California’s political commentariat is vigorously debating whether Attorney General Kamala Harris should refuse to process a proposed ballot measure that would legalize murder of gays.
Some argue that as odious as it may be, Harris cannot block the “Sodomite Suppression Act” by an Orange County attorney because state law says that issuing a title and summary is a ministerial duty she can’t shirk.
The measure, others argue, so outrageously violates civilized principle that Harris is morally bound to strangle it. And Harris, who’s running for the U.S. Senate, agrees. Calling it “utterly reprehensible,” she’s asking a judge to allow rejection.
A third view is that it may be a satiric – or sick – joke along the lines of Jonathan Swift’s “modest proposal” that Ireland’s 18th century problems be solved by selling its children for food. But since no one can contact the sponsor for a rationale, we don’t know.
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The fourth from this corner is that were Harris to kill the measure and make it stick legally, it could have dangerous repercussions. It could make her and her successors censors of anything they didn’t want on the ballot.
It’s easy to defend free speech when it’s politically correct, or at least seems reasonable. It’s when words anger many people, perhaps just about everyone, that the right is seriously tested.
Short of yelling fire in a crowded theater, or some other speech that creates immediate peril, we should – we must – uphold the right of people to say what’s on their minds. And if it’s legal for someone to place an outrageously immoral measure on the ballot, that’s a price we pay for liberty.
The best disinfectant for vile thoughts is sunshine. Let the measure’s sponsor have his title and summary and then fail to gain enough signatures to place it on the ballot. We would prove both that Californians uphold free speech rights and don’t want hatred on their ballots.
It also would avoid plunging down a slippery slope of empowering politicians to censor unpopular political thoughts.
Attorneys general, including Harris, have already been rightfully criticized for twisting ballot measure titles and summaries, and killing this anti-gay measure could give them even more power over the initiative process.
In fact, that ministerial duty should be shifted to someone who’s not a politician with an agenda.
Meanwhile, we should raise the $200 fee for filing a ballot measure at least tenfold to cover processing costs and to discourage tomfoolery.
While we’re on the topic, the Republican legislators who would punish students at UC Irvine for briefly removing the American flag from display also should back off. And no one should interfere with the guy who’s driving around Sacramento this week with extremely right-wing slogans covering his pickup truck.
California isn’t Singapore, Russia or China.