A sigh of relief swept across the audience at the Bill of Rights dinner Thursday in Dayton, Tenn., an annual event 15 years running which celebrates constitutional government and the struggle of free people against deadpanning judges and state bureaus dully operating without authority.
The event is organized by June Griffin, outspoken critic of the modern state and a frequent claimant upon the mercies of God.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 92.7 FM
About 45 people from Chattanooga and villages such as Ocoee and Powell joined in agreement at expressions of delight at the Donald Trump victory against Hillary Clinton, that woman perceived universally among the group’s small-town attendees as the nemesis of Christianity and all things wholesome.
Mrs. Clinton had promised to extend by force the claims of queer theory against marriage and Christian bakeshops, harass homeschoolers for the sake of public policy, despoil freedom-loving buyers of supplements and unpasteurized milk, continue wars of attrition against abstract enemies, enhance the security state and surveillance, and censor Wikileaks, Lewrockwell, Breitbart and other “fake news” publishers.
Audience members who did not stay up late for election returns recalled with delight their reactions when they discovered the next morning that Mr. Trump had won. Still, they don’t put much stock those presiders-in-chief in Washington, D.C, especially when both contenders were New Yorkers from the federal duopoly of Republican and Democrat.
Patriots at the shotgun-shell decorated cafe tables in Dayton put more stock in constitutional government, and are proud to declare it.
Though Mr. Trump offends the tenderest American spirits, especially at universities, people at the Bill of Rights event say his election is a work of God in favor of common Americans. God has had mercy upon the nation and its people, even though their government turns against Him by prohibiting defense of the unborn and officially slandering marriage. God’s work appears incomplete. No one complained about U.S. foreign wars; they stood and saluted the federal banner as evening’s festivities cranked up.
‘God bill’ backer
One of the speakers at the event, Ivan Harmon, is a former 12-year Knoxville city council member and eight-year county commission member who got his colleagues to pass “the God bill.”
He indicated that the country’s moral declension has invited evil in high places, and that it is a blessing if common people such as he be willing to stand for office, starting small with county school boards.
Among those held up for their heroic stand were Spencer Owens, 74, and his wife, Odine, who endured a 17-year court case involving the attempted sale of a company, Owens Transport Co. The case drew to a close in 2015, and was a costly conflict blameable on misfeasance between a judge and an attorney, Mr. Owens said.
The big heroes of the evening were another senior couple, Thomas and Carol Gaddy. They live just over the mountain in Dunlap and are in a fight with city hall. The town government is demanding an “inspection” of their house for improvements without a permit, but did not start the case with an affidavit of probable cause. The Gaddys have fought for two years, filling a large case folder in the Sequatchie County circuit court clerk’s office. They thanked Mrs. Griffin for her accolades, and vowed to keep fighting, with God’s help and the prayers of the assembled host.
Encouraging younger generation
Brittany Gaddy is a music education student at Rhinehart University near Atlanta, and is following from afar her grandmother’s legal struggles in court. She says the ideas she absorbed at the dinner are greater than those tossed her way in high school.
“It was so applicable to what is going on currently, and we weren’t learning just about things that were past *** the history stuff that make some students go to sleep at school.
At the bill of rights banquet I learned a lot about the actual rights that the citizen of the United States has, rights that we are typically uninformed about *** and that they have to stand up for themselves and proclaim what they believe.”
One man who spoke, Keith Miller, came with his wife Karen, a Blount County commissioner. She sponsored a resolution sticking so-called gay marriage in the eye and upholding marriage. Her commission cohorts shot down the measure.
She won office from “a lot of hard work, the patriots coming out to vote, and a lot of prayer and I give all the glory to God. It was just the time or a change in the county.” She wouldn’t say anything about those she called “the good old boy network” among the 21 officeholders in that rural, fiercely independent-peopled county.
The audience included many who are familiar with libertarian or Christian causes. Among them are Rick Tyler and his wife, Jessica, from Ocoee, Tenn. He was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives who said in a billboard, “Make America white again.”
“We’re appalled that the public high school in Polk County, they are now forming, and the students have to be under some modicum of sponsorship from a faculty member, they are forming what the call a gay-straight alliance club which is really a euphemism for a pro-homosexual club for so-called gay students.”
“And there doesn’t seem to be even a whimper of resistance or opposition coming forth from the overwhelmingly professing Christian community.”
In a bid to unseat Chuck Fleischmann, who represents Washington to the people in a Chattanooga-Knoxville district, Mr. Tyler came in third in a field of five. The controversy over his billboard sapped his business among the youthful and liberal patrons of river outfitters during the campaign, he said, leaving him little time to campaign.
He and his wife Jessica have 19 children, more than half a dozen between them. They run a rafting business and restaurant that took a hit financially after he posted his populist billboard in Ocoee, the whitewater rafting and adventure hub. He is a homeschooler who is familiar with many seemingly off-grid topics such as the right to travel and the rights of people who, being nontaxpayers, dare not file 1040 forms and perjure themselves.
At one table sat Doug Vandergriff from the Chattanooga Vandergriff family. He’d come from the big city with three others. He is an elderly man, but as recently as 2009 ran for Congress and pulled he said 70,000 votes compared to the 200,000 pulled by Rep. Fleischmann.
Mr. Vandergriff finally ran as a Democrat, one rejecting the Democratic party’s protax, pro-welfare positions. As we went through our chicken, greenbeans and salad, he said he would have sharply curbed the government’s rich living on loans and taxes.
At the front table was a 15-year-old boy, Mrs. Griffin’s grandson, Jake Griffin, 15, besuited in dark, owner of a rifle. It was repeated at the meeting that he will be running for office at age 21.
Jake has been to 15 patriotic banquets and says is eyeing the office of state representative. He says he hasn’t thought about exactly which issues matter. “I support the Bible and good moral values,” said the Evensville teen, vaguely, in a Facebook interview.
With him was Jillian Edmonds, 16, one of six homeschooling children there with siblings and her parents. Her mother, Jennifer, showed up to greet Mrs. Gaddy after two days in Sequatchie County jail for contempt.
In a deep and expressive voice, Jillian says the Bill of Rights dinner is a good experience for her. She was more apt to give an interview, and has much more to say than Jake. She declined to give one, though Jake gives it his best shot (Noogaradio page on Facebook. Please like us).
I told Jake that if he is to be taken seriously, he should have a business card. He vowed next year to have one. The girl said she would encourage him in prospective meetings with the press.
Matriarch of constitution
Mrs. Griffin has long been a remarkable figure in southeast Tennessee. She is a bane of Chattanooga talk show hosts who dread her call, and is held to a strict monthly limit by newspaper editors who oversee letters to the editor.
She has petitioned County commissions across the state to adopt the 10 commandments as their standard of law. She has opposed the queer agenda and spoken in favor of the gospels and its fruits, including marriage.
She has attended court cases. She is aware of Christian people being confronted by the state and the exercise of their rights. She read a list of “political prisoners” in jails across the U.S. who have insisted on their rights at great personal sacrifice.
The Bill of Rights dinner insists much remains for which to fight — liberties to be retained, others to be restored. Mrs. Griffin quoted an authority saying that Tennessee has the best constitution of all the states. It has numerous provisions which require the people to resist tyranny and slavishness.
Among the enemies of liberty: Judges.
“If you go into a court in Tennessee, they do not give a whit about your rights. They do not care.” She told a friend studying law that she should put away her study of the constitution in preparing or the bar. All the student needs is to study the past 10 years of the federal supreme court, and one could ace the bar exam, she averred.
Corrupt officials in the U.S. government since 1964 have worked to remove Christianity and Christian people from the public square. “All this talk about equality? There is no equality. You’re just being scooted out. The bill of rights is not to give us rights. It is that government cannot take them away.”
Liberty is not self-executing
Though Mrs. Griffin is sometimes a bit expansive as to her own role in particular legislative or legal matters, she is very much on the mark as to the strength of American law. Personal commitments to liberty matter. God blesses them, she said.
The Bill of Rights dinner isn’t just about repeating mushy pieties about the Founders, a gush of sentimental Americana with its pentacles, military parades and scrolled copies of the declaration of independence. It offers a bit of clear legal advice.
Liberty is not self-executing, self-enabling. It exists only if it is asserted in person, and belligerently asserted or claimed. It’s about being a belligerent claimant in person, though that term fell from no one’s lips Thursday.
Mrs. Griffin is a woman of tremendous conviction and protest. Fifteen years ago she rescinded her social security number to free herself from commercial government and its attendant servitudes. She believes herself unable to use a car for travel because she cannot drive (driving is the act of travel in commerce under state license). Her friend Ruth Ann Wilson, who helped set the patriotic placemats at the cafe tables, agrees to chauffer Mrs. Griffin (probably without her meeting the requirements of a common carrier for hire)
Tent preacher for freedom
A liberty simply is an opportunity to claim a freedom of movement. If people do not defy pressure against these liberties written in the law, they do not have them. I don’t know how many of the people at the meeting would have put it that way, but they admire those who have paid a personal price in defending freedom and liberty.
Liberty, Mrs. Griffin said, does not attach to groups. Rights are personal, she said. Liberty has to be exercised by individuals. That point was made very clearly by the event organizer.
Mrs. Griffin, 77, is the matriarch of the constitution is Tennessee, it is fair to say, an appellation she would gratefully receive.
With each passing year her admirers are more willing to humor Mrs. Griffin, with her strong sense of justice, her visible indignation at villains in black robes, her ramblings, her dramatic inaccuracies esteeming patriots she admires, her boasts as the matron of doctrines as ancient as the Magna Carta.
But she has also softened. She speaks through veils of recollection of earlier disputes settled against the prospect of a holy or godly government and adversely against the enumerated powers doctrine.
Loss after loss after loss, but courageously she joins in and stands as a witness among God’s people. She narrates stories today as through a memoir rather than through the dramatic construct of the novel, as it were. The immediacy is gone, but wistful scenes of defiance and bravery of commoners swarm her through recollection. She often is filled with sadness at the decline of the republic, but there she is, witness, prayer warrior.
She pivots her bright lights less into one’s eyes, stabbing and demanding, and more outwardly across the dark sidewalk of Dayton’s First Street, more reservedly out beyond the outside of the Dayton veterans hall; the night is cold, the street quiet, but a train noisily clacks across the crossing nearby; the moon is hung full orbed among the clouds as the Bill of Rights dinner enjoys dessert.
In Red Russia, a splendid constitution existed on paper, she said, but the citizen had no mechanism by which to enforce his rights against government power. We have now what Soviet subjects had then, she said.
The Bill of Rights dinner had a change of venue at the last minute. The American Legion reneged on its arrangements with Mrs. Griffin and did not open its space to her, she said. She gave a motion of shivering, and refused to say anything more about the humiliation.
Harmony House cafe, run by John Piatt, handled the festivities.