May 14, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 20

Dr. Wes

The letter of the law used to be the government’s word. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was legible

By Dr. Wes Browning

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I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of country I’m living in.

Recently Michigan’s Department of Agriculture came up with some rules to prevent urban and “hobby” farmers from farming in residential areas. This was to “close a loophole” in a law written to protect farmers from lawsuits by irate neighbors. I tried to figure out what was meant by “loophole,” and what I came up with is: If anyone tried to use the law’s protection, they were using a loophole.

In 1999, in upstate New York, a town board began opening public meetings with prayers. After nine years, all the prayers had been sectarian, so a non-Christian and an atheist sued. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in. It appears that the non-Christian and atheists were attempting to take advantage of a loophole in the First Amendment, by asking that the amendment apply to them. No, the court said, the law was meant for the town board.

There’s been a big rash of misunderstanding in this country about who laws are for and who they’re not for.

Suppose you think a law grants you a right or relieves you of some burden. Are you the same color, the same religion and live like most of the people around you? If not, you’re probably wrong.

A few years ago a city named Fremont in Dodge County, Nebraska, passed a law requiring renters in the city to purchase a license to rent, at which time they would have to prove they were not undocumented aliens. Or get out of Dodge. Ha, ha. No, really. Get out.

People did what people do — they sued — and it went to the Supreme Court, which could decide on the tricky question of whether the 14th Amendment, a portion of the law of the United States for whom the judges work, applied to Latinos in this case. They decided that if it did or not, they didn’t care. They declined the case.

Partly at issue is this bit at the beginning of the 14th Amendment: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Note that in the first part before the first semicolon the law grants protections to citizens, but the second two parts grant protections to people in general. Apparently, the Supreme Court believes that citizens were intended throughout and noncitizens are just trying to invent a loophole by reading the law as written.

In my day, when I understood my country better, when a loophole was discovered in a law we still honored the letter of the law because the law was our government’s word, and we took that word “our” in “our government” seriously. Instead of not applying the law as written, we asked our legislators to change the law to what was intended. But until then, the law was the law. We didn’t always like that, but we sucked it up.

In my new country, if a law is seen to inadvertently grant rights and privileges to segments of the population that were obviously not meant to have those rights and privileges, such as urban farmers, non-Christians, atheists, or people, then the discovery of that loophole is taken as grounds for suspending that application of the law.

So in summary, what all this means is this: If you think a law will protect you, and if you resemble the people who wrote the law, you’re probably right. But if you don’t resemble them, you’re probably trying to use a loophole. Loopholes used to be accidental laws. Now they aren’t laws at all.

In other words, the law that’s written doesn’t matter. Only the law that’s in the heads of our lords and masters matters. We need to learn how to read minds.

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