The United States was founded on the principle that all men are created equal.
So why do some government bodies feel compelled to reiterate the point?
In the wake of a swell in public displays of racism, bigotry and neo-Nazi activity that culminated last week in violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., the city of Schenectady is considering making an official statement declaring itself against bigotry and racism.
Like Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call last week for stepped up hate-crime legislation, such resolutions amount to little more than feel-good statements that have have potential unintended consequences.
It’s perfectly fine and admirable for individual politicians and others to denounce hateful speech and conduct. But it’s a problem when they do it as a collective government body.
The Constitution already compels governments to uphold and enforce the laws. What more do they need to do?
The proposed resolution expected to be voted on next week states that the city is proud of its cultural diversity and “rejects retrograde ideologies, violence, hateful speech and racial bigotry that seeks to destabilize our nation, society, government and infect our political system.” It further calls on President Trump and other officials to do the same.
The first line about being proud of its cultural diversity is nice. But does a government need to demonstrate pride in its diverse population to serve the people who make it up? The last line is just a political jab by council Democrats.
The middle part, “rejecting retrograde ideologies …” is where the potential legal and ethical pitfalls pop up.
Like Gov. Cuomo’s proposed hate-crime legislation, there may be unintended consequences of such wide-ranging statements.
For instance, if the city declares its objection to all bigotry and discrimination, does that behold city officials to deny gathering permits to individuals or groups seeking to exercise their First Amendment rights?
Should government really be taking sides?
Will the language affect how police interact with individuals espousing such views?
Will code enforcement be compelled to act if someone puts an offensive sign or symbol on their property, even if that person is within their constitutional right to display it?
Will the city consider banning candidates representing hate organizations from the election ballot because it’s formally declared its objection to their message?
Can some of the city’s statements potentially backfire by inadvertently removing protections from citizens to speak out?
The duty of government is to uphold the Constitution and enforce the laws.
If government bodies do only that, vigorously and consistently, that’s all the message they need to send.