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We only wish they would uphold the Constitution

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We only wish they would uphold the Constitution

Mar 29, 2023 | 2:05 pm ET
By Jim Smith
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We only wish they would uphold the Constitution
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The grand staircase in the Montana Capitol in Helena (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).

On March 21, the Daily Montanan published an opinion piece by Erik Thueson “Sometimes upholding a Constitutional imperative is more important than the politics of the day.”

This appears to be a rebuttal against my earlier commentary, “The Montana Legislature: Helping you run every aspect of your sin-filled life.” 

His opening paragraph, which sets his main premise states, “In it, Smith attacks efforts by the legislature to pass laws which would limit the  teaching of LGBTQIA+ lifestyles and critical race theory to our children in public schools. He lumps everyone who disagrees with him into a single category: They are either evil-minded Republicans or religious zealots who believes in a hateful God.” Is this what I said? 

First, I never labeled anyone as “evil,” and in fact, the word never appears in my commentary, nor did I specifically call out any one individual in any way. What I did criticize are the ideas, positions, and rhetoric which is not fact-based, but instead is an expression of the right-wing ideology being spread all over the United States as part of the “culture wars” and “anti-woke” movement.

Does Thueson believe it is just a coincidence that state legislators all over the country are proposing and enacting nearly identical legislation, attacking public schools and other institutions, denying rights of trans adolescents, LGBTQIA+ people, and banning books with the same arguments about things that are not really happening?

Secondly, after a long discourse on parental rights and obligations, he says that the legislators do this because they took an oath. Well here’s that oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect and defend the constitution of the United States, and the constitution of the state of Montana, and that I will discharge the duties of my office with fidelity (so help me God).”

In Thueson’s opinion, this oath gives them a Constitutional imperative “to take action whenever public schools unconstitutionally interfere with the legitimate upbringing of children by their parents.” Are Montana’s K-12 public schools interfering unconstitutionally with parents’ rights?

Critical Race Theory is not being taught in any public K-12 schools in Montana or in any other state. Public schools are not “teaching and encouraging LBGTQIA+ lifestyles”  nor are they teaching “children it is OK to transition to the opposite sex” as he implies. Certainly, parents can disagree with these ideas or their teaching of them. That’s their right. It’s a whole other matter to enact laws that prohibit something that isn’t being done, especially in this heavy handed way.

As a quick aside, LGBTQIA+ and transgender are not “lifestyle choices.” People are born the way they are; we must accept them for who they are without condemnation. We are all human beings and we all share individual inviolable human dignity.  If anyone is guilty of a “lifestyle choice,” it is those who choose racism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.

Laws are being proposed to criminalize teachers and librarians about exposing students to “obscene materials.” Other laws are being passed to limit the rights of trans adolescents access to proven psychiatric and medical care; others to deny women’s constitutionally guaranteed reproductive rights; others to deny Montanans the right to choose their way to a peaceful end of life when faced with certain painful death.

As to his statements on racism: Healing the wounds of the past and redressing the inequities caused by centuries of racial exclusion are also constitutional imperatives. 

Lastly, I never made any ad hominem attacks directed against any individual or person rather than the position they are maintaining. The “Freedom Caucus” and the other Republicans they have brow beat and bullied into going along with them have an agenda. Their main target this legislative session is to void the Montana Constitution, especially in regards to the judiciary. They simply don’t understand the separation of powers between the three main branches of government, and what is each branch’s role. They see the judiciary as the biggest threat to passing their right-wing legislation. As an attorney, I would think Thueson would be aware of this and concerned about it. 

I agree with Thueson that taking an oath of office “does not make them evil partisan politicians, racists or hateful religious zealots.” But that doesn’t mean that they are not partisan politicians, racists or religious zealots. However, their own statements and actions confirm the fact that they are extremely partisan politicians.  Actions speak louder than words, and many of their acts of introducing the plethora of amendments to the Montana Constitution display this more than anything I can say.

We have 14 members of our Montana Legislature who have traveled to Washington, D.C. to undergo “stringent” vetting by the U.S. House Freedom Caucus to ensure that they are pure enough to be anointed members of the Montana Freedom Caucus. Interesting that all of the members did not want to be identified. How’s that for the courage of your convictions?

Who did the anointing? The U.S. House Freedom Caucus is led by the ultraconservatives Scott Perry and Jim Jordan and its members include, among others, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Montana’s own “Vote No on Everything” Matt Rosendale. What does this mean and what is the political line that they wish to spread throughout the land? After declaring themselves the “truth constitutional North Star of Montana” we can only wonder.

In other words, they are not there to get the job done that they were elected to do but instead see their role as pushing a far-right Christian agenda.

One of the first steps in allowing authoritarianism to destroy democracy is to convince well-meaning people like Thueson to tolerate the intolerable. Let me quote Martin Luther King, Jr. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” So, no Mr. Thueson, I will not stop telling the truth about the “Freedom Caucus” and its members. Their ideology and actions are “also dangerous.” 

But this is just my opinion, which I hope I have the right to express.

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