The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

It’s Tuesday, April 4th, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Seismic Moment in U.S. History As Future Hangs in the Balance: The Rule of Law on Trial in New York and the Battle Over Wisconsin’s Supreme Court

I need to begin at the very onset by acknowledging that today is going to be a very historic day in American history, one way or another and potentially in multiple ways. Most importantly today is the day that a former President of the United States is scheduled to be arraigned on criminal charges in Manhattan, and more specifically in the legal jurisdiction known as the County of New York. And as we are looking at this, we need to recognize that it hasn’t happened yet. It is going to happen today unless there is some unforeseen development that prevents it. It is in itself a massively important historical development.

We now know that this will be not only the criminal trial of a former President of the United States, but a trial of the American legal system, a trial of the cohesiveness in unity of the American people and of the entire American political system. Our constitutional order in one sense will be on trial. Nothing like this has ever happened in American history and it hasn’t happened yet.

For that reason, this is as far as I’m going to go on The Briefing today, other than to say we will know a great deal more tomorrow, one way or the other. The indictment that is sealed will likely be unsealed. We will have data, we will have information, likely we will have visuals this country has never been subjected to before. But we will withhold further comment until we have further information. This much is clear. America’s Christians should be praying for our nation and for all involved at this very important historical juncture, will simply stop there. There is adequate information at hand to know that we must be praying for our country and paying close attention to the developments of this day.

But as we’re speaking about this day, we are reminded that we live in a complex and complicated world. And there is another big news story in the United States. It is centered in the state of Wisconsin where there is an election for an open seat on that state Supreme Court. It is going to be a titanic battle between the Left and the Right when it comes to the court and this seat might decide the difference. We’ve talked a little bit about this on The Briefing already. We will have more to say once we know the outcome of this special election. But trust me on this, this is not just about the state of Wisconsin. It is about the state of Wisconsin and 49 other states together in this constitutional compact.

Part II

Parents Dare to Challenge Books? Librarians Complain About Parents Disrupting Moral Revolution

But next we turn to some issues of the day. The headlines in many newspapers are telling us about librarians and library associations complaining about efforts by many and most especially parents, to withdraw books from circulation, challenges to remove titles. The New York Times headline, “Efforts Doubled to Ban Books in Schools and Libraries.” Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris are the reporters, but there are several issues here to which we need to pay some pretty close attention. For one thing even before we turn to the accounts that we’re seeing in the newspaper and hearing in the media, we need to understand why we’re hearing these things.

Number one, is it because there is an increased number of calls for books to be withdrawn from circulation in libraries, especially public libraries and school libraries? There is every reason to believe that that data would turn out to be true. And I would also argue that data would underline a judgment being made by many citizens and parents that is absolutely justified in itself.

But beyond that, there is another question and that is why the media attention coming as it comes. For instance, listen to the opening of the story. “Efforts to ban books nearly doubled in 2022 over the previous year according to a report published Thursday by the American Library Association. The organization tracked 1,269 attempts to ban books and other resources in libraries and schools, the highest number since the association began studying censorship efforts more than 20 years ago.”

Now we need to take that apart at several levels. Let’s just look at the vocabulary, ban books. Now I avoided using that word in introducing this issue and I avoided it for good reason. I don’t think it is intellectually honest, but it is extremely powerful. It’s emotionally powerful. It’s very powerful as a tool of propaganda. If you can accuse those you oppose as seeking to ban books, you’re basically associating them with some of the most evil trends of the 20th century. But let’s just remember that those dictatorial regimes actually did ban books. They made the printing, publication, authorship and ownership of those books a matter of crime, sometimes of life and death. And they did ban books. They even burned books.

But in this case what’s being referred to as a book ban, sometimes just comes down to a parent saying, “I don’t think that book is appropriate for this grade level.” That’s a very different situation, but it comes with emotional and political salience, and that’s exactly why it’s being used. From time to time we just need to track how moral change is pushed in our society and this is a very powerful means of making that moral push of changing an established morality. In this case, making those who believe that there just might be some books that are not appropriate for children, teenagers, or even for the public at some level, at least as might be accessed in a public library or in a school library. If you can make those people look like wingnuts, then you can push your moral agenda, and that moral agenda is pushing very hard to the Left.

Notice I stated that issue very carefully. We’re not talking here about efforts to ban specific books, certainly the books that are in this kind of news coverage. We’re not talking about efforts to make the ownership of those books illegal. That’s not even in the imagination. Instead, what is being discussed is what is appropriate for school children, teenagers and others to have access to, through school libraries and public libraries. What you have in your own personal library, that’s not at stake in this discussion and these library associations know it. Listen to how this article continues. “The analysis offers a snapshot of the spike in censorship, but most likely fails to capture the magnitude of bans.”

Now again, notice the language here, the discussion of censorship. Now, is this a form of censorship? Yes, and every society censors in some way, and this is not an infringement of the freedom of the press or the freedom of speech. It is not an infringement to say that a book is not appropriate for say a grade level or for students in a school. That is not a form of a suppression of speech. That is a question of the choice and curation of books that will appear in a library. And by the way one of the things you see here is that public enemy number one is parents who might dare to complain or have an opinion. But there’s something else embedded in this, and I hope you heard it.

In that opening paragraph we heard that this report is released by the American Library Association. Now that’s not an accident. Here we’re talking about a professional organization and here’s where we need to camp out for a moment. If you’re trying to bring moral change in a society, if you’re doing so through the agenda of some kind of cultural Marxism talking about a long march to the institutions, or if you are just looking at how power is distributed in a society, if you can gain control of those professional associations and societies, you’ll go a long way into furthering your moral purpose. If your moral purpose is to bring about a revolution in gender, sexuality, marriage, you go down the list.

If you can gain control of organizations and of entire professions such as librarians, at least as represented in the American Library Association, then you can go a long way in furthering your revolutionary angst. That’s exactly where so much of the success of the Left has come in our society. And here you see association after association, society after society, and profession after profession fall. And you see it coming in ways that you might not expect.

So one of the things you need to look at would be the positions undertaken by resolution or by policy statements of professional organization to have immense power in actually authorizing who is a lawyer and identifying who is not. Who is a doctor, and for that matter who is actually accredited as a specialist. There are societies and there are boards at virtually every level and at one level we’re very thankful for that.

We’re very thankful that if we are going to an orthopedic surgeon and that orthopedic surgeon is board certified, that means something, and that surgeon should have graduated from an accredited medical school and have some kind of experience that can be documented. That’s how professions work. But we also notice that that’s how if you can gain control of a profession or even just gain control of a professional meeting, you can bring about a revolution.

Now, we have examples of that in the early 1970s with two societies in particular, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. Both of them made a 180 degree turn even in their professional diagnosis and understanding of homosexuality. They did so at a meeting by a vote. You might say, “That doesn’t sound like how professionals would act in a professional manner developing their profession,” but that just makes the point. If you’re trying to bring about a moral revolution, you see the taking over of professions as a means to an end.

But here we need to note something else. If you are going to gain entry into the professions, you really have to be a part of a certain kind of elite, and that means you have to play by the rules to be accredited by those elites. And once you are accredited, once you have your license, once you are board certified, well you have to keep up things like continuing education and you have to operate.

Here is one of the central criteria of the existence of a profession that has a code of ethics and you’re going to have to operate by the code of ethics. Right now that’s where much of the action is as you’re looking at the American revolution in morality, especially over LGBTQ issues or DEI issues. You’re looking at the fact that if you can change the definition of the ethics, you can bring about an absolute revolution and you can do so while very dressed up at a professional meeting where no one’s really paying a lot of attention outside the profession.

One of the professions that has become most liberal is the profession of librarians and in particular those who belong to associations like this. And you have booksellers and you have school librarians and you have public librarians and academic librarians, but increasingly that is radically liberal territory. You can just look at the resolutions passed by these societies, but you don’t even have to do that.

All you have to do is look at the use of terms like censorship and book bans and then you look at the books that these librarians are defending, and then you look at the principles that they are articulating saying basically that denying anyone and that includes a minor, a child or a teenager. Denying that person access to that book means that you are doing harm and that you are a censor. You’re going to be on the wrong side of history and you’re not going to have to wait till the next century to find that out. You can just wait till the next meeting of the American Library Association.

There are a couple of very interesting notes in this story. For instance this, “Efforts to remove books began to rise during the pandemic, often spreading from one community or school district to another through social media as lists of books flagged as inappropriate circulated online. The movement has been supercharged by a network,” says the article, “of conservative groups including organizations like Moms for Liberty and Utah Parents United, ‘that have pushed for book removals and have lobbied for new policies that changed the way library collections are formed and book complaints are handled.'”

Now what I want you to notice there is the open acknowledgement, and I don’t think this was really on purpose. But the open acknowledgement that many parents really began to understand there was a problem when the pandemic shut down the schools and their students were actually studying in the home. Their children, their offspring were in the home studying and parents had a whole new view of what they were being taught and they had a whole new understanding of what books were being assigned. And many of those parents were upset and I’ll simply underline the fact, they should have been upset, they should be upset now.

There’s something else in this article and in the way it’s laid out, there’s a scarecrow that means the kind of breakout call that is there for attention that states “a vast majority of titles cited were by or about LGBTQ people or people of color.” Now here I just have to say that that again is something of a rather deliberate misrepresentation because it is probably not the case that there were many qualified certified complaints about books simply because the author was identified as LGBQT or as a person of color.

No, what’s evaded here is the fact that it’s the content of these books overwhelmingly that brought about justified complaints. Now that of course doesn’t mean that every complaint is justified, but as you look at this list, a couple of things just cry out for attention.

Number one, the numbers and we’re told these numbers have spiked. And again, there’s a very good reason for that spike in numbers. If you go back in American public school and public library life say 20 years ago, just to state what is pretty much now the obvious, many of these books wouldn’t have been in those libraries to be complained about. And you could certainly say that when you look at LGBQT and particularly when you look at T, because there would’ve been virtually no understanding of even what is being addressed. That is an extremely contemporary, a radically recent issue. The article by the way, points to chilling developments. I say chilling in the view of these librarians such as the House of Representatives.

And again, the story says Republicans in the House of Representatives introducing a “Parents Bill of Rights proposed legislation,” says the article,” that some educational advocacy organization’s worry could lead to a rise in book bans.” Now I discuss that legislation and I see it as a very encouraging development, one blocked by Democrats in the Senate and certain if passed to be vetoed by President Joe Biden. But nonetheless, it’s encouraging at least that the House has gone on the record in this legislation.

But I want you to note something else. It’s the basic aversion, the basic allergy here to parents being involved in this situation at any level, and that becomes transparent and it’s been obvious for years. “Leave this to the professionals. Parents, stay in your lane and your lane has nothing to do with what books might be available in the curriculum, in the school library or in the public library. That’s none of your business. Leave it to the professionals.”

Part III

The House of Representatives Isn’t Representative Enough?: Harvard Professor Makes Case for Expanding Representatives by the Thousands – Here’s Why It Won’t Work

But next I just spoke about the House of Representatives and the Senate. Danielle Allen is a political scientist who’s also a contributing columnist to the Washington Post, and she’s been running a series of articles this year on what might be done. She proposes to make the House of Representatives more representative.

Now looking at this, we need to recognize this is perhaps a more interesting question than you might consider because as you look at the Constitution, go back to the 1780s, how many seats are called for in the House of Representatives?

Well, let’s just back up and say there isn’t a magic number. And as a matter of fact, the number 435 may have come later or for that matter as some may be thinking, may have come earlier than you expected. It has been fixed there for a number of decades, and behind that is a story and there’s a huge story behind the effort represented or considered here by Danielle Allen to make the House as she says, more representative, which means adding seats to that chamber. Well, how many seats? Why? And what would it matter and is it going to happen?

It’s a smart series of articles and a very intelligent analysis. I disagree with the direction that Danielle Allen is going, but she does make the cases for various changes as proposed in the House very interesting. She writes this, “As originally conceived, the House was supposed to grow with every decennial census. James Madison even included in the Bill of Rights an amendment laying out a formula forcing the House to grow from 65 to 200 members, then allowing it to expand beyond that. George Washington,” she tells us, “spoke just once at the Constitutional Convention and on its final day to endorse an amendment lowering the ratio of constituents to members to 30,000.” She continues, “The expectation was that good responsive representation required allowing representatives to meaningfully know their constituents, constituents to know and reach their representatives and Congress to get its business done.”

She then summarizes, “Today’s House districts, they comprise and members represent roughly 762,000 people each. So rather than 30,000 which George Washington had suggested, it’s now 762,000. And that number of course is going to go higher since the current number in the House which has been stable for a long time is set at 435. As the population grows state by state, the seats are reapportioned among the states, but the total number’s still 435.”

Danielle Allen says, “That is far too small.” Now, where did the magic stable number of 435 come from? Well, it came from the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. So we’re coming up on almost a 100 years of 435 members of the House of Representatives. And of course the American population has grown immensely during that time. So should the number of seats in the House increase, what would be the argument for it and what would be the argument against it?

Well, the argument for expanding the number of representatives would be to make the House representative of smaller districts that would include smaller populations. But here you’ll notice going from say an average of 34,000 in the early constitutional era to something approaching 800,000, you’re not talking about increasing the House by a few seats.

You’re going to have to increase the House exponentially or at least by a multiple. Some of the proposals include numbers looking at say, nine, 10, 11,000 members of the House of Representatives. The argument against that is that it’s ludicrous. It’s not possible that there is no way to have a legislative chamber that is made up of thousands of members of the House, much less to organize elections for thousands of congressional districts.

In a later article published in the same series, Danielle Allen acknowledges this, “That if the original ratio were to be restored, that would give about 9,400 members at 35,000 constituents per representative.” But she acknowledges, “We could opt for George Washington’s rule of no more than 30,000 constituents per representative that would yield 11,000 members.”

So now you’re talking about the House of Representatives moving out of the chamber in the US Capitol and moving to something like a football stadium because if you have 11,000 members, that’s going to be necessary. Now, I think that Danielle Allen isn’t serious in suggesting that the House might be expanded to something like 11,000. At least I’m not going to say she’s making the argument that that’s necessary.

But the point is that between 435 and 11,000, you’ve got an awful lot of territory and you’re still going to have a situation where it is going to be very unlikely that individual citizens in those districts know their representative. Furthermore, it would make it virtually impossible to know anything beyond your representative. If you’re talking about hundreds of members of Congress from your state, my guess is you’re also considering another problem, and that is even more representatives to initiate even more legislation that would get bogged down than even more politics. Well, to me it sounds like something of a nightmare.

But Danielle Allen is onto something here and that is that the House of Representatives is representative now in a very different way than it was in the 1780s. And it’s not wrong to acknowledge that. Fixing it however is going to be another matter because even if you take the argument that it ought to be larger, you’re going to have to make it immensely larger if you’re going to make much of a difference. And I would argue that if you did so, you would make a big difference, but that would actually make Congress far less likely to be successful in doing its job rather than more likely.

Part IV

Will Legalized Gambling Take Over College Sports? Universities in Hot Water over Promotion of Sports Betting on Campuses

But let’s move on to conclude with a consideration of a big moral issue related to the NCAA tournament, but far beyond that, to the entire interface of sports and gambling, in particular university sports and gambling.

Now, congratulations to the LSU team who won the Women’s Tournament and to the University of Connecticut team that won the men’s tourney. But one of the big issues has to do with gambling, and we’re talking about massive, indeed incalculable amounts of money spent on gambling for college sports. Much of this once was illegal, now at least in many places through sports booking, it is absolutely legal.

But I simply want to say that Christians have understood for a long time, and the conservatives have understood for a very long time that even though we believe in a heavy dose of personal liberty and of a lack of regulation in which government tries to control everything, when it comes to the suppression and limitation of vice, there has been very, very good reason to seek to suppress gambling. And as we’re looking at this, we need to recognize that gambling actually involving so many teams and big universities has become more headline news.

Just consider this article that was buried within the New York Times. Again, it’s one of those things that probably should have a lot more attention. It tells us something that it evidently didn’t get that much attention. Here’s the headline, “University and Gambling Firm End Their Deal.” Now wait just a minute, if it’s news that a university and a gambling firm ended their deal, guess what that means? They had a deal.

Kevin Draper reporting the story tells us this, “With lawmakers and educators pressuring gambling companies and universities over deals they have made to promote sports betting on campuses, one of the most noteworthy and heavily criticized partnerships was disbanded. PointsBet announced that its agreement with the University of Colorado Boulder which included $1.6 million to promote sports gambling on campus was being mothballed.”

Now to me the scandal is that this was even legal in the first place and that leaders of the University of Colorado at Boulder decided at any point that it was a good idea to take this money from a gambling firm to seek to entice the students at the University of Colorado at Boulder to be involved in this kind of gambling.

Now of course, the assurances are all kinds of protections are being put in place. But in this case, at least a part of the background is the recognition that students who were even under legal age were actually being enticed to gamble. Now, what’s avoided in this is the actual acknowledgement that gambling is a distortion field that changes everything. It came very close to absolutely destroying the credibility and integrity of professional sports in the 20th century.

So let’s just expand that to college and university sports. What could possibly go wrong? Why not make sports betting legal for high schools? And if they’re legal for high schools, then why not go right down to Little League? When it comes to the professional leagues most importantly, Major League Baseball, will just consider the fact that that sport was almost destroyed by a points shaving controversy, thrown games, and it turned out you had professional baseball players actively involved.

Fast-forward a few decades, you have the name Pete Rose. You’re going to have these issues come up again and again and again. And so let’s just expand it to university and college sports. And if the logic is to be expanded there, then how in the world do you stop there?

The same newspaper in a subsequent report tells us that, “Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut announced that he had sent a letter to 66 of the country’s colleges and universities with the largest athletic budgets, demanding information about their efforts to form partnerships with sports betting companies as well as what the institutions are doing to prevent underage betting and to combat gambling addiction.”

The article tells us that one company, Caesars Sportsbook, had offered Michigan State a deal worth $8.4 million over five years “to promote betting to the university community, including Caesar rising the tailgating space at Spartan Stadium. A member of the negotiating team,” the paper tells us, “called it the largest sports book deal in college athletics.”

So is that a triumph? Is that a good deal, a smart business arrangement, or is it an absolute scandal just waiting to happen? I’m actually betting, and I say that simply metaphorically, that it’s the latter rather than the former. And I’ll go on the record saying that I have never seen the name Senator Richard Blumenthal and said, “I agree with anything he’s ever said or done before.” But I agree with him on this letter and frankly, I am waiting to see what kind of responses, if any, he gets and if he doesn’t get any, I hope he goes after them and demands answers.

We are talking about colleges and universities here. We’re talking about sports, we’re talking about gambling, we’re talking about big money. And since it’s our universities, it seems appropriate to conclude that this entire process is likely to be, let’s just say, very educational.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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