Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Asking the rabble

Nick Coleman had another column today about the Twins stadium proposal involving a Hennepin County sales tax and the avoidance of a taxpayer referendum. Clearly, Coleman thinks that Hennepin County – and the State of Minnesota – has its priorities screwed up.

Okay, on the other hand, we have the Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee that killed a bill to put a may garriage (sorry) gay marriage ban constitutional amendment referendum on the fall ballot. Predictably, the homophobes are outraged, although there are probably at least some of them who think the stadium deal, sans referendum, is just fine.

So, when do we consult the rabble for its opinion? Clearly, both situations are ones where elected officials are leery of whether the public would make the “right” decision. Spot is reminded of a quotation attributed to Jesse Helms, but for which Spot has no link, where Helms said “Democracy used to be a good thing, but it has gotten into the wrong hands.” Don’t we all feel that way once in a while? Spotty sure does.

Spotty says the two situations are fundamentally different. Spot believes it is entirely proper to restrain majoritarian impulses that seek to impair fundamental tenets of American society, such as equal protection under law. Civil rights, like equal protection, are the things we have agreed ahead of time as a society that people are born with; civil rights are not negotiable, and you’re entitled to them regardless of your membership in a group that is unpopular at the moment.

Notice that Spotty did not say that civil rights are “God given,” because they are not. The natural law proponents are the ones who believe we should be governed by Leviticus and maybe the Book of Revelation. They believe they know what the Bibles says and what it prescribes for us all, whether we subscribe to their brand of tight-arsed asceticism or not.

But Spotty, doesn’t the Declaration of Independence refer to God-given rights?

Yes it does, grasshopper, but you need to keep a couple of things in mind. First of all, remember the audience to whom the Declaration was directed: King George III. Now, here’s a guy who believed in the divine right of kings, and the colonists were saying, No, sovereignty inheres in the people. Moreover, even though conservatives like to call the Declaration of Independence a “founding document,” is has no force of law in the United States.

The Constitution, on the other hand, which is the law of the land, is a pure “positive law” document. It says that the people got together and decided what’s what, all by themselves. There are only two references in the Constitution to religion. The first is a prohibition of a religious oath for office holders. The second is the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause (beloved by conservatives) and the Freedom From Religion Clause, somewhat better known as the Establishment Clause. (The history of the First Amendment and its antecedents in Virginia and the writings of, inter alia, Thomas Jefferson are too lengthy for Spot to go into here. If one is interested, Spot recommends Susan Jacoby’s excellent book Freethinkers.)

But Spotty digresses.

Major league players and owners are not a discrete and insular minority that ought to accorded the same kind of equal protection concern as civil rights. Let the people vote on a stadium tax. Maybe we’ll go for it. Who knows?


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