Tennessee requires all elected officials take an oath of office. School board members swear to support the constitutions of Tennessee and the United States. As well, according to the Tennessee School Boards Association, they sign an oath that while voting their convictions, they will uphold all applicable federal and state laws and regulations and abide by the policies of the board. And they will place the interests of children above all others in every decision that they make.
Neither the spoken or written oath exempts those who take it based on their religious faith. Neither states that one’s personal faith takes precedence over state law or a member’s sworn responsibility to abide by it.
Pastor Hicks swore that oath. But he made clear in a recent vote of the board that he will not abide by it because he believes the Bible is supreme and supersedes the U.S. Constitution, the state constitution, school board policy “and everything else,” he says.
This places the pastor in a precarious position as his vote on a recent motion demonstrated.
The board was voting to approve the creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance student organization at Volunteer High School. Organizers said the alliance would be “a student-run club which provides a safe place for students to meet, support each other, talk about and plan anti-bullying activities, and work to end homophobia and transphobia within their school and community.”
Such alliances are being formed at schools across the nation with clearance provided by the federal courts. County Attorney Jim Phillips, the Tennessee School Boards Association’s legal counsel, and attorney Lawrence Giordano, who represents the BOE in litigation, all said if the GSA is denied and a lawsuit is filed, the county would lose.
That reality and the potential cost of ignoring it wasn’t lost on members of the board. Vice Chair Debbie Shedden said board votes cannot always reflect the viewpoints, convictions or beliefs of members, but that she took an oath of office when she became a board member to support the constitution of Tennessee as well as that of the United States.
“The decisions that we make must look at potential lawsuits, not only for our school system, but also for our county,” Shedden added.
“The money that we would tie up (fighting a lawsuit) would be money we would be taking away from our students, our teachers, our school system,” she said. And in that light she supported the motion as did every other member of the board — except Pastor Hicks.
“I’ll take my stand on what I believe above and beyond anything man has ever made because the Bible plainly teaches that we are to subject ourselves to the authority that’s over us,” Hicks said. “God settled that over 2,000 years ago folks, and I’m going to stand on it until hell freezes over,” he said in voting against the motion and therefore, against the interests of the students he swore to support.
Pastor Hicks has made clear that as per Matthew 22:21, he is unable to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” If he intends, as he says, to continue placing his interpretation of the Bible above his oath, perhaps he has a decision to make about his future service on the board. His faith and his oath are in clear conflict already, placing him in what may — or may not — be a difficult position, and one that could ultimately place the Board of Education in precarious legal positions, depending on actions by the rest of the board.