July 4 – Jefferson and Yogi

I was honored again to read from the Declaration of Independence at the start of the Roland Park 4th of July parade.

Unlike years past, there was no sound system this morning. Before I read from the Declaration, I said:

Thomas Jefferson did not have a microphone in 1776.  Neither did his colleagues who, in Ben Franklin’s phrase, hung together instead of hanging separately.  They had the power of Jefferson’s words. 

At lunchtime, I was waiting to be seated at Wicked Sisters in Hampden. One of the other people in line recognized me.

He had served as a page in Annapolis. He was a senior at City College then; he’s completed his junior year at Harvard.

“The best response I heard during floor debate was yours,” he said. “Someone on the other side quoted Yogi Berra, and you replied by quoting him as well.”

“I don’t remember it specifically,” I told him, “but my colleague could have said, ‘It’s not over until it’s over,’ and I said, ‘It gets late early.’”

Happy 4th!

A lesson learned

“I am a beneficiary of the Jew Bill.”

That’s how I began my remarks after a lecture at the Jewish Museum of Maryland on the 1826 bill that allowed Jews to hold public office.

Here’s what I learned.

There were two versions of the bill.

The “universal version” would have prohibited any “religious test” for office holders. The three living former Presidents, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, supported the bill.

Despite that impressive endorsement, the bill failed because it would have benefitted Jews, Muslims, and atheists.

Subsequently, several Jews became prominent in the local business community, including defenders of Ft. McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore.

The “specific version,” which became law, applied to “every citizen of this state professing the Jewish religion…[who believes] in a future state of rewards and punishments.”

This compromise was eventually followed by legislation that ended discrimination against other Marylanders seeking elective office.

The art of compromise is a legislative lesson I learned many years ago.

Ripples of Hope on the 4th of July

I again had the honor of reading from the Declaration of Independence before the start of the 4th of July parade in Roland Park.

Yesterday, for the first time, I prefaced Jefferson’s declaration by drawing on the words that others have spoken about freedom and democracy.

 “A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they [the people of the 13 colonies] …should declare the causes which impel them to the separation [from Britain],” wrote Thomas Jefferson in the opening of the Declaration of Independence.

This sacred document has sent forth countless ripples of hope, the evidence of which is especially apparent on this Independence Day. 

Those honored dead at Gettsyburg and the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion;

Those couples for whom their relationship is now equal in the eyes of the law; and

Those who heard Nelson Mandela declare in his Inaugural Address, “Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud. “

Later in the day poolside, I read about a new Oregon law that would allow students to attend state colleges without paying tuition or taking out traditional loans. Instead, they would commit 3% of their future income for 20 years to repaying the state.  Those who earn very little would pay very little.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/04/education/in-oregon-a-plan-to-eliminate-tuition-and-loans-at-state-colleges.html?_r=0

This could be a major expansion of my work over the years to encourage people to enter public service.

I’ve already passed bills creating programs that encourage students to enter public service by repaying a portion of the educational debt of people who have lower-paying public interest jobs, providing an up-front scholarship to students planning careers in public service, and giving a stipend to students who take public-interest summer jobs.

Before I went to the Dickeyville picnic, I emailed a bill drafting request.

Exercising First Amendment Rights

“If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that in Whitney v. California.

Jay Bernstein emailed me two weeks ago, disturbed that John Mearsheimer would be speaking at the World Trade Center in the Inner Harbor.  Professor Mearsheimer, Jay wrote, is the co-author of a book that “accuses Jews who support Israel of damaging  American  interests and serving the interests of the Jewish State.”

Three state agencies are corporate members of the group hosting Mearsheimer, the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs.  Their support of the Council was very troubling to Jay.

I responded by quoting Brandeis and suggesting that Jay attend the lecture and ask questions about the book or demonstrate outside, instead of having pressure applied to the state agencies.

Jay chose to demonstrate.

Not the end of story.

In the plaza outside the World Trade Center, there is a memorial dedicated  to the sixty-nine citizens of Maryland who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  “All demonstrations and special events are prohibited” in this area, stated the Assistant Attorney General for the Maryland Port Administration, because MPA “has a reasonable and overriding interest in maintaining an atmosphere of calm, tranquility, and reverence on the WTC Plaza.”

The court ruling cited to support this restriction on free speech:  the National Park Service can prohibit any demonstrations or special events from being held inside the Jefferson Memorial.

Jefferson must be rolling over in his memorial, I mused.

Negotiations began between the lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the Port Administration.

The day before the planned demonstration, I wrote the ACLU lawyer:

“Are you measuring lines in front of the World Trade Center?  :-)”

“Almost!” he replied.  “They’re proposing a limited area for this demo.  We’re negotiating how large and where.”

Prof. Mearsheimer and Jay Bernstein exercised their 1st Amendment rights last night.

“We gave out 125 leaflets to attendees, engaged many of them in conversation, and definitely made our presence known, which was the whole point,” Jay wrote me.

Still not the end of story.

The Port Administration contends that it can prohibit future demonstrations.

That may result in litigation – or legislation.

Two Presidents on the Fourth

My Fourth of July was bookended by two Presidents. 

 Once again, I had the honor of reading from the Declaration of Independence at the start of the Roland Park Parade.  Thomas Jefferson was its author.    

 I read the first two paragraphs and the last paragraph, adhering to Jefferson’s literary advice: “I would have written a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.”

 —-  

 Since the Orioles played in the afternoon, my channel surfing took me to CSpan last night.     

 Robert Caro, the Lyndon Johnson biographer, spoke of LBJ’s “transferring passion to government action.”

 “Remind me of that when necessary,” I wrote two people I work with in Annapolis.