a very deadly moral exhaustion, unable even now to bring the sanction of a true life term for mass murder. If you’re asking the question, where do we go from here?, just recognize we don’t know the answer, but it is a truly horrifying question.

Part V

Fidel Castro nears the end of his life, reminding of the futility of atheistic communism

Finally, a story from Cuba. We remind ourselves that every worldview has to answer the question, how does the story end? The reason for this is the fact that Fidel Castro came before the Communist Party on Tuesday of this week to say basically goodbye. The 90-year-old leader, having survived so much, including many attempts to assassinate him—as The Guardian of London reports,

“U.S. Presidents came and went, the Berlin wall fell, Cuba tottered and Castro ambushed by illness relinquished power, but he still resisted death.”

That is until now. But standing before the Communist Party in Cuba on Tuesday Castro said,

“I’ll be 90 years old soon. Soon I’ll be like all the others.”

And in that, of course, he’s absolutely right. But we need to recognize that the Cuban leader is committed to an atheistic worldview that is committed to the worldview of materialism. In other words, the material world is all there is. And there is no God. There is no Creator; there is no God who is sovereignly over all. Instead, it’s all just a matter of history unfolding. You know, you would think after the collapse of Soviet communism and the fact that communism has seen virtually everywhere to end in its own death cult, that that would lead to communists having to revise their eschatology, because the utopia they promised never came. But here you have a 90-year-old communist revolutionary in Cuba facing his Communist Party, calling upon them to stay the course. An atheistic philosophy has to promise a worldly fulfillment and, of course, it’s a fulfillment that never comes. It can’t, because no humanistic philosophy can deliver on those promises. This is where Christians are both humbled and encouraged by the fact that it is not ours to bring in the kingdom of Christ—Christ will, and that’s why we pray, “Even so Lord, come quickly.”

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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