California Makes a Bad New/Old Law

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I’ve voted two times against giving people who rape children the death penalty.

I authored a bill to put them in prison for life without parole.

That pretty much sums up my attitude toward people who sexually abuse children. I don’t want to kill them, but to say I have no use for them is an understatement.

I’ve also written several times about the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

I point to all these things now in hopes of forestalling what I am guessing will be a hailstorm of negative reaction and wild accusations because of what I’m about to say. I think the new California law temporarily erasing the statute of limitation on child sexual abuse is a bad law. I would have voted against it.

The new statute I am talking about passed both houses of the California legislature a few weeks ago. It is now on the governor’s desk, waiting for his signature to become law. The law is clearly aimed at the Catholic Church. It exempts public schools and and other government institutions, as well as the child abusers themselves. It also repeats something California has already done once, which is to rewind an old law and essentially erase the statute of limitations on old sexual abuse cases.

Here are the reasons why I think this is a bad law.

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1. It is a dangerous practice to make people retroactively guilty. Change the law going forward, if you want. But don’t go back and re-write laws in the past to find people guilty of things they wouldn’t be guilty of under the laws as they were at the time they committed the crime. The situation in the new California law is a shade of that practice (which is unconstitutional on its face) since what we are talking about is re-winding the statutory time in which a crime can be punished, in this case, by civil lawsuit.

Let’s say, as a for instance, that the statute of limitations on rape is 5 years. Let’s also say that it comes to light that a general in the armed forces participated in the gang rape of several enlisted personnel back when he was a lieutenant. This was decades ago, but he even though he hasn’t participated in any more rapes (that we know of) he is now turning a blind eye to other rapes in the ranks.

One way to get at this monster would be to rewind the statute of limitations (say we do it for one year to give prosecutors a window to get at him) and extend the time rapists can be brought to justice to 40 years instead of 5.

Problem solved, right?

No.

Problem created.

What we would be doing is setting a precedent of selective justice, and worse, selective law-making, to get at one man. We would be declaring open season on anyone that prosecutors and legislative bodies of the future want to take a crack at retroactively. It might not be such an undoubted monster the next time. It could be anybody, including anybody that the special interests who actually write most legislation want to get at.

We could end up with powerful businesses retroactively suing their competitors out of existence with this practice. In fact, given that most legislation is about helping businesses destroy their competition with laws they write themselves and then get their bought and paid for legislators to pass for them, you can bet it would and will happen.

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2. The California law is, as I mention above, aimed at one group of people, in this case the Catholic Church. The practice of writing laws to get at one group of people, no matter who they are, is egregious.

Here’s why.

When we’re going after a group of people most folks think of as the boogeyman, in this case, a huge Church that not only tolerated, but enabled child abuse for a long period of time, it’s easy to decide that any way we can make them suffer is a good way. However, as always happens with these intrusions of the irrational in lawmaking, what begins as a seemingly justifiable exception, soon becomes the unjustifiable norm.

If the legislature can do this once, as they already have in California, then the legislature can do it again. And as with most things, the more they do it, the less outrageous it seems and the smaller the reason required to do it again.

Pretty soon, we’ve got major corporations writing up legislation that specifically limits their competitors or uses the government to control their customers, and doing it by name.

This is actually just the next step in special interest legislation. Special interest legislation of this type takes up almost all of legislative time right now. This is a bit off the subject, but if special interest legislation was eliminated, most legislative bodies in this country could finish their work in about a quarter of the time they spend today.

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3. There are better ways to punish long-term miscreants than retroactive laws. Legislators do have to put on their little thinking caps. But it can certainly be done. What they have to do is pass a law that begins when it is signed by the governor and goes forward and that is written for everyone.

Of course, I am guessing that California already has all the laws it needs to deal with child sexual abuse in institutional settings. Those laws just weren’t utilized at the right time. Outrage that child sexual abusers escaped punishment because the powerful abused their power is what fuels the desire to use lawsuits to punish the child abuse enablers now.

But civil lawsuits are a poor way to deal with this problem. People who sexually abuse children should go to prison. I am not talking here about Catholic priests. I am talking about all child sexual abusers. I’ve had some dealings with this in Oklahoma and I can tell you that far too many of these guys skate. There are lots of reasons, but judges who, like Dr Richard Dawkins, just can’t seem to see the harm, are among the primary causes.

I believe that sexual abuse by a priest, or any clergy, is especially egregious simply because the trust people place in their clergy puts them in a vulnerable position vis a vis the clergy. People confide things in their priests that they don’t tell anyone else in the world. This makes them deeply vulnerable to this priest. Sexual abuse, especially of a child, is a horrific betrayal of this trust.

At the same time, I am becoming concerned that we are developing a legal and social double standard about child sexual abuse. Dr Dawkins, as a for instance, engaged in grand-standing talk about arresting the Pope because of the Church’s child sexual abuse scandals. Then, he turned around and tried to take a wink-wink attitude toward child sexual abuse in other contexts.

Dr Dawkins isn’t alone in this behavior.

I agree with giving longer sentences to those in a position of trust, such as counselors, clergy and doctors, who violate that trust in this way. I think that, considering the vulnerability of their patients and parishioners to them, it is appropriate to hold them to a higher standard. However, those higher standards should be statutorily defined, not handed down willy-nilly as vengeance.

I do not agree with a wholesale two-tiered system of justice which singles out Catholic clergy for higher sentences simply because they are Catholic clergy. That is discriminatory on its face.

I think the new California statute is a bad law that sets a terrible precedent. It’s just a matter of time before that precedent ends up being used and abused in ways that none of the backers of the law foresaw or intended.

Proposition 8 Supporters Re-Open the Case

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Proposition 8 supporters have filed a case in court claiming that the vote of the people which passed the law should stand.

From what I’ve read, I believe that what they are basically saying is that since the Supreme Court failed to rule on Proposition 8 by tossing the whole case out, that the law itself stands.

When the Supreme Court refuses to review a lower court ruling, that means that the lower court ruling is allowed to stand. I believe that the lower court ruling in question overturned Prop 8. However, the Supreme Court took the Prop 8 case under consideration, and then tossed it out by saying that the law’s defendants did not have standing.

Does that mean that the entire case was thrown out of court and has no merit? I think that is what the opponents of Prop 8 are saying in the case they have filed. 

It’s an interesting argument that, at least on its face, does seem to have merit. 

I have no idea where this will go. The whole thing might wind its way back to the Supreme Court again. The basic point for now is that the proponents of traditional marriage are not rolling over. That, in itself, is very good news. 

The Supreme Court Should Leave Marriage Alone

Same-sex marriage is a compelling issue for many people on both sides of the question. Public support for traditional marriage eroded rapidly in the past two years, while nationwide support for same-sex marriage is at an all-time high.

For the first time, several states have passed voter referendums allowing same sex marriage, politicians are moving to endorse same-sex marriage and there’s even talk about whether or not conservative Christians and the Republican Party should abandon opposition to it.

Meanwhile, lower courts have struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, both of which were designed to protect traditional marriage.

It is at this juncture that the United States Supreme Court has announced that it will hear challenges to these lower court rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8. Since lower courts had struck down the two laws, the Supreme Court could have allowed those rulings to stand by simply not hearing the challenges. For this reason, many people who favor traditional marriage, including those quoted in the CNA/EWTN article excerpted below, are hopeful about what the eventual Supreme Court ruling might mean. At the same time, supporters of same-sex marriage are voicing concerns that the Supreme Court might overturn lower court rulings and let the laws stand.

I believe it would be a mistake for the Supreme Court to step in at this juncture and federalize marriage. I also think it would be a mistake to define homosexual people as a protected class under the 14th Amendment. I would have this opinion even if I supported same-sex marriage.

It appears to me that the people of this country are in the process of working through a decision on this issue of their own and they are using the ballot box to do it. Even though I do not support same-sex marriage, I know that the voters in the states who legalized it this fall were acting within their rights to do so. I also believe that this is almost always the best way for social change to come about.

My answer to the question of defining homosexual people as a protected class of citizens under the 14th Amendment, is that I do not think this is necessary. Discrimination against homosexuals is rapidly going away without this drastic measure and all its unintended consequences.

One of the most damaging decisions the Supreme Court ever made was in a situation analogous to this one. Roe v Wade came at a time when the various states were liberalizing their abortion laws and public support for legal abortion was on the ascendant. By stepping in and federalizing something that had always been under the control of the states, the Court stopped this normal Democratic process in mid act. What happened instead is that the Court, rather than ending the discussion, radicalized it and set this country on a destructive course of increasingly polarized public debate and politics which continues to this day.

Of course, my opinion about what the Court should do doesn’t mean a thing, just as the opinions of both those who favor same-sex marriage and those who oppose it don’t mean a thing. The question about these two laws is now in the hands of seven people and they can do pretty much whatever they want with it. The Court has the freedom to rule in a narrow fashion that only affects these two statutes, or it can make a whole new Constitutional definition of marriage in whatever fashion four of these seven people want.

We the people have very little to say about what happens at the Supreme Court. And that is why I think that everyone on both sides of this debate should hope that they don’t go off on a law-making binge. I hope that they rule narrowly instead.

The CNA/EWTN article discussing reactions of traditional marriage supporters to the Court’s decision to hear these two cases reads in part:

Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2012 / 04:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Supporters of marriage and family welcomed the Supreme Court’s announcement that it will review both state and federal cases about the definition of marriage in the coming months.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear these cases is a significant moment for our nation,” said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, who leads the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

“Marriage is the foundation of a just society, as it protects the most vulnerable among us, children,” he said in a Dec. 7 statement. “It is the only institution that unites children with their mothers and fathers together.”

The archbishop said that he is praying that the court will be “guided by truth and justice” in order to affirm the true meaning and purpose of marriage, written in human nature as the union of one man and one woman.

On Dec. 7, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear two cases regarding the definition of marriage in the next year.

A federal case, Windsor v. United States, involves a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law passed with overwhelming bilateral support in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton. The case challenges a section of the law that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal policies.

A second case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, concerns Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment adopted by California voters in 2008 to protect the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay unions must be recognized as marriages.

Critics of the laws argue that they amount to unjust discrimination against gay couples and an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause. Proponents contend that the government has a legitimate interest in recognizing the union of man and woman because it is the fundamental building block of society and plays a critical role in bringing up the next generation.

While lower courts have struck down both laws, marriage advocates say they see hope in a Supreme Court ruling. (Read more here.)

Supreme Court to Hear Gay Marriage Cases

The United States Supreme Court announced earlier today that it will hear two cases concerning gay marriage.

Whenever a case makes its way to the Supreme Court, the court decides whether or not it will hear the case or let the lower court ruling stand. In these two cases concerning the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, which was a ban on gay marriage that passed in California a few years ago, the Supreme Court has decided that it will hold hearings on the cases and issue a ruling of its own.

While many people are already second-guessing what the Court might do regarding these two laws, I don’t think that’s particularly useful. The Court has always been unpredictable and could be this time, as well. We will have to wait and see what ruling they hand down later this year.

A Yahoo News article concerning today’s announcement reads in part:

The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will decide two major gay marriage cases next year that could have a sweeping impact on the rights of same-sex couples to wed. The cases, which likely won’t be decided until June, mark the first time the justices will consider arguments for and against same-sex marriage.

The court will review California’s gay marriage ban, which passed in a 2008 ballot initiative months after the California’s high court had legalized same sex unions and thousands of gay Californians had already tied the knot. Two federal courts have struck down Prop. 8 as discriminatory, leaving the Supreme Court to render a final judgment.

The justices will also hear a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law passed under President Bill Clinton that prevents the federal government from recognizing gay marriages. Windsor v. United States was brought by Edith Windsor, a resident of New York who paid $363,000 in estate taxes after her wife died because the federal government did not recognize their marriage. New York is one of nine states (and the District of Columbia) where gay marriage is legal, so Windsor argues that the federal government is discriminating against her by not recognizing her state-sanctioned marriage.

The Obama administration decided last year to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, so Congress has hired outside counsel to argue on behalf of the law. Recently, two federal appeals courts had struck down the law as unconstitutional, virtually requiring the Supreme Court to take the case to settle the dispute between the courts and Congress. (Read more here.)

Christian Persecution: Lawsuit Filed to Allow Christian Students Equality in Use of California School Facilities

This article from Charisma News describes a lawsuit filed by the American Center for Law and Justice to gain equal rights for Christian students in California to free assembly and free speech. The text of the lawsuit may be found here. The article, by Nicole Lange. reads in part:

The fate of after-school Bible clubs in California may rest on the outcome of a lawsuit filed Monday in United States District Court. The suit filed by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) argues that Orange County’s Buena Park School District unconstitutionally rejected a Christian youth club’s request to meet in district facilities on equal grounds with similar, nonprofit, nonreligious youth organizations.

The “Good News Club,” a local affiliate of the international, Bible-centered organization Child Evangelism Fellowship, provides school kids with extracurricular educational programming and recreational activities that teach about life from a biblical perspective.

Child Evangelism Fellowship’s West Orange County chapter was denied a request to use district facilities free of charge, despite California Education Code allowing nonprofit, youth-oriented groups to use public school facilities at no cost. Similar nonprofit groups have historically been permitted to meet after hours without charge at Buena Park schools.

“This selective application of policy speaks ill of the Buena Park School District’s respect for and understanding of the Constitution,” said David French, ACLJ senior counsel. “Freedom doesn’t stop at the schoolhouse door. Child Evangelism Fellowship has every right to equal treatment and access to public school facilities for its after-school events.” (Read more here.)