Misquoting, misinterpreting and misappropriating the Constitution
In many ways, the U.S. Constitution is like the Bible. It is all too often misquoted, misinterpreted and misappropriated to serve a particular political agenda or bias. When opinions are presented as facts and propaganda is substituted for truth, democracy and freedom are not served.
At lunch not long ago with local blogger and concealed weapons permit instructor Jim Connor, our conversation turned to the local tea party, where he serves as an officer.
“Why don’t you drop by a meeting? You might find it entertaining,” Connor said.
So I did, stopping by the latest gathering of the self-declared “grassroots” organization at their regular monthly meeting on a rainy Tuesday night at the Jesse Peterman Library in Floyd, joining 14 other county residents.
Amy laughingly suggested I might also want to stop by the Sheriff’s office beforehand and ask to borrow one of Shannon Zeman’s Kevlar vests. I opted instead to exercise my Second Amendment rights to bear arms along with my Virginia Concealed Weapons Permit.
Neither, of course, were needed. Except for a minor dust-up with longtime activist Joe Montague, who told the meeting that he “wondered if Doug Thompson had gotten to Wanda Combs” because the Floyd Press editor chose to trim the hyperbole out of one of his letters to the editor, I was treated with courtesy and respect. A couple of people approached after the meeting to question a story I wrote about the proposed county comprehensive plan and one suggested I “slanted” what I wrote because “you write like a liberal.”
Amy, who is a true liberal, got a good laugh out of that.
“They obviously don’t know you,” she said.
I suggested to Joe that he might want to get his facts straight before making such a statement in a public meeting. Contrary to the illusions held by some, I have no control over The Floyd Press or their editorial decisions. I am a private contractor who provides articles, photos and videos for their use. How the content I provide is used is their decision not mine and I don’t read the letters to the editor, much less influence how they might be edited.
Jim Connor has an incredible gift for understatement. A tea party meeting is not only entertaining but also educational, if you choose to define education as the dissemination of misinformation for use as political propaganda.
I’m not sure what rules govern the meetings of the tea party but Roberts Rules of Order are not among them. Vice Chairman Al Pearce ran the meeting, reading emails, offering opinions and often wandering off topic into rants about President Barack Obama, the Virginia Republican Party, United Nations Agenda 21 and other topics. Audience members jumped in whenever they wanted without asking or waiting to be recognized.
At another point, he launched into a rant about political correctness, telling the meeting that he didn’t believe in using the term “gays.”
“They’re homosexuals or queers, which is what they are,” he said.
Virginia’s Republican Party, Pearce declared, is engaged in a “conspiracy “to assure former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney the GOP nomination for President. Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling head up this conspiracy, he says, and its all part of a grand plot by the national GOP to grease the skids for Romney.
Pearce told the meeting that the Republican Party, not state law, kept Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry off the primary ballot this year. He also said it Republican party rules, not state law, prohibits write-in ballots “in Republican primaries.”
Both statements are wrong. Virginia election law sets the rules that require a specified number of signatures from each Congressional district. It also prohibits write-ins in primary elections. The law applies to both Democratic and Republican primaries. The Virginia Republican party simply enforced state law in denying both Gingrich and Perry spots on the GOP primary ballot because they failed to collect enough signatures in each of the existing districts.
Pearce passed on other misinformation, including the claim that the county will put meters on private wells to limit the amount of water that can be pumped for residential use. No such plan exists nor has one even been discussed.
It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed Pearce pass on misinformation as fact. At a board of supervisors meeting last year, Supervisor Fred Gerald of Indian Valley asked for a moment of silent prayer in honor the the “National Day of Prayer” and Pearce blurted out from the audience that “you can’t do that because the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.”
Not true. An atheist group did file a federal class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the “National Day of Prayer.” A federal appeals court dismissed the challenge in April 2011. The Supreme Court has never considered nor ruled on the constitutionality of the law. The National Day of Prayer has been around since the days of George Washington, who first called for one. President Harry S. Truman issued a proclamation and asked Congress to make it the law of the land, which the House and Senate did in 1952.
When I asked Pearce during a break in the supervisors meeting where he heard the Supreme Court had declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, he shrugged his shoulders and said “oh, on the radio today” but he couldn’t remember what show.
Pearce, as does any American, has a right to his opinion but when misinformed opinion is presented as fact it damages the credibility of the speaker and/or the organization he or she represents.
Another claim uttered by the vice chairman of the tea party on that rainy Tuesday night was that county sheriff Shannon Zeman, as a “constitutional officer” in Virginia, is somehow failing in his duty to enforce the Constitution of the United States.”
In fact, the term “constitutional officer” applies to five local government positions established by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, not the U.S. Constitution.
Virginia established “constitutional officers” in the Commonwealth’s first constitution in 1776 — the same year the Deceleration of Independence was signed. The U.S. Constitution did not come into existence until 11 years later: 1787.
As one of five state-mandated “constitutional officers” in Floyd County, Zeman, of course, takes the standard oath to uphold and enforce the laws and support both the Constitution the United States as well the Constitution of The Commonwealth of Virginia. But Zeman has his hands full with a rising crime rate and a crystal meth epidemic. He doesn’t have time to serve as a watchdog for the federal Constitution, particularly as it is so often misinterpreted by groups like the tea party.
In many ways, the U.S. Constitution is like the Bible. It is all too often misquoted, misinterpreted and misappropriated to serve a particular political agenda or bias. When biased opinions are presented as facts and propaganda is substituted for truth, democracy and freedom are not served.
Updated to add new information.
- Court rejects Perry appeal for inclusion on Virginia ballot (thehill.com)
- US judge rules against ballot challenge – The Keene Sentinel (sentinelsource.com)
Long-time newspaperman, photographer and videographer who still shoots photos and covers government and courts for a newspaper, shoots video for TV and documentary use and owns web sites like Blue Ridge Muse, Capitol Hill Blue and American Newsreel.