Monday, February 27, 2012

Local Hypocrisy

A minor uproar made the pages of the Baltimore Sun last week when the all Republican, five member Carroll County Commission (the bunch who run the county in lieu of a county council and county executive that more populous counties have, and Carroll arguably should have) spent $800 in county taxpayer money to have the pastor of an Anne Arundel County church present a seminar, whose attendance was originally strongly urged for county employees. Seems the pastor is a prime mover in a group called The Institute for the Constitution, which believes the US Constitution is biblically based.

Not surprisingly, both the ACLU and Americans United for the Separtion of Church and State opposed the whole thing. The Commissioners ended up clarifying that attendance was voluntary, and all of about 50 people attended the seminar. The pastor also managed to hardly mention God or religion, which is a neat trick, considering.

Quoting the Baltimore Sun's report on the seminar, we have mention of one of the Commissioners who attended, and David Whitney, the pastor.

'"We made clear that this would be an objective look with no proselytizing." (Commisioner Richard Rothschild)

Whitney walked the class through Maryland's early history and asked the audience to travel back nearly 250 years to understand the rationale of the time. In the 18th century, only men 21 and older who owned at least 50 acres could vote.

"Property owners paid taxes," he said. "Those who paid nothing in taxes had no vote."

He described how the state's constitution evolved but never deviated from one basic concept.

"Our rights come from God, not the government," Whitney said, in one of only a few religious references Friday.'

I'm trying to figure out how this is an objective look. Whitney espouses a view in favor of natural law. Granted, that was a common view when the original Maryland, as well as US, Contstitution was created, but less so when the current Maryland Constitution was drafted in 1867. Furthermore, the Maryland Constitution has nearly 200 amendments, the most recent of which came into force in 2008. Obviously, a lot of philosophy from a lot of different eras has been glommed onto the Maryland Constitution. An originalist argument is invalid on its face because it essentially says that we should not pay attention to all those amendments.

This is the same problem with the Know Nothings (aka the Tea Party), just on a local scale. A talismanic view of a constitution is not only unrealistic, it makes the document itself useless as an instrument of governance. Both the US and Maryland Constitutions were drafted as changeable documents. Hell, the Founding Fathers were still running the country when they were fighting over what the US Constitution meant, so it's hardly possible for people now to claim to have the knowledge of what the US Constitution meant then and that such view should the final say on the matter. Marbury v Madison, anyone?

I suppose Whitney can contend that he's quoted out of context, but the above quote from the Sun implies that he views with favor that only white males who owned 50 acres or more could vote, or at the very least, it wouldn't be a bad thing to allow only people who pay taxes now to vote. Ironically, this might disenfranchise the very wealthy who pay an effective rate of 0 with their deductions and living off of investments rather than earned income.

Regardless, he certainly seems to think that it was fair that voting was restricted in that way at that time because it limited voting to those who paid taxes. Except it also disenfranchised people who paid taxes. Though not common, women and non-whites did own property. Furthermore, plenty of white men who owned less than 50 acres, which they still paid taxes on, wouldn't have qualified to vote, either.

So, I'm thinking, how many people does the Carroll County GOP want to disenfranchise? Since they're a little shy of a religious litmus test, maybe they'll propose only county taxpayers can vote? Not that such a thing would survive court challenges, even with the Federalist Know Nothings on the Supreme Court now.

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