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Legislation and personal prejudice costs us our freedoms

February 17, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, has voted to repeal Maryland's motorcycle helmet law, despite the fact that helmets save lives and reduce medical costs.

He's voted against a bill that would stop pesky panhandlers from hitting you up for spare change at local highway intersections. And most recently, he's introduced a bill banning police cameras that photograph and ticket cars that endanger lives by running red lights.

Good for him.

There's this little thing called freedom that we all seem to be forgetting about in this country. Mooney's acts may smack of hyperbole, but if they're overly dramatic there is good reason.

No local, state or federal government ever steps up and announces that effective at the end of the fiscal year, freedom will end.

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They don't have to. Instead, they erode it one piece of legislation at a time, like a drip eating away a rock. Mooney's comment after the panhandler vote was succinctly priceless: "I don't like these kind of bills."

"These kind" of bills are the ones that say "No," "Don't" "Desist" "Required," "Stop, "Must" "Keep out," "Hands off," "Gotcha" and "Do not bring your dog."

They are the ones that attempt to direct and control every little thing you do, from the length you mow your grass to the style in which you cross the street.

Cameras at intersections may seem harmless at first blush. But they're not, as Mooney discovered when his car was stolen and the thief ran a few red lights. Now he has to go to court and argue his innocence. His experience isn't unique; nets designed to catch tuna always bag a few dolphins. You may be innocent, but if someone else is driving your car, the law will presume you guilty.

And it gets worse. Once cameras are installed at intersections, the next step - as Hagerstown announced this week -will be cameras in high-crime areas. And then, once they have become accepted and routine, there will be cameras on every street in every city across the country.

Proponents of a videotaped society, with some degree of euphemistic validity, maintain that if you are doing nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about.

But in America, it makes more sense to turn that argument around and say that if you are doing nothing wrong, you should have no reason to think that the government is spying on you. That's what warrants are for; that's what the Bill of Rights has in mind when it guards against unreasonable intrusions.

Also, the question needs to be asked, will cameras prevent people from selling drugs? Or will the pushers simply move off to infect unsuspecting neighborhoods that are currently living in peace?

Of course, as with any office holder, you have to wonder whether Mooney's stands are an article of heartfelt philosophy or an article of political expediency.

The senator "distinguished" himself this week by trying to torpedo the judicial nomination of a woman, simply because he scowls upon the way she leads her private life. Funny how fast the erstwhile champion of freedom who is so appalled by a camera at a public intersection sees no hypocrisy in leaping into the most private room of one's private home and inflicting his will.

I have little toleration with ideas from the left that would dictate where you can smoke, what gun you can shoot, how big a car you can drive or whether or not you can sell homemade jam at a yardsale.

But at least with the left, you have come to expect it. What's depressing are today's conservatives who preach limited government - unless big government happens to suit their purposes, then it's the bigger the government the better. Big budgets. Big deficits. Big wars. Big prisons. Big (unfunded) school programs. Big public handouts to special private interests. And a big, meaty hand twisting your ear when you personal life is deemed unfit.

Conservative columnist (aren't all us columnists guilty of something or another?) Bill O'Reilly is a classic example of this. He's a vigorous proponant of free speech, provided he's the one speaking. But if it's rapper Eminem, or some of the more emphatic protesters against war with Iraq, he would deny them the rights to speak their minds.

Personally, I could live under either party if they would just leave me alone. I have no problem with paying higher tax in exchange for superior roads, parks and schools. Neither do I have a problem with paying lower tax and being afforded a greater opportunity to direct my resources specifically to my areas of interest.

Those issues are of the type that the Constitution presumes will be settled by the will of the people as we choose our representatives to office.

But when people of either party begin to fiddle with the core of the Constitution itself and the principles it represents, I take it personally. Whether it's Hillary Clinton wanting a national ID card, or John Ashcroft wanting to read your e-mail and listen in on your phone calls, our country was set up specifically so that people would not be chained down with government encumbrances.

Pursuit of happiness does not anticipate a government chasing you around with a video camera, telling you that your religion is unworthy or stupid or requiring you to behave in the same way that most Americans behave.

Senator Mooney might be interested to know that when abnormally cold weather hit Hagerstown, out of all our churches it was the church that ministers to gays that came through and offered daytime shelter to the homeless.

I wonder how Abraham Lincoln, the father of Mooney's party, might view the judicial nomination that so offends Mooney. Would he take his fellow Republican's side, denying a woman her pursuit of happiness, her pursuit of a rewarding career, simply because she belongs to a class of individuals that believes in sheltering people who are cold?

Mooney is a curious study. He comes oh so close to getting it right - only to fail by a country mile.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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