The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. Thomas Jefferson
In 21st Century America, we need to be reminded of Jefferson’s words. Many Americans, including me, often fail to exercise any resistance to the forces of tyranny within the government (federal, state, and local) that seek to intrude into our everyday life. Why? Because we lack even the spirit of resistance that Jefferson spoke of. Without that spirit alive and well within each one of us, the government over-reach that has become all too common throughout our nation will increase at a more alarming rate.
Examples abound of an ever-expanding government encroaching upon the daily lives of her citizens. Whether it is Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City calling for a reduction of salt in restaurants, the town of Santa Clara outlawing toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals, or advocacy groups pushing for governmental bans of favorite cartoon characters marketing food to children, there are those in this country who seek to radically redefine what it means to be a free people in a free land.
Have we forgotten Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, when he writes,
We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
or, even more distressing, have we arrived at the point when a Supreme Court nominee cannot bring herself to publically embrace those very principles? When those we have elected to positions of power continue to infringe upon our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then it’s time to renew our spirit of resistance to government.
Sometimes the renewal of our spirit of resistance comes about in dramatic ways. The federal government’s massive bailout and stimulus packages, massive health care overhaul, and trillion dollar deficits have led to the growth of the Tea Party Movement in which millions of ordinary Americans have peacefully resisted the expansion of government at every level. At other times, our spirit of resistance finds renewal in the most unexpected way. Such was the case with me this week.
Like many churches and other groups this weekend, my church is planning an Independence Day celebration. As part of that celebration, we are inviting our friends and neighbors to join us for a “Block Party” in the church parking lot. We are planning on having a bounce house for the kids and providing, free of charge, hot dogs, popcorn and drinks. The night will end as we watch the city’s fireworks from our great viewing location from our church parking lot. While we have not hosted a July 4th Block Party or similar outdoor event on church property since I have been the Senior Pastor, we have hosted events in our church gym and/or fellowship hall multiple times throughout the year. And, since we are a Southern Baptist church, most all of our activities involve food!
We have never had to request permission from any governmental entity in order to hold an event on our church property where free food would be served. Until this week. On Wednesday, four days prior to our planned July 4th event, I received a call from an employee of the local office of the New Mexico Department of the Environment (yes, there is such a thing in New Mexico). This person informed me that our Block Party, to be held on our own church property, where food would be provided free of charge, would need a permit issued by the Department of the Environment.
Somewhat taken aback, I questioned whether we needed a permit for an event on our own property. This government employee reiterated that we did, even though we would not be charged for the permit. With only two days left before the holiday weekend, our office filled out the permit and faxed it back for approval, which was subsequently granted. But, there was something I could not get out of my mind – why should we have to get government permission to do what we have always done on our own property? If that’s what the law is, we certainly will abide by it, even though we don’t agree with it. However, with my legal background, I decided to read the regulations to determine for myself that this is indeed the law of New Mexico. What I found confirmed what I had thought all along – that the government was over-reaching and has no authority to do what it did in this case.
S. “Food service establishment” means:
(1) any fixed or mobile place where food is served or sold for consumption on the premises;
(2) any fixed or mobile place where food is prepared for sale to or consumption by the general public either on or off the premises, including any place (other than a “dairy establishment” as defined in the New Mexico Food Act) where food is processed for ultimate sale in a sealed original package; but “prepared” as used in this paragraph does not include the preparation of raw fruits, vegetables or pure honey for display and sale in a grocery store or similar operations or reheating of packaged food for sale in a retail store, and for purposes of this paragraph, “pure honey” means natural liquid or solid honey, extracted from the combs or in the comb, taken from beehives, with no processing or additional ingredients; or
(3) any meat market, whether or not operated in conjunction with a grocery store.
T. “Frozen food” means food that is in a frozen state.
U. “General public” means all individuals who have access to facilities that sell or serve food, including, but not limited to, beneficiaries of governmental or private charitable feeding programs and residents and employees of institutions that provide meals to their residents or employees either with or without direct payment to the institution by the residents or employees, but does not include:
(1) residents of private homes or home environments where residents take part in preparing or serving their own meals;
(2) non-paying guests in private homes;
(3) clients of facilities operated in private homes that are licensed by or registered with the department of health, or the department of children, youth and families; or
(4)participants in a pot-luck dinner, covered dish supper, or similar event in which the food is prepared and/or contributed by the participants and for which no fee is charged. (emphasis added)
In the common and ordinary sense of the words used to define certain terms, our church (and indeed most, if not all churches) would not be considered a “Food Service Establishment.” But, lest there be any confusion, there are four exceptions to the “General Public” requirement of the regulation, one of which deals with events such as our 4th of July Block Party. There is no difference between a free hot dog and watermelon fellowship in our church gym held at the conclusion of Vacation Bible School and a free hot dog and popcorn Block Party in the church parking lot held in conjunction with our nation’s celebration of liberty and freedom. If we are not required to have a permit for the one, we should not be required to have a permit for the other. Likewise, if we acquiesce to the government’s future demands that we apply for a permit for every event where free food is served on church property, we would open ourselves up to the worst kind of government intrusion. That we will not do.
My spirit of resistance has been renewed. No more allowing the government to encroach on the liberties and freedoms that I cherish. No more over-reaching by governmental agencies where no statutory or legal authority exists for their actions. I may sometimes be wrong when I exercise my spirit of resistance. But, better to be wrong than to never exercise it at all.