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Haslam's New Parole Board Appointee Doesn't Believe in Separation of Church and State, or, Apparently, in Ethics

Gov. Bill Haslam's been getting all kinds of flack lately, even from our own token conservative Frank Cagle. But this week's appointment of former Bradley County Sheriff and former East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble to the state Board of Parole has left even us a little gobsmacked. And since it's a position that comes with $93,732 taxpayer dollars a year, it's also a little worrying.

In February, Gobble resigned from his position after a string of malfeasances, including abusing the city's Facebook page; hiring a 19-year-old friend from church he referred to as his "Jedi Knight" as the city's communications director at $35,000 a year and then, when realizing that the appointment violated city code, deleting the code from the website in the hopes that no one would find out; threatening and suspending a court clerk over a case Gobble's daughter was involved in; and even using his city credit card to pay for regular trips to Baskin Robbins as a "justifiable business expense." (The last one we can at least understand -- ice cream is pretty necessary to human existence.) 

Why the already troubled governor would appoint anyone with this much baggage to a state position is beyond us, but Haslam is defending his choice, telling reporters yesterday:

[W]e thought his background and experience could be helpful," Haslam said. ...

Asked how he reconciled his pick with Gobble's recent experience in East Ridge, Haslam declined to comment on the issue and instead focused on his other roles in public life. 

"I mean, I can't really speak for both sides of that issue," Haslam said. "But I think from what I've seen of Tim, both as Bradley County sheriff, his time in Hamilton County and his federal government Secret Service work, I think he can add to the program."

And it's true, Gobble does have lots of experience in law enforcement, which is conceivably a good quality for someone tasked with the ability to grant offenders parole. However, it turns out that Gobble wasn't really good at those jobs either. He was reportedly fired from his position in the Secret Service and forced to resign from his position as director of the Bradley County Emergency Agency for violations of the Hatch Act -- i.e., the law that prevents people using their offices to conduct campaign activities on the job. (Similar violations had previously forced him off the Cleveland City Council.)

Then, just before Gobble left his job as Bradley County Sheriff, the jail almost lost its certification with the Tennessee Corrections Institute for overcrowding, mold in the kitchen, and standing water in at least one cell. But all of that was ok with Gobble, we guess, because it seems his main concern with running a prison wasn't maintaining it but rather bringing prisoners to Jesus. In a rather long essay, apparently penned while on the job and then posted to the actual official Bradley County Sheriff's website, Gobble explains how "Our Christian Heritage" -- that's the essay's title -- is influencing how he runs his jail.

We hear a lot about the separation of church and state. The U.S. Constitution in the Bill of Rights does address religion, but not in the context of something that should be removed from American life; rather, as something that should be part of it. The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no laws respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..." 

When studying the framers' intent and records associated with the deliberations to establish the Constitution, it is clear the first half of that phrase is not meant to remove God from American life, but to keep one Christian religion from being elevated over another by establishing it as the official "state" religion, as had been done with the Anglican Church in England.

The second half of that phrase makes it clear that the fledgling American government was not to interfere with the free exercise of religion. Rather than prohibiting religion in the affairs of men, they were in essence promoting and encouraging it. [emp. ours]

It's always cute when people who know nothing about history try to write about it. Take founding father and architect of the constitution, Thomas Jefferson, our third president. He was a man of faith, yes, but not exactly Christian. He didn't believe in the divinity of Jesus, for one. And Jefferson, a man much more learned than Tim Gobble will ever be, wasn't the only man of his time with these beliefs.

But that doesn't matter, because Gobble is convinced he's in the right thanks to some fancy research, like this:

In his book, ... Dr. Miller also cites that every single U.S. president who has taken the Oath of Office was sworn in with his hand on the Bible and alluded to the Biblical God in his inaugural address. This is further proof of our Christian heritage in the public affairs of this nation. 

He also quotes Newt Gringrich:

In his book, Winning the Future, ... Gingrich notes symbols of our Christian heritage enshrined in D.C. architecture and displays that are associated with the White House, Capitol building, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Supreme Court building and others.

All combined, these symbols and documentation leave no doubt that this nation was founded on Christian principles and is, in fact, a Christian nation. Instead of dismantling our Christian heritage as some seek to do, we as a people and as a nation should embrace and preserve it. Our Christian heritage is what made us strong and will be what determines our strength in the future ~ "In God we trust."

Yeah, the motto that was adopted in 1956 at the height of the Red Scare as some kind of rebuke to communism -- that's proof of a lot. Also note, it's not "In Jesus we trust." You can believe in God without being a Christian. Lots of people do. 

Anyway, Gobble uses this flimsy nonsense as an excuse to allow churches and ministries to come the jail and hold Bible studies for those who want to go. And, frankly, as long as you're allowing Hindu and Muslim and Jewish ministries in along with the Bible-beaters, this probably isn't a violation of church and state -- lots of people in jail were religious in their outside life, and many others find a new, strong faith to help them get through a horrible situation. But based on Gobble's words, he doesn't seem that interested in other faiths.

But does incarceration alone change the inner man? Does incarceration touch the soul, the conscience? Does it genuinely affect the desire to do right instead of wrong, the desire to turn from old, harmful habits and develop new, positive ones? I don't believe so. What does have the power to change and alter the inner man is our Lord, Jesus Christ. God changes people through His Son, and He can bless and change nations. 

I believe in doing all I can to preserve protect and defend our nation's Christian heritage. One way I can help is to offer all those who have broken the law and have a genuine desire to fundamentally change their behavior an opportunity to do so by studying God's Word at the jail and discovering hope for their future through Jesus Christ. This is the best way of changing people, changing communities and, ultimately, changing nations. [emph. ours]

Our goal should be for all those who come through the doors of our jail to serve their time and never return. Jesus offers them this opportunity. If you would like to participate in helping those in need by conducting Bible studies for those incarcerated or if you can help provide food, clothing, shelter or jobs for those being released from jail to help give them Christian influence and support, contact xxx.

May our nation always retain its Christian heritage and find favor with God.

So, um, yeah. This is the guy who will now be in charge of deciding whether or not people stay in jail -- someone who professes a deep and abiding faith but seems to have no actual ethics. Someone who doesn't believe in the separation of church and state, nor in the merit of other religions. Someone who posts his own religious beliefs on a county website while at work. (And, because that wasn't enough, also runs the essay as a guest column on the Chattanoogan website.) Would you trust this guy to make an unbiased decision about your future, especially if you're Muslim or Hindu or simply don't believe in God at all? Would you trust this guy with anything?

We've asked the governor's office for comment but have yet to hear anything. If we do get a response, we'll update this post.


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