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Why God allows evil

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I’ve been seeking to learn why it is God, our Creator, allows so much evil. It is a perplexing question.

I suppose I should start with full disclosure. I’m not a pastor, minister, or priest. Nor am I a theologian. Actually, I’m just one of you! You and I, those who are curious. Being curious is probably a good thing even at my age – beyond-seven-decades. I believe there is God. Also that He created all that is. With that as a foundation, let’s get back to evil.

As long as there have been two or more humans on this planet, there has been evil. Let’s face it. At the outset, Adam and Eve were given but one rule. It seems they took very little time breaking that one rule. Some time later they gave birth to two sons. One of those sons murdered the other.

So evil has clearly always been an ingredient of human behavior. Seems odd, doesn’t it? Countless humans over the centuries have asked, “How could a God who created us and who loves us saddle us with so much evil?”

We look about and observe a plethora of evil human behavior. As evidence, we see greed, pride, lies, deception, theft, corruption, and lewd conduct. Human history seethes with examples. So does our present day. Examples abound!

But getting back to the perplexing question. Why so much evil? In our effort to unravel that ‘why so much evil’ question, we will need to examine three topics: the nature of God, the ingredients of love, and God’s gift of free will. All of this will clearly be illustrated within an ancient narrative story.

We could begin with that story. But first, a quick review of a couple of things we understand to be true about God. He created us. He loves us. He wants us to be with Him in eternity. There is more, of course. But one characteristic in particular is relevant to our discussion here: He is omniscient. Knowing all makes perfect sense once we’ve established that He created all.

But, given that He knows all, doesn’t that mean that He knows we humans will do evil things? And if He knows the evil we will do, why does He not prevent us from doing so?

This is a good time to turn to the story. I particularly like this narrative because it explains and clarifies so much. Let’s meet Joseph.

This Joseph is not the spouse of Mary who gave birth to Jesus. No, we must go all the way back to the book of Genesis to meet this Joseph. This Joseph is the son of Jacob, who was the son of Isaac. That makes this Joseph the grandson of Abraham.

The story is an early Biblical example of human evil. Joseph’s brothers were jealous and hated him. So they sold Joseph, Jacob’s favored son, to traders headed for Egypt. Eventually, Joseph was sold to an officer of the Pharaoh.

Evil behavior! And this while God, knowing all, was looking on. This seems contrary to what we humans think we know about God. Much of our Sunday-school teaching tends to focus on another characteristic about “Our Father who art in Heaven.” That characteristic is love. So let’s focus now on love.

Over the years – my years, that is — I have given no small amount of thought to the topic of love. In brief, what I came up with is this. First, love is a gift. It’s God’s gift to us. But it also is our gift to other humans.

Now, the most essential characteristic of love – whether that from God or that from humans – is that it is incomplete, it cannot and will not survive, without being returned. That “return loop” is called reciprocity.

Think of an elongated oval. Imagine this egg-shaped figure – also called elliptical – having embedded arrows. One arrow is outbound love destined for a recipient. Once it reaches its target, the recipient has choices. Receive or reject. Retain or return. If we decide to receive and return love, the arrow now travels along that same oval back to the source of the gift. That’s reciprocity.

Soon we’ll return to our story of Joseph whose life as a servant of the Pharaoh has placed the young lad in a position of great responsibility. Joseph has become the Pharaoh’s highest officer with command of both the royal household and the entire country of Egypt. But first let’s get back for now to love and that oval of reciprocity.

Once the gift of love has been sent, received, and returned, we can see that the process is complete. Had the gift been rejected, or even received but simply retained like a box on a closet shelf, the cycle is incomplete. Without reciprocity, then, love withers and dies like a plant without water.

But now we come to the most important point. And it is this point which explains why it is God allows evil to exist.

We have said that once the gift of love reaches its target, the recipient has choices. Receive or reject. Retain or return. Choices! We call these choices free will.

When God created humans, He gave them – and each of us – free will. Some theologians are still looking for those words in the Bible. But what they should be looking for is not the word. Rather, free will is found in Genesis as action.

Our most distant parents, remember, were given that one rule in the Garden of Eden. They were not to eat the fruit of one particular tree. But they did so. They chose to eat that fruit. That “choice” was possible only because they had free will.

And why were they, and we, given that “choice” to do or not do? Now we are approaching the answer to our dilemma: the why of evil. The answer is found within our search for the nature of love. Choices.

It is free will that allows us to receive or reject, retain or return. And our Creator understood the risk. He gave us free will. But He recognized we might choose reject and retain rather than receive and return. Why did He take that risk?

We must think of free will in binary terms. It is either free or not free. It cannot be both. Our Lord knew that. So now, let’s return to thinking about the nature of love.

The only way God’s love for His humans can be complete is if we choose to accept, receive, and return that love. And the only way that can happen is for us to have the freedom to choose. Hence, free will.

Human history is chock full of examples of human free will gone awry!

Now we’ll examine one more crucially important distinction. Earlier we noted that God is omniscient. But knowing is not the same as causing. It is also not the same as allowing. Actually, I’m convinced that God’s knowing often causes Him no small amount of agony. After all, which of us would enjoy knowing ahead of time and with absolute certainty that something horribly tragic is about to happen?

Imagine watching your son, just beyond the age of toddler. He’s reaching for a pot of boiling water on the stove. You know what is about to happen. In my book Eternity, I wrote:

“And you watch. But you do not move. Every muscle and nerve in your body twitches then knots itself into a searing, painful mass of energy. Still you don’t interfere because you gave your son free will. And what seconds ago was Jeremy’s inquisitive little face is now …. Your knowledge has just turned to agony. Gut-wrenching, nauseating agony.”

So, returning to our story of Joseph – his brothers do evil, sell him as slave. All the while our Lord God knew in advance what was to happen. He knew also that He would not intervene in the action thus negating free will.

So, what did He do instead? He used their evil deed to the ultimate benefit of others. How did this play out?

Many years after their evil deed, Joseph’s brothers find themselves standing before the Pharaoh’s mightiest officer. Notice what follows:

“I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed or angry with yourselves that you sold me into this place, because it was to save lives that God sent me before you. For the famine has covered the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve you as a remnant on the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. Therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God, who has made me a father to Pharaoh—lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45)

And near the end of the story, following the death of Jacob (also called Israel), the brothers fear Joseph will seek revenge for their misdeed. But Joseph quells their fear:

“As for you, what you intended against me for evil, God intended for good, in order to accomplish a day like this—to preserve the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50)

And now we can return to the perplexing question which launched this venture.

We have learned that God loves us. But we have also learned that His love can reach fruition, become complete, only if we choose to receive it, accept it, and return it. We also discovered that such a choice is an available option to all humans only because of yet another of God’s gifts. Free will.

Finally, when we abuse free will with our misdeeds, God may use our evil to achieve His own goal. His goal? The greater good – the salvation of all humans who choose to receive and return His gift of love.

We must not conclude this reflection on the why of evil, however, without this final clarification. It is important for us to recognize the distinction between the words so that and the word and. Our Creator, our Lord, does not allow evil so that He might use it. So that implies purpose. This could lead us to believe that He wants us to engage in evil. He clearly does not wish us to do evil. Rather, He allows freedom of choice, and He may use our flawed choices and their consequences to bring about a greater good. Let us recognize: so that implies intent while and does not do so.

And that, dear readers, is my answer to this perplexing question.

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Opinion

The next days of staying at home

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Working from home is not new to me. Although I like seeing people and talking and visiting, I frequently spend solo time in my little study to think and to write. My most recent book, A WARRIOR OF MANY FACES, went online at Amazon and Kindle on Thanksgiving Day, 2019.

Recently I came upon a quote from the late English humorist and writer, Jerome K. Jerome. I was actually looking for quotes for a book I’m working on when I came across the following: “It is impossible to enjoy idling unless there is plenty of work to do.” Written by Mr. Jerome many years ago, the quote could almost fit today. It is so strange to be asked to stay at home. But we all know that “social distancing” and working from home is going to be the way we must be, at least until this recent health crisis is over. The Rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh ( the site of a terrible shooting) tells us online that he would like to see us all use the terms “physical distancing and social connecting”.

I’m lucky too in a way. I love spending time with my housemate and wife, Bryane, a beautiful and talented writer and artist. Even though it is only the two of us (plus our tuxedo cat, Baby), I’m never bored around her. So, a voluntary or even compelled lock-in is not the worst thing.

Another quote from Jerome could easily have been written today. “I like work. I can sit and look at it for hours.” I know the feeling. Sometimes I sit and think about what I am writing and how to put it in words. Finally, I do get something on paper, but from now on I’ll also think of Mr. Jerome. I wonder what he might have to say as he looks at people all over Virginia, America and the world forced to sit at home and many people even being paid to be idle. Ironic isn’t it that Jerome K. Jerome died in 1927.

Let’s all try to make the most of being home. I know I will.

Charles “Chips” Lickson, JD, Ph.D.     
Front Royal, Virginia

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Opinion

Just thanks for keeping the community informed

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This is a really tough time for the publishing industry as ad volume is on the downswing. Your on-line service to the local community who cannot afford paid subscriptions is an especially important link to accurate information about the COVID-19 public health crisis.

And frankly, everyone in Warren County owes the Royal Examiner and its editorial staff a huge thank you for the hard questions asked that led to the uncovering of the EDA scandal. Without those hard questions, Warren County residents would not have known the extent of the harm done to our community.

So thank you to the publisher, Mike McCool, to the reporters and editorial staff. In my opinion, you are all heroes who are doing their best to serve the community.

Rea Howart

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Opinion

A very interesting way with words

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Our Interim Town Manager, Matt Tederick, has a very interesting way with words. The way he can skirt around an issue is a huge criterion of the game of politics. He has mastered this very well.

An example of this is in the article from the Royal Examiner titled, (Council poised for a decision on the CDBG pavilion project despite added costs). Mr. Tederick states, (needless to say we’ve had some challenges with the CDBG in general. One of those challenges was the approval of amendments to bylaws to address personnel changes in the Facade Advisory Board).

Here is where Mr. Tedericks skill comes in to play. He states several members got off the board, we have to add new members. What he doesn’t say is, these several members are the town employees he fired. If this isn’t skirting around an issue, I don’t know what is. This amendment to the bylaws would make him the program’s Grant Administrator, another role added to his list. It would also make Director of Finance B.J Wilson as the Assistant Project Manager and Chris Brock who is Interim Planning and Zoning Director as Project Manager.

It seems Mr. Wilson has become Mr. Tederick’s go-to guy lately on several issues. But then again, like every other town employee, I’m sure he is afraid for his job. Becoming the next victim on Mr. Tederick’s list is not part of Mr. Wilson’s agenda.

Also in this article is the funding issue for the pavilion. Since the construction estimate has increased from $140,000 to $283.349., this leaves a difference of $143.349. This would be split 50/50 by the state and the town or $75,000 each. The Town Council seems poised to give Mr. Tederick the okay to spend this $75,000 even though it is not in this year’s budget.

This kind of action seems to me there is a lack of financial understanding and competency from Mr. Tederick and the Town Council. With the economic instability we now face, and will face for several years to come, it doesn’t take an economist to know we should be using less money from this year’s budget and moving more money to future budgets. Is spending now and not looking into the future Mr. Tedericks and Town Council members’ way of doing their personnel finances? One would think not.

On a different note, several weeks ago Mr. Tederick stated the Council should consider an assistant Town Manager due to the workload of the Town Manager. I assumed the workload of being Town Manager and running who knows how many LLC’s, Mr. Tedericks workload would be too great. So why has he taken on other roles if his workload is so great?

Let’s count them.

1 – Interim Town Manager

2 – Grant Administrator

3 – FOIA Officer

4 – Town Director of Emergency Management

5 – Running his multiple LLC’s.

Absurdity to its highest level. I do believe we may be in the presence of a real-life superhero. At least according to the Town Council. And so goes the Front Royal saga of destruction.

Paul Gabbert
Front Royal

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Opinion

The Cross: Gift from the Savior

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But how? Understand that the Savior of mankind had to be more than just a man; otherwise, man would be saving himself, and that is impossible. Clearly then, the Savior had to be God! For again, only God can forgive sin and save sinners. Jesus spoke to the absolute necessity to see and believe this truth when He said, “…if ye believe not that I am He (God), ye shall die in your sins.” (Jn. 8:24) Meaning to be cast from God’s presence and light into eternal darkness and damnation. Jesus also said, “…I am come that they might have life…” (eternal life) (Jn. 10:10), which He gives by dying in our place on the Cross! Jesus was saying to the Jews that in spite of their Covenant history, they did not have life and were dead (lost) UNTIL HE CAME! Note that this lost, hopeless state applies to Gentiles also; indeed, to all people of the world.

To help believe that Jesus was the God-Man on the Cross, consider the definition of Incarnate: Embodied in flesh, esp. human form. Also consider Incarnation: 1. The assumption of Jesus Christ of bodily form. 2. The bodily form assumed by a deity.

Jesus Christ, as a man, did not exist before being born of Mary. In this regard, God said, “…thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” ( Heb.1:5) Please note there is no separation between Jesus as man and Jesus as God! So as the Incarnation reveals, the Creator Father God dwelt with His creation as the begotten God-Man (flesh), Jesus Christ! And, thereby, entered the blood line of mankind. In so doing, He shed His own blood as a sacrifice for mankind’s sin!

ENTER: God’s Lamb, The Lamb Of God!

Cries for a Savior were answered at the Cross. The King of the Jews, the King of Israel; yeah, the Eternal Father God who said, “…I am the first and the last, and beside me there is no God.” (Isa. 44:6), was buying back what was lost to Him to establish a holy nation and an everlasting kingdom! Being fully (100%) man and fully (100%) God, Jesus as a man died, but Jesus as God did not. So the 100% God (Jesus) raised up the 100% man (Jesus) from the dead with a new and glorified body!

Jesus, speaking in the first person singular as a man and as God said: “…destroy this temple (kill me) and in three days I will raise it up.” (Jn. 2:19). By saying “I will”, Jesus is saying He is God, for it shows Him present (alive) in the past, present and future at once (the same time), having no constraints as to time or space. Existing not only from the “beginning”, but from everlasting! So, He is alive as God while dead as a man, and is speaking from all time frames because His is an uninterrupted and never-ending life!

So, because of His glorious resurrection, I can shout with the song writer who said, “He’s alive… He’s alive and I’m forgiven. Heaven’s gates are open wide!” Eternal thanksgiving to my Lord and praises to the Darling of Heaven; and oh that I could bow before Him and kiss His lovely feet!

His message? I love you. My life, death and resurrection in your place for your life. So respond with the hymnal writer who said, ” I am coming Lord to thee, dear Lamb of Calvary. Humbly at thy cross I bow. Save me Jesus, save me now.”


Reverend Jess Shifflett
Front Royal, Virginia

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Opinion

Christ is alive, He is living today

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“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” – John 21:25

The Season of Easter is the high point of the Christian Church year. Traditionally, worshipers participate in an extended feast wherein the paschal candle is lit at every service as a sign of the risen Christ. Scripture readings highlight every Christian’s connection to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The scripture readings proclaim the power of the resurrection that gives strength in suffering, unity in diversity, consolation in sorrow, perseverance in adversity and faith in times of doubt. On this, the holiest day of the year and for the entire Season of Easter, many Christian’s greet each other with the words, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia!”

Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead is one of the principal doctrines of the gospel.

If Christ be not risen, our faith is vain (1 Corinthians 15:14). The essential New Testament revelation balances on this as a historical fact. On the day of Pentecost, Peter argued the necessity of Christ’s resurrection from the prediction in Psalm 16 (Acts 2:24-28). Christ also clearly prophesied his resurrection (Matthew 20:19; Mark 9:9; 14:28; Luke 18:33; John 2:19-22). Thus we can preach that Jesus is alive; that He has risen as He said He would and that He is the Son of God as He claimed to be. Christ is alive! He is living today.

The Bible informs us that Jesus did appear many times after his death and resurrection:

  • The empty tomb – Resurrection Sunday – Matthew 28: 1-10, Mark 16: 1-8, Luke 24: 1-12, John 20: 1-9.
  • To Mary Magdalene at the garden – Resurrection Sunday – Mark 16: 9-11, John 20: 11-18.
  • To other women, “the other Mary,” Salome, Joanna, and others, as they returned from the tomb – Resurrection Sunday – Matthew 28: 9-10.
  • To Simon Peter alone – Resurrection Sunday – Luke 24: 34, 1 Corinthians 15: 5.
  • To the two disciples going to Emmaus – Resurrection Sunday – Mark 16: 12-13, Luke 24: 13-32.
  • To the ten disciples (Thomas being absent) in the upper room – Resurrection Sunday – Luke 24: 36-43, John 20: 19-25.
  • To the disciples again (Thomas being present) – Following Sunday – Mark 16: 14, John 20: 26-31, 1 Corinthians 15: 5.
  • To seven disciples when fishing at the Sea of Galilee – sometime later – John 21: 1-23.
  • To the eleven at an appointed place in Galilee – sometime later – Matthew 28: 16-20, Mark 16: 15-18.
  • More than 500 brethren – sometime later – 1 Corinthians 15: 6.
  • To James, but under unknown circumstances – sometime later – 1 Corinthians 15: 7.
  • To the apostles immediately before the ascension. They accompanied him from Jerusalem to Mount Olivet and there they saw him ascend “till a cloud received him out of their sight” – Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection – Luke 24: 44-49, Acts 1: 3-8.

In addition to the above appearances, Christ will return by way of vision and appear to Stephen, several times to Paul, and finally to John to give him the final Revelation:

  • Paul at Damascus, speaks of it as an appearance of the risen Savior – several years later – Acts 9: 1-19, 22: 3-16, 26: 9-18, 1 Corinthians 9: 1, 15: 8.
  • Paul tells us in Galatians 1:17 that he went immediately into Arabia and then returned to Damascus and three years after his transforming vision of Jesus, he went up to Jerusalem to see the Apostles. During Paul’s 3 years in Arabia he received the Gospel from the Lord (Galatians 1:11-17). He made a visit to the Throne of God (2 Corinthians 12:1-4) where he saw things he was not permitted to reveal. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, when Paul recounted all the Lord’s post resurrection appearances, he included himself as one who had seen Him. So, at some point, he apparently did have a physical meeting with the Lord.
  • Stephen in his dying vision saw “Jesus standing on the right hand of God” – sometime later – Acts 7: 55-56.
  • John of Patmos experienced a vision of the resurrected Christ described in Revelation – many years later – Revelation 1: 12-20.

It is implied in the words of Luke (Acts 1:3) that there may have been other appearances of which we have no record.

2 Corinthians 13 cites that, “in the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses every word shall be established.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ has been established as fact. The scriptures tell us of the many appearances of Christ and the witnesses who experienced the events encompassing the resurrection. In Christ we can be confident of our salvation and in Christ we can be confident of our own resurrection.

The apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We should find the assurance of our salvation in the truth of God’s Word. We should have trust that we are saved based on the promises God has declared.

A final note: Ephesians 5:13-15

Children of Light

13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.” 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise.


Mark P. Gunderman
Stephens City, Virginia

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Opinion

The Governor, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the Constitution

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In the struggle against COVID-19, policymakers are balancing the health of the people they serve against other important things: work, family life, education, social gatherings, religious worship, and liberty. These things, while they are not life itself, are, to most, at least part of what gives life its joy and flavor. They are the things that liberty, which was at the heart of the Revolution that gave us the Commonwealth of Virginia, serve and make possible.

On Tuesday of last week, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued Executive Order 53, which he augmented with Executive Order 55 on Monday of this week. Together these efforts represent his Administration’s balance between liberty and the spread of a communicable disease.

His orders ban both public and private gatherings of more than ten people and ban leaving the house except for certain approved purposes. He makes violations of these orders punishable by fines and jail time. In doing so, he exempts some gatherings from the decrees, declaring them “essential.” While his list of “essential” activities includes the operations of the media and the government, it does not include religious services.

Virginia is now living in a strange reality where, by two strokes of his pen, the governor has essentially criminalized the everyday life of Virginians. Work, family gatherings, education, graduations, and the worship of Almighty God, could get you fined or thrown in jail. Virginians should think long and hard about that.

One thing that most Virginians will be quick to realize is that such threats are overkill. The vast majority of people (including me) have accepted that the pandemic has made social distancing a prudent course of action for a time, until conditions are more favorable to combat the disease, and are willing to accept the guidance of experts on the matter. Most religious congregations, including my own, are strictly following these guidelines and have canceled public in-person gatherings. Even the smallest and most vulnerable businesses are heeding the advice of public health experts and are closing, with their owners and employees remaining at home.

Most Virginians, however, will sense that something more than just overkill is in play, and they would be correct. In Virginia, which was founded on the idea of popular sovereignty, and is governed according to a Constitution that protects our personal liberty, the Governor cannot go as far as he has. It is not possible to reconcile these Orders with the text of the Constitution they invoke, which protects the right to peaceably assemble (Virginia Bill of Rights, Section 12) and the free exercise of religion (Virginia Bill of Rights, Section 16).

The most a government that respects its constitutional limitations can do is offer a strong recommendation, back it up with compelling arguments grounded in the best learning on the topic, and repeat it. It crosses a bright ontological line—one that people have died to draw—to go from offering a recommendation to issuing an order, one that the Executive will enforce with fines and jail time. This is especially the case when there is no need for imposing such measures on people who are behaving this way anyway.

Instead, with these orders, the Governor has needlessly complicated his response to the pandemic by taking reasonable, life-saving health guidance and turning it into a crusade against civil society. He has heaped both a constitutional and moral crisis on top of the existing health and economic crises. He has created a necessity for vigilant citizens to work to defend the constitution while trying to stay healthy and financially solvent.

When our forefathers enshrined in the Constitution the freedom to peaceably assemble and the right to the Free Exercise of religion, they did so knowing that these freedoms would come under attack, and had wisdom deep enough to know that this was most likely to occur during a crisis. Where there is tension between measures intended to protect life and the liberty to enjoy it, our Constitution has already struck a clear balance. It does not guarantee us perfect health or freedom from disease; it guarantees us liberty. If that is unsatisfactory to some, they must change the Constitution.

Hopefully reason will prevail with the Governor, and he will revise his approach. If he does not, the people will have an obligation to work to reverse his decrees.

A health crisis, however severe, is no excuse to trample the Constitution. In some respects, the willingness of Virginians to take the measures necessary to protect their health makes this an easy case. If the Governor does not readjust his approach, however, the situation will escalate, causing unnecessary controversy and risk. The Governor has an obligation to work harder to strike a balance that heeds the Constitution.

Scott Lloyd is an attorney from Front Royal, Virginia.

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