This will mark the third time I refer to former Tennessee governor Bill Haslam’s book, “Faithful Presence: The Promise and the Peril of Faith in the Public Square,” and I promise, after this week, to give it a rest.
But the pivotal question he asks in the prologue is exactly on point regarding what I want to talk about today:
“How did we get here?”
He poses the question after describing the events of Jan. 6 of this year when the US Capitol was under siege, the likes of which we have never seen in our lifetimes and I hope to never again see.
In an interview I heard with Haslam, he said his book was for the most part finished and ready for printing when the events of January 6th transpired.
He let his publisher know he would be adding the prologue because what had happened at the Capitol reflected many of the concerns he addresses in “Faithful Presence.” As he deftly puts it, “the entire country seems to be at each other’s throats.”
Indeed, how did we get here?
I found myself asking the same question as I read news accounts of the Williamson County Board of Education meeting held Aug. 10. I asked it even more as I watched video footage shot by Williamson Home Page’s Matt Masters in the parking lot following the meeting.
Following the directive of Governor Bill Lee that local school boards set their own policies regarding masking, the board scheduled the meeting to set said policy. Throngs of supporters from each side – pro and anti-mask -- were present and given the opportunity to speak.
The board voted 7-3 to approve a mandate for wearing masks in all elementary schools in the Williamson County School District.
It is not a permanent or open-ended order. The mandate is effective until Sept. 21, after which the topic will be revisited.
The pictures and footage I saw, as well as reports of the meeting, gave me great concern.
The pictures reflect obvious finger pointing and yelling. To be fair, I suspect it came from both sides.
The footage from the parking lot shows anti-maskers following a supposed mask proponent to his car, harassing him and attempting to block him as he tries to drive away. Clearly, threats are made. Jeering, yelling and lewd gestures figure prominently.
“We are not going to solve COVID,” WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said in the meeting. “What we can do is mitigate it.”
The majority of the board voted to do what, in their opinion, would do that. There are procedures for applying for religious and health exemptions. Also, parents may legally opt to home school in the state of Tennessee. One advocacy group that opposes masking, Moms for Liberty, has published templates to use when parents want to withdraw their children from school and choose to home school.
I make so secret of my pro-vaccine and pro-masking stance. This week, with my own positive test for COVID about which I might share more later, I am even more adamant.
But I have no plans to beat anyone into submission. If you choose not to get the vaccine and refuse to wear masks when asked, I disagree with your choice and believe there are consequences that affect others.
But I understand I cannot make you get the vaccine or wear a mask. And if you and I are friends, it does not end our friendship.
Of course, an elected body such as the Williamson County Board of Education has more power than I do, and they have the authority to make rules they believe to be in the best interest of the school district.
I happen to agree with the action they took this time, but believe me, there have been plenty of times I disagreed with what they or other elected bodies chose to do. And in such instances, I have spoken my mind, written letters and called my representatives. On election days, I have voted to boot those from office with whom I disagreed.
Because that’s how this country works. It’s how this state and county work. We are a nation (and state and county) of laws.
The county school board, a group of elected officials, took action that will, hopefully, lessen the chance of COVID outbreaks and keep children in school. Three board members voted against it, but majority rules.
They might be wrong, but this is what they decided to do, pursuant to the authority they have. You might disagree with their decision, but it is time to respect it.
It’s not unlike the way we elect a president (or any other official) in this country. Ultimately, we accept the election results. We keep speaking our minds and we continue writing letters, making calls and voting. We attempt to change laws if we think they are harmful or wrong.
But in this country, we don’t – or we shouldn’t – heckle, make threats or, at our worst, act violently.
So, I ask you, as our former governor asked:
How did we get here?
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].