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Culture Friday: Reality in the dock

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WORLD Radio - Culture Friday: Reality in the dock

Michigan and California legislators consider radical anti-harassment and child custody bills and the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 303 ruling


California Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguilar-Curry, D-Winters, talks with Assembly Speaker-Designate Robert Rivas, D-Hollister during a budget session. Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s the 7th day of July 2023. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday. Joining us now is John Stonestreet, the president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint Podcast. John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET: Good morning.

BROWN: John, there’s an old adage, sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

Clearly the person who came up with that couldn’t have foreseen modern-day Michigan.

There’s a piece of legislation there known as H-B 4474 that’s moving toward approval. It makes draconian changes to an anti-harassment law that would place educators in extreme danger if they refuse to use the preferred pronoun of a trans-identifying student.

BTW, there’s a hefty fine and jail time attached to this bill.

Bethel McGrew is a high-school teacher in Michigan and a writer for WORLD Opinions. She’s concerned that educators like her with conservative convictions could be especially vulnerable.

She writes: “While teachers can attempt to sidestep the risk with ‘trans’ students by simply not using third-person address, various situations make it unavoidable.”

What do you think John? Is this an example of Michigan lawmakers trying to criminalize incorrect pronoun use? And if so, it seems to me, teachers aren’t the only ones at risk.

STONESTREET: I think that’s right. It does seem to be an example of this. It’s one thing to say, “look, you can’t do this and still teach for the state of Michigan.” I think that’s problematic given what we know about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, if that’s all this did. But the fact that this comes along with criminal penalties is something else entirely.

It’s not just someone will lose their position, it says someone actually will be punished by the state and forced to comply. And eventually, if we’re saying that this is something that the state considers to be harmful, it won’t just apply to teachers, it’ll apply to anyone who first works with students and young people. And then pretty quickly—because there’s not a more fragile group and within the population as those who identify as trans—this will be something that applies across the board.

Their definition of being harmed is a pretty low bar to jump over. And so there’ll be all kinds of penalties. I don’t think that this is going to get through the other side of the Michigan Legislature as far as I can see. Maybe it will, but I think it’ll be quickly challenged. Especially given the three to three decision and the court’s seeming indication in terms of protecting free speech, and seeing that the kind of the whole mess that was created by the court and Obergefell v. Hodges, the courts going to have to I think and rectify this.

And I think they understand that now. I think there was this hopeful sense back in the day that we would be able to just change marriage fundamentally with all of its consequences and definitions and impact on kids and education and everything else and everything will just fall in line. And that hasn’t been the case.

EICHER: Well, now, this may connected to 303 Creative as well, John—and I do want to talk about that before we go, but speaking of state legislation: I was really interested in this story by Mary Jackson at WORLD. Let me just read the first few paragraphs. It starts this way:

Each week, 3-year-old Sawyer spends half of his time with his mother. The other half, the boy is with his father, Harrison Tinsley of Los Gatos, Calif.

While with his dad, Sawyer wears boys’ clothes, and Tinsley refers to his child as “him.” But his mother refers to Sawyer using “they/them” pronouns and, according to social media posts, appears to sometimes put him in a dress or makeup.

Tinsley is fighting in court for full ­custody of his son. But if a new California bill becomes law, he worries a judge could label him abusive since he refuses to treat Sawyer as nonbinary.

The bill is called California Assembly Bill 957. It cleared the state Senate Judiciary Committee [less than a month ago], instructs family court judges to award custody and visitation rights based in part on “a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity.” It equates such affirmation with the “health, safety, and welfare of the child.” But critics say the bill sets a dangerous legal precedent that extends beyond family court—and parents and pro-family groups in the state are fighting back.

Final bit here. This is from a state senator. A Republican. State Sen. Scott Wilk. He said this in a speech to the Judiciary Committee: “If you love your children, you need to flee California.”

Question: I’m sure he’s saying this for political effect. But do you think this is going to be a trend, and we’re starting to see this, where people sort into states ideologically like this, and what does it say about our stability as a nation?

STONESTREET: I think it already has happened, just not necessarily on this issue. But certainly on some others. I mean, you’ve had plenty of political issues that have driven a great Exodus out of, for example, New York and Florida. If you look at the net emigration across state lines, it’s just what you think: People are fleeing progressive states, and they’re piling into conservative states. And when that happens, there’s going to be consequences.

But I think what you’re talking about here, what this state senator is talking about here, is something else. And if you actually love your children, you can’t actually love your children; the state will compete with you for your children. Now, that’s already happened in California for a while, but it’s a big deal. And there was a conversation recently that went viral on Twitter, of a woman who has been very outspoken as a feminist pushing back against this trans rights movement. She brought up something that I think is very important and very true that we don’t often think about is that if you’re the parent on the “affirming” side of this (which is the exact opposite meaning of affirming your child, basically saying he was born into the wrong body) like in this case of the story that you talked about earlier, where the mom now has basically gone all in and is re-identifying her kid, it’s going to be this. As this woman described it almost impossible for this mom to relent on this. And the reason is because now this woman has been so deeply invested in what is an obvious and terrible harm she’s done as a mother against her child.

The only way to justify that, short of basically saying, “I’m a psychopath”, is to actually stick with it and think that the harm you’re doing is actually good. Otherwise, in terms of what she has actually done, how can she ever find redemption for that? How can she ever find forgiveness of that? How can she ever make sense of what she did to her own child now for years?

It’s such a deep personal harm that if she’s not right, she’s not just wrong, she’s really, really, really wrong. Now, that also means to that the only real institution that can actually provide a way forward that isn’t basically doubling down on these harms is the church, because only the church has forgiveness, only the church has reconciliation. Only the church has the message of the Gospel, in which someone can be made right with God, and therefore be made right with each other; only the church has the message that these relationships are divinely structured and have meaning and purpose and we can be restored to them. So, you know, people say this is not an issue that we should get all worked up about. There’s a reason that the other side gets so worked up about it. It’s because they understand how much is at stake, and we should too.

EICHER: John, we just have a few minutes left, and I know you wanted to touch on 303 Creative. I think we’ve done a stellar job at WORLD at covering that case. We’ve come at it from a legal perspective. We’ve debunked irresponsible media coverage and the misinformation from the mainstream press, and the outright disinformation campaign by federal and state government officials and even attorneys licensed to practice before the Supreme Court. Pretty serious stuff. We’ve talked with the woman who made the winning argument. That would be Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom.

But John, you live in Colorado, you operate an organization in Colorado. How do you view it from where you’re seated?

STONESTREET: I’ll try to make it quick. Number one, our Attorney General and our Solicitor General have not learned their lesson. That has been absolutely clear in the wake of this, despite the fact that they’re 0 for 2; not just going to the Supreme Court and losing, but going to the court and getting smacked down and embarrassed. So at some point our state needs to step in, and they’re doubling down on their idiocy.

The second thing that I think emerges out of the 303 case is sort of valuer’s dissent. I’m old enough to remember her confirmation hearings, in which a speech that she gave at Cal Berkeley where in essence she was offering a fully postmodern view of legal theory built on the ideas of Michel Foucault. She actually said to judges an exercise of power, and some of us were like, well, what if you take that seriously? Her dissent basically is this postmodern legal theory. It was not based on fact, it was based on grievance and identity categories that are not based in reality. I think that’s a really important thing.

And then the third thing: I think the obvious take away is my deep respect and appreciation for Christian Wagoner in the Alliance Defending Freedom. And right now, since that decision, the level of slander that has been embraced and tolerated and accelerated in national media because of this completely irrelevant explanation from the person who solicited business from Laurie Smith and 303 Creative gives an opportunity for a level of slander against Aaron Holly and Christian Wagoner. And if you’re a Christian, if you’re a conservative, if you’re American of conscience and concerned at all, you won’t give that critique a second glance. I fear that because so many evangelicalism and center-left evangelicals are quick to believe any critique against the church, that this is going to have way more staying power than it should. It’s irrelevant. It’s foolish. It’s a setup. And I’m glad for the 303 decision; the world’s a better place because of it.

BROWN: All right. John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center, and he's host of the Breakpoint podcast. Thanks John.

STONESTREET: Thank you.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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