Hwy 101 Roundabout Public Meeting

SCDoT has scheduled a time to hear from the public on the proposed roundabout on Hwy 101 in front of Lake Cunningham Fire Department.

The hearing will be on September 15, 2015 at Greer High School from 5pm to 7pm.

Public Shaming, Borrowed Moral Capital and Kicking the CBF to the Curb

From William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust

“Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash: your picture in the paper nor money in the bank either. Just refuse to bear them.”

After the CBF (thus I have dubbed the Confederate Battle Flag since social media played such a part in shaming it off of the soldiers monument but don’t confuse my CBF with other CBF’s out there, so use at your own discretion) was brought down by the South Carolina Highway Patrol (that same group that brought down black protestors at the Orangeburg Massacre back in 1968 under orders of another excitable Governor) and kicked to the curb to the chants of a very clichéd rock music anthem, I reflected upon the meaning of the well publicized attacks on Confederate monuments across the country. The attacks reek heavily of opportunistic politicians rather than the unwashed masses.

Let’s be real. Twenty first century Americans spraying illiterate non-sequiturs on Confederate monuments and digging up 150 year old remains of Confederate soldiers may offer a certain liberation flair for the news cameras but hardly fall into the category of toppling Saddam Hussein. The moral imperative of mass protest just isn’t there. The CBF flew unguarded beside the soldiers monument, day and night, for fifteen years. Why wasn’t it ripped down every night?

Maybe Americans just don’t know how to be properly liberated. Which makes sense since we have never been subjugated. Well, except for when the North invaded the South just to free and only to free the slaves (as our current history books insist), but that doesn’t count since we subjugated ourselves and liberated ourselves at the same time – a somewhat fratricidal schizophrenia.

We should look to the French. They know how to be liberated. They even have Bastille Day to celebrate putting the heads of aristocrats in the guillotine. We merely have Independence Day to celebrate putting ideas about liberty to paper.

Since our first Revolution, we have carefully avoided having another one even though Jefferson thought it a good national catharsis on occasion with his “blood of patriots and tyrants watering the tree of liberty” ideas. Not surprising since bleeding and leeches were part of standard medical care in those days.

Instead of bloody coup d’états, we have presidential elections every four years. We get to witness our most egotistical, sanctimonious, arrogant, ignorant and sometimes-brilliant politicians who think they can be president fight each other for 24 months. After winning one of our nastiest elections, Andrew Jackson and supporters came to his inauguration muddy but at least they weren’t bloody.

Blood would come thirty years later when another president, elected with less than 40% of the popular vote, decided that national fratricide was better than negotiation. After instigating a war to subjugate and liberate ourselves – at a cost of 620,000 lives – the North botched it.

As the late C. Vann Woodward, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale, once wrote in his essay Equality: The Deferred Commitment, “The Union fought the Civil War on borrowed moral capital. With their noble belief in their purpose and their extravagant faith in the future, the radicals ran up a staggering war debt, a moral debt that was soon found to be beyond the country’s capacity to pay, given the undeveloped state of its moral resources at the time. After making a few token payments during Reconstruction, the United States defaulted on the debt and unilaterally declared a moratorium that lasted for more than eight decades.”

Woodward, who could never be mistaken for a Southern apologist, recognized that the entire United States had deliberately and systematically denied equality to black citizens since the signing of the Constitution. The moral debt was not owed by the South alone. He wrote these words in 1960 during the civil rights struggle and just before the country observed the centennial of the War Between the States. He would later author The Strange Career of Jim Crow, a book that Martin Luther King called the “historical bible of the civil rights movement.”

South Carolina’s new crop of political leaders – basking in their fifteen minutes of virtuous glow after banishing the CBF with purposeful dishonor – decided that Woodward was wrong or maybe they just don’t understand history.

More than likely they have no idea what he is talking about. South Carolinians used to could depend on their leaders to have some sense of history and ancestral honor, regardless of political party. All we have now are shameless ones grasping for national attention behind a glittering one-sided mea culpa.

The Confederate Flag Vote – My Response to a Constituent and Friend

I voted early this morning to keep the Confederate flag on the Confederate Soldiers Monument. In response to my vote, I received an email from a good friend who was very disappointed. Here’s my reply:

Dear R,

I’m writing up some thoughts about last night and about the moral debt owed to our black citizens by the entire country (borrowing from C. Vann Woodward of all people) but I’ll spare you from reading the whole post by asking you what I asked some of my Democrat colleagues in Columbia –

With such an outpouring of grief and support for the victims in Charleston and seeing that the energy created from this horrible crime could be used to solve existing problems today – like draconian drug laws, incarceration disparities, education disparities, mental health funding – issues that Republicans always refuse to address because they cost money – why are the Democrats using that energy to renew a 50-year-old flag fight that had ended in compromise 15 years ago?

They just replied that the flag must come down because of the murders in Charleston.

So, in this spirit and against the opinion of the majority of my voters who contacted me, I helped other Republican members put together a compromise at the urging of our Speaker.

It took down the Confederate flag and replaced it with the flag of the first regiment of South Carolina volunteers who fought for the Confederacy. Note that this flag looks exactly like our current state flag except that the palmetto tree has a wreath around it. That’s about as non-offensive as we can be.

Incidentally, this mirrors the African-American Heritage monument which has life-size bronze sculptures depicting the black South Carolina soldiers who fought in the Union army – and it depicts their SC regimental flag.

That amendment failed on a very close vote when most our Republican caucus leadership, including our Speaker who had requested it, voted against it without warning. That was mid-day yesterday.

Then Gov. Haley requested a meeting with our caucus. We adjourned for 30 minutes. She came and shed tears about the Charleston murders and shared a story about how she felt discriminated against as a child – all because of the flag. She demanded that it AND the pole must be removed.

Then all the Democrats said they wanted the flag pole taken down and the day started to spiral downward.

So, why?

Why did Gov. Haley seize the spotlight initially?

Why did our Speaker turn his back on 56 members of his caucus who put together the compromise he asked for?

Why the sudden shift in attention from the flag to the pole?

Why were the names of the nine victims never mentioned if this debate was about them?

Why did the Democrats vote to spend almost $400,000 to buy a collection of South Carolina made Confederate rifles for the Confederate Relic Room as we waited on the anti-Confederate flag bill to come from the Senate? I had heard other rumors about the Relic Room, so in yesterday’s morning caucus meeting, I brought that vote up to the Speaker and asked if a deal had been cut that we weren’t aware of. He acted shocked that I would ask such a thing.

Over the last several days, I had 550 survey cards returned to me on the flag issue out of 2800 mailed to this district. That’s a very high response rate for a political survey.

Almost all of them had very thoughtful and respectful comments about the flag and the Charleston murders regardless of their position on removing the flag. Many included scripture verses.

Based on the sincerity of the responses, I suggested to both the House leadership and the Governor’s House liaison that we should slow the process and create some type of reconciliation mechanism that allowed citizens to express their feelings on this whole chain of events.

This could have been considered as the flag bill was supposed to go through the committee process as promised by our Speaker two weeks ago. But that promise wasn’t kept either. The bill was put on the fast track.

I understand that to a lot of people this issue seemed like a slam dunk opportunity for racial healing and that the flag removal would be a symbolic show of unity for the victims in Charleston.

But at various times during the debate, I’d look up in the gallery and note that it was never consistently full. The lobby was full, not of citizens, but of local and national reporters. Jesse Jackson showed up as expected.

I went out on the steps of the statehouse for air around 8:30pm and saw a couple of joggers but no one else. No mass demonstrations of support from either side.

It seemed a manufactured crises.

Unlike some other members, I never received threats. I am grateful for that. My House colleague up in Landrum received death threats, not only to himself, but to his family. SLED is investigating it.

I received about a dozen courteous emails from people in my district and a few telephone calls and Facebook messages, but overall the reaction was minimal. That’s when I decided to mail out my survey to encourage my voters to comment.

I finally decided before the final vote that the whole process and the speed of it had been rigged from the start and our Republican “leadership” was paying off some promise under the guise of racial unity. Who knows to whom.

Or maybe they are really just ashamed of our state and thought this was a way to look good. If so, they need to see a counselor about their own insecurities and not transfer it onto the rest of us.

What I did know for certain was this:

Two thirds of those voters from Greer and Blue Ridge who contacted me wanted the flag left alone.

Many talked with pride about their ancestors and being Southern. They expressed concern about the sudden national attacks on all things Confederate.

They see it as an attack on their family history and by extension, an attack on themselves. They are very right to be concerned and I agree with them. We saw strong indications of a disturbing type of politically correct cultural cleansing.

This flag debate wasn’t about unity. We were being manipulated to categorically condemn our ancestors to prove our own self-worth.

I refused to do that.

South Carolina’s past, present and future was not served well yesterday.

Thanks,

Tommy

Toleration, Same Sex Marriage and Protecting Religious Freedom

The most surprising part about the United States Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states was not the decision itself. We heard those rumblings months ago.

The surprise was and remains the deafening silence in response to this court decision and the ones before it – especially in South Carolina, a place where we would typically cut off our noses if the federal courts told us not to. Yet in this particular case where a Supreme Court decision obliterates the 10th Amendment of our Bill of Rights, threatens the 1st Amendment that guarantees our free practice of religion and overturns our state constitution, the citizenry remain quiet.

The silence might suggest that South Carolinians grant little importance to the decision. Only nine years have passed since 76% of the voters approved an amendment to our state constitution defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Considering that recalcitrance forms the core of our state character, a loss of religious belief in such a short time period seems unlikely.

Another reason for silence might be fear of national ridicule – feared not just by ordinary citizens but their political leaders. The majority of our Republican elected officials publicly opposed same-sex marriages in the past when they were ensconced behind the state constitution, the will of the people and the legitimacy afforded by both.

The Supreme Court removed that legitimacy in the eyes of a national news and entertainment media hostile to any opposition to same-sex marriage. A media that, when combined with the lightning response of social networking, will incinerate a politician’s future in a matter of seconds.

Our purported conservative leaders know this. South Carolina Republicans seeking “national prominence” have been the quickest to concede defeat on this issue while continuing to parrot the need to “repeal Obamacare” in response to the other Supreme Court decision last week.

Beyond apathy, fear and lack of political leadership, uncertainty about the meaning of marriage itself may account for the silence. Ask the average South Carolinian to define marriage and most would confuse getting married with being married. Some would focus on a ceremony teeming with flowers, attendants, guests and the requisite bride and groom. Others might think of fifty good years spent with their spouse. Very few would think about trekking down to the county courthouse and handing over $35 for a license to legalize a domestic partnership. Throw in the court decision and even basic terms like bride, groom, husband and wife have suddenly become muddled.

The state does not confuse getting married with being married. When our state defines marriage, it merely defines who may form a legal taxable domestic union in the simplest of terms. It pays no mind to tradition, ceremony, permanency, progeny and most recently, gender of who will be legally bound. It does not require proof of the couple’s intelligence, income, education, vocation, ambition, future parental skills or lack of knowledge that a $35 license will bind the couple to a union that will cost them thousands of dollars to dissolve.

Governmental interest in licensing who may be married began in the early 20th century when social progressives across the United States and Great Britain were convinced that government intervention was needed to protect the family. Intervention required statistics that proved how badly families were doing. Statistical databases could not be built without the foundational information collected through government-mandated birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificates.

Not all progressives were convinced that government should license marriage. George Bernard Shaw, playwright and a founder Great Britain’s Labour Party, observed that ‘here is no subject on which more dangerous nonsense is talked and thought than marriage. If the mischief stopped at talking and thinking it would be bad enough; but it goes further, into disastrous anarchical action.”

Shaw also believed that marriage could not be permanently defined. He continued, “it may be assumed without argument that unions for the purpose of establishing a family will continue to be registered and regulated by the State. Such registration is marriage, and will continue to be called marriage long after the conditions of the registration have changed so much that no citizen now living would recognize them as marriage conditions at all if he revisited the earth.”

The Progressive Era struggle over marriage licenses was not limited to Great Britain. This same battle was fought in our General Assembly where the debate about marriage licensing was consistently linked to divorce. Both marriage licensing and divorce were historically banned in South Carolina except for a brief period during Reconstruction when we were forced to adopt a clone of Ohio’s state constitution in which both were legal.

Progressives in Columbia, like their British counterparts, argued that marriage licenses would protect women and children. Conservatives opposed government-sanctioned marriage because it would eventually require the legalization of divorce, an outcome that they believed would destroy family stability and expose children to unnecessary hardships.

After much debate and two world wars, South Carolina legalized marriage licensing in 1911 and divorce in 1949. Our marriage licensing law has been mostly unchanged since then until the recent federal court ruling allowed same-sex couples to purchase marriage licenses this past November.

Like the marriage licensing debates one hundred years ago, not all progressives today agree that the legalization of same-sex marriage should be considered a victory. British columnist, Brian Sewell, writing last year in The Telegraph about the drive to legalize same-sex marriage across Great Britain said, “We have wasted our resources on the wrong campaign – the battle still to be won is against prejudice, the most insidious of enemies.”

Sewell, who stands as one of Great Britain’s most well-regarded art critics and who describes himself as “queer” rather than “gay” went on to write, “Most of us are content with what we now have within the law, and are happy to respect the deeply held belief of sincere, thoughtful and informed Christians for whom marriage is the one sacrament in which we cannot share.”

Sewell reveals that differences of opinion exist within the gay-rights community over whether a marriage license has any significant meaning in their battle against prejudice. Even his insistence on being labeled “queer” – a term of derision in our society – points to a division on gender definition not readily understood to those of us who still associate gender with anatomy.

To us tradition-bound South Carolinians, his words are surprising. Unlike Great Britain, our media presents the gay-rights community as an unassailable monolith with no visible fault lines. Sewell also offers a refreshing toleration to the traditional definition of marriage held by orthodox Christians worldwide. Contrast his published remarks to the absence of the same in the United States where no American progressive of Sewell’s stature dares to defend the Christian understanding of marriage.

If Shaw were alive today, he might agree when Sewell wrote “we have wasted our resources on the wrong campaign” – a campaign that goes beyond expanding who may marry and subjects same-sex couples to state controlled divorce laws – a subjugation of the individual that Shaw would never have seen as progressive.

The successful campaign for same-sex marriage presents a troubling victory for progressives. How can they celebrate an institution that their policies have almost ruined? The promise made by progressives was that by licensing marriages, the government could develop policies to enhance the family – policies that today are scattered throughout our educational system, our tax code and through countless government agencies that thrive on social experimentation.

Their policies have not reduced the number of victims but have victimized the institution of marriage and the children it was meant to protect. Consider the statistics – 41% of births in the United States are to unwed mothers compared to just 5% in 1940. 45% of children who live with single mothers are in poverty compared to 6% who live with both parents. Almost 50% of marriages end in divorce. These numbers suggest that same-sex couples campaigning for a marriage license have wasted their efforts seeking a stability that no longer exists. In that, they are now truly equal with traditional couples.

Sewell also touched on another important distinction not heard in the American media. He reminded us that marriage is a belief, religious or otherwise. We assume that an individual must “believe” in marriage to participate in the act of getting married and “beliefs” along with the actions attributed to them are protected by the First Amendment. The federal court ruling while seemingly extending rights to same-sex couples actually restricts the beliefs and practices of all Americans.

Sewell’s example brings us back around to the notion of civil tolerance. Not just tolerance of gay Americans but of conservative religious Americans too. Our tradition of civil tolerance did not happen by accident and well may be the reason for the silence that we hear today.

John Locke, whose political theories on tolerance were written into the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina and then later on greatly influenced Thomas Jefferson as he wrote our Declaration of Independence, posited that we have a natural right to life, liberty and property – or to freely live once we are conceived, freely act for our own interest and freely enjoy the property earned from our actions as long as we do not violate the natural rights of others. He believed that toleration was essential for the greatest number of people to enjoy these fundamental rights.

When Locke wrote A Letter Concerning Toleration, religious intolerance was widespread even among protestant groups with similar beliefs. He stated that civil government was established only to protect our natural rights and had no authority to compel a person to hold a particular belief. This theory was most famously expressed in Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association where he used the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state” to describe the intent of the First Amendment to our Constitution and has allowed us to openly practice our beliefs, religious or otherwise, until now.

The Supreme Court decision has opened the door for a new day of religious intolerance by continuing to confuse what Locke called “the business of civil government from that of religion.” The court should have ruled that marriage was created as and remains an expression of personal belief and that civil government has no authority to define or license it.

Instead, the court issued a ruling that will restrict the free exercise of religion. This restriction has already been attempted in Houston where the mayor, who happens to be lesbian, used the city attorney to subpoena the sermons of five Houston ministers. The mayor wanted to determine if the sermons violated Houston’s Equal Rights ordinance. The subpoenas were withdrawn after a nationwide protest. Still, she showed no reluctance to use the public resources of Houston to pursue her personal agenda – a modern example of the kind of intolerance that Locke warned us about in 1689.

Her actions are only the beginning. The Supreme Court has set us on a course, especially in South Carolina, where the refusal of a minister to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony will deny him or her the free exercise of their religious beliefs. The restriction will not be a direct gag order issued by a federal court. That would be a First Amendment violation. The restriction will be a denial of tax-exempt status for their religious organization, the threat of concurrent investigations by other “concerned” government agencies, the bankruptcy that will come from the legal cost of defending themselves and the destruction of their reputation by a news media callously unconcerned about the First Amendment rights of whom they deem unworthy. If you do not believe that this could happen, then review the court ruling synopsis that denied Bob Jones University their tax exempt status.

Though capitulation may seem the response de jour among our Republican leadership on all issues these days, they can still guarantee both religious freedom and individual freedom in South Carolina by simply adhering to the first principles on which our republic was founded. They can protect our religious freedom by getting the civil government out of the business of defining a religious or personal belief. They can stop it by repealing the 1911 law that gave the state the authority to license marriage in the first place. By doing so, they affirm the freedom of all adults in 21st century South Carolina to pursue their own happiness, including who they want to spend their lives with or how they want to practice their religious beliefs. Many may consider repeal a radical act, but our republic was founded by radicals who knew the true price of liberty.

Excerpts from John Locke’s 1689 tract A Letter Concerning Toleration

I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have . . . on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men’s souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.

 The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.

 Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like. 

 

A Sense of Decorum and the Coming Flag Debate

I sat yesterday at my desk in the back of the House chamber while a number of my colleagues paid tribute to Sen. Clem Pinckney.

Some were elected to the House at the same time he was in 1997. Others were members who had come to know him after he was elected to the Senate or who served with him on the Charleston Delegation.

All spoke of his dignity and integrity, his booming voice and kind words, and his love and dedication to the people that he represented.

Today, his casket will lie in the Statehouse for public viewing and Friday his funeral will be held at the TD Arena at the College of Charleston.

As the character of this good man was described, though one of his colleagues joked that he did not walk on water and would not want to be canonized, the words and actions of his colleagues were decorous.

Decorum and good manners have long been ascribed as positive characteristics of Southern society and can be found still in the simplest “yes sir or no mam” that a child says to his elders. These two virtues were evident in the House chamber all through yesterday – not just during the prayers and words given for the victims of the Emanuel AME Church murders – but during the time of normal House business and even extended to the final budget approval vote.

Decorum was also very evident in the vote to add a debate about the Confederate Flag to our post-session House calendar. The good manners of all those present in the chamber reflected the seriousness of the tragedy that happened in Charleston and the coming difficult debate about the flag.

Our well-mannered habit of being did not happen by accident. It requires a long exposure to God’s grace that only comes from difficult circumstances and if nothing else, our history in the South is a history of difficult circumstance. 

We face yet another difficult circumstance. The coming debate will not just be about the proper display of the Confederate Flag. Social media and the hyper-revolutionary rhetoric fueled by it will not allow that.

These post-modern furies demand a politically correct cultural cleansing. They are the same old group of outside political leftists who have hated the South for decades. They see the flag debate as an opportunity to call into question the integrity and legitimacy of the political South whose history traces back to the founding of the country and carries with it the original DNA of conservatism.

Their lack of decorum, starting almost immediately after the murders in Charleston, showed tremendous disrespect for the victims and their families. They continue to run roughshod over anyone who dares challenge their political agenda.

Many conservative members of the House are appalled at their lack of manners. We have not answered as we believe that now is not the time to discuss such matters as we grieve with Charleston.

Tommy Stringer