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Robert Natelson on the Second Amendment and Colorado’s Legislature

Constitutional scholar Robert Natelson recently spoke in Grand Junction on the Second Amendment. He explained the historical roots of the amendment and its meaning in the modern world. He also harshly criticized anti-gun legislation of Colorado’s majority of Democrats.

January 2012 In Review

January was a busy month as I began to blog more frequently for The Objective Standard. I also coauthored two columns for Grand Junction Free Press, wrote several substantial blog posts, uploaded five videos to YouTube, maintained my social media work, and moderated the DenverLiberty In the Books.

See also my December review.

If you find my work to be a value, please consider making a contribution!


Grand Junction Free Press

My dad Linn and I wrote our usual two columns for the Western Slope newspaper:

• Take Responsibility When Carrying a Gun

• Natelson Brings Original Constitution to Colorado Activists

Major Blog Posts

I wrote the following substantial blog posts uniquely for my own web page:

• Mises’ Lessons for Gentlemanly Disputes

• CO Cake Bill 1027: Let Them Eat Cake (No, Seriously)

• Common Cause Joins Pro-Censorship Rally

This story was Tweeted by MelissaTweets!

• The Book of Tebow

Notably, Westword picked up this story about the football player’s statistics in the context of numerological interpretations.

This story was also Tweeted by arch-skeptic Michael Shermer!

• John David Lewis Fought for the Future

YouTube Videos

Here are the videos I posted for the month:

Free Speech: Braunlich Testifies Against CO Campaign Laws

Why I Support the Colorado “Cake Bill”

First Look at the Independence Institute’s New Building

Anders Ingemarson: Friends and Foes of Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged

Stephen Bailey: The Individualism of Ayn Rand’s ‘Anthem’

Objective Standard

I’m pleased to be writing more for the Objective Standard blog. (Of the work listed in this post, these posts and my work with Liberty In the Books is the only work for which I am directly paid.)

• Santorum Stands for Big Government because He Stands for Collectivism

• Who Deserves Credit for Tebow’s 316 Yards?

• Even with Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party Undermines Liberty

• Did God Help the Patriots Beat the Broncos?

• Romney Should Call for Property Rights and Lower Taxes for Everyone

• To Give Americans a “Fair Shot,” Obama Should Stop Violating Our Rights

• Double-Taxation Means Double Injustice for Romney

• Great Producers Deserve Our Gratitude, Not Obama’s Tax Hikes

• Warren Buffett Immorally Calls for Tax Hikes on Top Producers

• Obama Should Help End All Energy Subsidies, Not Play Favorites

• Gingrich Seeks to Violate Rights of Women and Doctors to Engage in Fertility Care

• Texas Anti-Abortion Law Violates Rights to Liberty and Freedom of Speech

Some Back-Patting

Wayne Laugesen, editorial page editor for the Colorado Springs Gazette,wrote the following comments on his Facebook page:

My very good friend—famous feminist-liberal Pamela White (author name “Pamela Clare”)—has become a full-fledged gun nut. … Pamela, as you will see by following the first link, used to be anti gun. Two vicious criminals broke into her Boulder home, and she was saved only by the timely and unlikely arrival of cops with guns. She remained anti gun until I and Ari Armstrong, a friend and great American, taught her about gun rights and guns. Ari sent her to the Western Slopes for firearms re-education camp.

Today, 10 years later, Pamela leaves this on my wall: “So, it’s official. I may be a gun nut. Yesterday’s shooting spree included my Mossberg, a Navy SEAL edition SIG Sauer P226, a Beretta, a Henry lever-action .22, an AR-15, a Winchester 3030, a SIG Mosquito, a Marlin .22 rifle, some kind of .45 (can’t remember). It was a lot of fun… The SIG is just sexy.”

And this, for which I am very proud: “I blame you and Ari Armstrong. ;-)”

Read Pam’s Boulder Weekly article on the matter.

And, if you’re into that sort of thing, check out Pam’s romance novels!

I was also touched by this letter by Gladys Woynowskie published by Grand Junction Free Press:

I read an online article by Ari Armstrong relating his confrontation of a Denver Post journalist. I am impressed by his willingness to simply ask for verification of data. It seems like a simple and innocuous act, yet accuracy is powerful and significant.

I want to express my appreciation for Mr. Armstrong’s regard for accuracy (especially valuable in a journalist), and his patient tenacity in expecting other journalists to value the same. Mr. Armstrong reflects well on the reputation of Grand Junction Free Press.

Thanks, Gladys!

And check out that article if you haven’t already seen it.

If you find my work to be a value, please consider making a contribution!

Newt’s Nutty Abortion Stance

Today two articles came out slamming Newt Gingrich for embracing the hard-line anti-abortion “personhood” movement.

Paul Hsieh wrote the first for Pajamas Media. He emphasizes the fact that Gingrich’s proposals would ban the birth control pill and IUD. He writes, “If Gingrich (or any other ‘personhood’ supporter) wins the 2012 GOP nomination, the future legality of birth control pills and IUDs would immediately become a national political issue, to the detriment of the Republicans. Just as the ‘personhood’ issue tipped the swing state of Colorado in favor of the Democrats in 2010, it could also tip a few critical swing states in favor of Obama in 2012.”

I wrote the other article for The Objective Standard. Like Paul, I discuss the strategic foolishness of Republicans embracing the “personhood” movement, referencing Ken Buck’s loss of a U.S. Senate Seat. I also discuss Gingrich’s comments regarding birth control.

One additional point I make is that Gingrich’s proposals would subject women who get abortion to severe criminal penalties:

If, as Personhood USA asserts, a zygote is a person with the same right to life as a born infant or adult, then any action that intentionally kills a zygote, embryo, or fetus constitutes murder, as a representative of the organization emphasizedduring a November news conference. By the logic of the position and in accordance with existing murder statutes, abortion would be legally prosecuted as murder. Any doctor or husband who assisted in an abortion would be prosecuted as an accessory to murder. A Canadian anti-abortion group forthrightly argues that women who get abortions should face severe prison sentences. A Colorado supporter of Personhood USA explicitly calls for the death penalty for women who get abortions.

For a more detailed discussion of the issue, see the essay by Diana Hsieh and me, “The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties.”

I’ll Rejoin the ACLU When It Stops Promoting Tax Hikes

I used to be a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. No, I do not agree with everything the organization does, but often it does some good work in terms of sticking up for the rights of free speech and for those abused by government agents.

But when the Colorado ACLU promoted a tax hike in 2005, that was too much. Not only was the issue far outside the ACLU’s mission, but forcibly transferring wealth violates people’s liberty. No, I don’t expect the leftists running the ACLU to defend economic liberty, but I do expect them not to attack it.

Since I dropped my membership, the ACLU has sent me numerous “final membership renewal statements.” (It doesn’t seem to quite get the idea of what “final” means.) I’m confident the ACLU has now spent more money mailing me these statements than I ever contributed to the organization.

I’ve written to the ACLU, explaining the conditions on which I will rejoin, but apparently my letters have been tossed in the trash (which is where I’ll toss the latest renewal plea). Just as soon as the ACLU pledges not to support future tax hikes, I’ll rejoin the group.

You guys at the ACLU obviously know how to reach me.

Use Tax Criminals

In a recent op-ed published through the Independence Institute, I argue that Colorado’s “use tax” is “a nuisance tax that turns good citizens into tax criminals.” (If, like most people I’ve talked to, you have no idea what the use tax even is, I refer you to the article.)

The op-ed was published by the May 25 Salida Mountain Mail and the May 27 Denver Daily News. Check out either of those publications for the full piece.

I make the following arguments.

* The “use tax” is a time-consuming nuisance for consumers to pay (as my wife and I discovered).

* Because it is such a nuisance, the state makes little effort to enforce it, and hardly anybody pays it. But that turns huge numbers of Coloradans into tax criminals, exposing them to the risk of arbitrary, politically motivated enforcement.

* It is neither fair nor Constitutional of the Colorado legislature to try to force out-of-state companies to enforce the use tax, as those companies gain practically no benefits from Colorado tax expenditures.

* Besides, requiring large, out-of-state companies to help enforce the use tax would not cover all the relevant taxed items, so it would still be a nuisance for Colorado citizens and it would still turn many Coloradans into tax criminals.

Update: following is the entire text.

How many tax criminals has Colorado’s ‘use tax’ created?

You may be a criminal under Colorado’s tax laws without even knowing it. Probably most Coloradans are tax criminals. Merely by reading this article you’ll no longer remain blissfully ignorant of the tax in question, the “use tax.”

So what is the use tax? Anytime you purchase something from out of state without paying Colorado sales tax — say, if you buy something from Amazon — you’re supposed to pay the equivalent use tax to the state for the privilege of using the item here. You’re supposed to keep track of all such items over the year and then cut the state a check.

The use tax is a nuisance tax that’s difficult to pay. Consider the experiences of my wife and me. After we paid the use tax, not only for last year, but for the past seven years, the Colorado Department of Revenue acknowledged our tax compliance by sending us two erroneous letters claiming we owed the tax.

The only reason the Department of Revenue thought we owed the use tax is that we told them we owed it — in the same letter in which we enclosed our check for the entire amount. The tax bureaucrats cashed our check but apparently still failed to notice that we paid the tax. I felt a bit like a minor character in Franz Kafka’s novel “The Trial,” in which the authorities relentlessly pursue a man on mysterious charges.

Dealing with the paperwork consumed a huge portion of the value of the tax. My wife and I spent about 6.5 hours combined figuring out the tax, and about two more hours combined responding to the Department of Revenue’s bogus complaints, in order to pay a total tax of $436.93. The Department of Revenue will waste who knows how much more of their time and ours figuring out that, yes, we did in fact pay the use tax.

Partly because the use tax is such a nuisance for citizens to pay, the state makes practically zero effort to enforce it, collect it, or even notify citizens that it exists. But if you don’t pay your use tax, doesn’t that make you a criminal? That’s the implication of an April 8 release from theColorado Attorney General’s office, which alleges that tax-cutting activist Douglas Bruce committed a felony for evading taxes and a misdemeanor for “failure to file a return or pay a tax.” The complaint against Bruce involves the income tax, but presumably the same rules apply to all taxes.

A law that turns huge numbers of Coloradans into criminals is a bad law. By not even trying to enforce the law, the state encourages citizens to skip it. And most do. But that raises the specter of arbitrary, politically motivated enforcement.

Last year, the legislature tried to pass off enforcement of the law largely to Amazon and other online retailers, in clear violation of the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. Not surprisingly, a judge ruled against the law, which still failed to motivate the legislature to repeal it this year. Because of the ongoing dispute, Amazon and other companies decline to pay Colorado residents for referrals (so as to avoid creating a business “nexus”), which costs the state income tax revenues.

In-state retailers argue that the use tax equalizes the tax burden for in-state and out-of-state purchases. But out-of-state companies gain none of the benefits of tax-funded roads, police protection, and so on, so they should not be conscripted by Colorado legislators to help enforce state tax law.

By the very nature of the use tax, there is no good way to enforce it. It is a nuisance tax that turns otherwise good citizens into tax criminals.

Ari Armstrong’s book Values of Harry Potter sells through Amazon, and Ari used to be an Amazon associate. He is a guest writer for the Independence Institute, a Golden-based libertarian think tank. The views expressed in this guest editorial are those of the Independence Institute and not necessarily those of the Denver Daily News.

Ken Clark Pitches Grassroots Radio

Ken Clark, a cohost of Denver’s Grassroots Radio (weekdays 5-7 pm on AM 560) discusses his show.

Free Elmo!

Today’s Denver Post publishes some thoughtful letters on “public” broadcast funding.

While my own letter did not make the mix, I though it worth reproducing here:

The Denver Post argues PBS and NPR offer good content that “most Americans” wish to fund with tax dollars. But our nation is established on the principle that the rights of the individual may not be violated by majority rule. Just as “most Americans” cannot rightly prevent an individual from speaking, so the majority ought not force individuals to finance speech against their will. Elmo does not need a bandit’s mask, he needs freedom from political meddling.

Review Questions for Henry Hazlitt’s Economics In One Lesson

This set of review questions is part of the Liberty In the Books program, a monthly discussion group. The questions cover Henry Hazlitt’s classicEconomics In One Lesson, 1979 edition.

Reading I: Through Page 70, Chapter IX: Disbanding Troops
and Bureaucrats

** Preface **

1. What is Hazlitt’s purpose in writing this book?

2. What is Hazlitt’s view of novelty in economic theory?

3. Hazlitt addresses fallacies in their popular form, not their academic form. Can Hazlitt do this and be fair to the theories in
their more sophisticated forms? What does Hazlitt’s view say about the relationship between academics and popular culture?

4. In his preface, Hazlitt discusses his use of statistics. Likewise, in Chapter VII, he writes [page 54], “Statistics and history are
useless in economics unless accompanied by a basic deductive understanding of the facts.” What is Hazlitt’s basic view of the use and status of statistics?

** Chapter I: The Lesson **

5. Why is economics especially beset by fallacies?

6. What does Hazlitt mean by the “special pleading of selfish interests,” and what is the result of such pleading?

7. Is it true that “certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody?”

8. What is Hazlitt’s “One Lesson?”

9. Is Hazlitt’s “One Lesson” really adequate for understanding the essence of economics?

10. What are modern examples of “brilliant economists, who deprecate saving and recommend squandering on an national scale as the way of economic salvation?”

11. Hazlitt warns against the error “of looking at the consequences only for a particular group to the neglect of other groups.” Is it possible to justly “balance” the interests of groups? Does Hazlitt’s view depend on a utilitarian framework?

12. Hazlitt also warns against “a certain callousness toward the fate of groups that were immediately hurt by policies.” What does this suggest in terms of transitioning from political controls to free markets?

13. While demagogues get by with snappy “half-truths,” good economics “often requires a long, complicated, and dull chain of reasoning.” Does this ultimately imply a pessimistic view? Is there a solution to the problem?

** Chapter II: The Broken Window **

14. What are some modern examples of the “broken window” fallacy at work?

15. What is the problem of the seen and the unseen? (See also Chapter V.)

** Chapter III: The Blessings of Destruction **

16. Is there such a thing as “accumulated” or “pent-up” demand?

17. What is the difference, in economic terms, between need and demand?

18. What is the “money illusion” or the “monetary veil,” and how does this relate to wage levels?

19. What does Hazlitt mean when he says that supply equals demand?

20. What is the “optimal rate of replacement” of capital goods mean?

** Chapter IV: Public Works Mean Taxes **

21. Where does political spending come from?

22. What public works projects does Hazlitt consider “essential?” (See also Chapter IX.) Without entering a long debate over the matter, what are the other basic schools of thought on this issue?

** Chapter V: Taxes Discourage Production **

23. What is the effect of taxes on incentives?

** Credit Diverts Production **

24. What is credit?

25. What is the result of politically favoring one party with credit?

26. Hazlitt criticizes the view that some credit risks are “too great for private industry.” Is his criticism always warranted?

27. Hazlitt uses the example of “government-guaranteed home mortgages.” How do his comments line up with recent events?

28. Hazlitt leaves open the possibility of government loans “under certain emergency circumstances.” Is he right about this, and, if so, what are those circumstances?

** Chapter VII: The Curse of Machinery **

29. What are some of the major examples Hazlitt uses of machinery displacing certain workers?

30. Is “industrial overproduction” a real problem?

31. Is there an upper limit to the number of jobs available?

32. What is the long-term impact of technological advances on employment? On standard of living?

** Chapter VIII: Spread-The-Work Schemes **

33. What are some examples of make-work schemes from Hazlitt and modern policy?

34. Is there any context in which make-work is appropriate?

** Chapter IX: Disbanding Troops and Bureaucrats **

35. What is the cost of providing employment to soldiers and bureaucrats?

Reading II: Page 71 (Chapter X: The Fetish of Full Employment) to Page 139 (Chapter XIX: Minimum Wage Laws)

** Chapter X: The Fetish of Full Employment **

1. Hazlitt writes (page 71), “The whole economic progress of mankind has consisted of getting more production with the same labor.” Name some more recent examples.

2. What is the proper relationship between employment and production (page 71)?

3. Hazlitt discusses the erroneous “assumption that there is only a fixed amount of work to be done” (page 72). What are some modern examples of this fallacy?

4. In what context is reducing employment a good thing (page 73)?

** Chapter XI: Who’s “Protected” By Tariffs? **

5. What are some modern examples of tariffs? Hint:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_United_States_steel_tariff
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32808731/

6. What is comparative advantage?

7. What are the effects of eliminating a protective tariff (pages 76-82)?

** Chapter XII: The Drive for Exports **

8. What does Hazlitt mean when he writes, “In the long run imports and exports must equal each other” (page 85)?

9. Advanced bonus question: How would Hazlitt’s analysis apply in the context of an international gold standard rather than national fiat currencies?

10. Should politicians “stimulate” foreign exports via subsidies?

** Chapter XIII: “Parity” Prices **

11. What are “parity prices?”

12. Why is it economically nonsensical and harmful to forcibly set prices at “parity?”

** Chapter XIV: Saving the X Industry **

13. What are the ways that politicians attempt to save Industry X (pages 98-100)?

** Chapter XV: How the Price System Works **

14. What does “production for use” mean (page 103)?

15. Describe “the problem of alternative applications of labor and capital” (pages 104-105)?

16. What is supply?

17. What id demand?

18. How does the price system address the problem of alternative uses of time and labor (pages 105-107)?

19. What is the relationship between price and the cost of production (page 106)?

20. What is the consequence of forcibly reducing the scarcity of some good (pages 107-109)?

** Chapter XVI: “Stabilizing” Commodities **

21. Aside from direct price controls, how have politicians tried to “stabilize” prices (pages 111-113)?

22. Are speculators economically damaging or productive (pages 111-112)?

23. What are the effects of forcibly “stabilizing” prices on speculators? On short and long term prices? On production? (Pages
112-115.)

** Chapter XVII: Government Price-Fixing **

24. What are the economic consequences of forcing prices below market levels (pages 119-120)?

25. What are the social consequences of price controls and rationing (pages 123-124)?

26. What are the real causes of price increases? What are the appropriate responses? (Pages 124-126.)

** Chapter XVIII: What Rent Control Does **

27. What are the effects of rent control?

** Chapter XIX: Minimum Wage Laws **

Background reading: Surprise! Youth employment rate hits record low

28. What determines the maximum wage an employer will pay to an employee (page 135)?

29. What are the consequences of subsidizing unemployment (page 137)?

30. What are the real causes of rising real wages (page 139)?

Reading III: Page 140 to the end

** Chapter XX: Do Unions Really Raise Wages? **

1. What is the source of the delusion that “labor unions can substantially raise real wages over the long run for the whole working population?” (Page 140)

2. Why do employers choose to pay workers more? (Pages 140-141)

3. What legitimate function does Hazlitt see unions serving? (Pages 140-141, 149)

4. What is the mark of a legitimate versus an illegitimate strike? (Pages 142-143)

5. How does forcibly increasing union wages hurt other workers and consumers? (Page 143-146)

6. What is the impact of unemployment welfare? (Pages 145-146)

7. What are the long-range impacts on investment of forced wage hikes? (Pages 147-148)

8. Besides forcing up wages, what other harmful controls have unions advocated? (Page 150)

** Chapter XXI: “Enough to Buy Back the Product” **

9. What is the “buy back the product” doctrine? (Page 153)

10. What is wrong with that doctrine? (Pages 154-155, 158)

11. What are equilibrium wages and prices? What are the consequences of forcing wages or prices up or down? (Page 158)

** Chapter XXII: The Function of Profits **

12. A business can make profits or losses. What is the consequence of forcibly limiting profits? (Pages 160-161)

13. What are the long-term effects of high profits in a particular industry? How do profit and loss function in a free economy? (Page 161)

14. How are profits typically achieved? (Pages 162-163)

** Chapter XXIII: The Mirage of Inflation **

15. What is the difference between wealth and money? (Pages 164-165)

16. What are the various justifications people give for inflationary policy? (Page 165-166, 171)

17. What is the basic process by which the money supply is inflated? (Pages 167-169)

18. What does inflation do to the “structure of production?” (Page 170)

19. In what sense can inflation counteract problems of above-market wage rates? (Page 172)

20. Why is inflation so popular among many government officials? (Pages 172-174)

21. What is the worst-case outcome of inflation? (Page 176)

** Chapter XXIV: The Assault on Saving **

22. What is the difference between consumer goods and capital goods, and how is savings related? (Pages 177-179)

23. What is the difference between saving and withholding spending? What causes each? (Pages 180-181)

24. What harmonizes savings and investment on a free market? (Pages 184-185)

25. What is the result of keeping interest rates artificially low? (Pages 185-187)

** Chapter XXV: The Lesson Restated **

26. Who is the Forgotten Man? (Pages 194-195)

27. How is the division of labor related to “the insane doctrine of wealth through scarcity?” (Pages 195-199)

** Chapter XXVI: The Lesson After Thirty Years? **

28. Has the lesson been learned? Will it be learned? (See especially pages 204, 208-209.)

Conservative Deceit About Christian Liberty

Some of my fellow Coloradans wish to outlaw the birth control pill and subject my wife to the death penalty if she takes it, yet today David Limbaugh dismisses as “paranoia” concerns about “the intersection of Christianity and the public square.” Limbaugh is amazed by “how much [critics] fear something that represents such a little threat to them.”

Let us review, shall we? Many Christians in the United States advocate the following political goals:

* Outlaw all abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and risk to the woman’s health, from the moment of fertilization, with criminal penalties extending to execution.

* Outlaw all fertility treatments, birth control (including the pill), medical research, and medical treatment that may involve the destruction of a fertilized egg.

* Impose mandatory waiting periods and ultrasounds before a woman may obtain an abortion. (This is a marginal step toward the goal of complete prohibition.)

* Outlaw all expression involving consenting adults that is arbitrarily deemed “obscene.” (Various Christians want to outlaw all material deemed pornographic.)

* Force Americans to subsidize religious institutions for “faith based” welfare.

* Expand welfare (the forced redistribution of wealth) because of Biblical principles of helping the less-well off.

* Imprison American adults for consuming various drugs, including marijuana taken for medical purposes, regardless of the level of police powers necessary to achieve this goal. (Some Christians even want to return to alcohol prohibition.)

* Require religious prayer and religious instruction at tax-funded schools.

* Deny equal protection under the laws to homosexuals, including the right to form romantic contracts and adopt children.

A few Christians want to execute homosexuals and adulterers and explicitly call for theocracy (see Christian Reconstruction or the comments of a Christian radio host.)

No, nothing to worry about!

Limbaugh makes a couple of basic mistakes in his article. First, he pretends that the only relevant issue is freedom of expression. Second, he pretends that the only debate is between “the left” and Christian conservatives. Obviously the left with its campaign censorship laws and media controls at least matches conservative Christianity in its hostility toward free expression. Unfortunately, as seen with President Obama’s expansion of President Bush’s “faith based” welfare, the left increasingly mingles politics with religion as well.

True, many Christians fight for liberty in at least some areas. Whether that effort flows from Christian doctrine, or is ultimately incompatible with it, is a debate for another day. But for Limbaugh to dismiss as “paranoia” concerns about the efforts of many Christians to base politics on religion is ludicrous.

‘Christian Soldiers’ Seek Abortion Ban

Anyone still unclear about the faith-based impetus of abortion bans should consider that, at a recent news conference, advocates of the so-called “personhood” measure broke out singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (asreported by the Denver Daily News). The proposal would grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs, banning abortion and any other action that could harm a zygote or embryo, with the possible exception of procedures to save a pregnant woman’s life.

As I noted earlier today, the “personhood” measure seems to be in trouble, as the number of certified signatures will likely fall below the required minimum. As the News also points out, the number of signatures collected this year is nearly forty percent lower than the number collected in 2008. Wendy Norris notes that this year’s news conference attracted only around twenty-five participants, a third of the 2008 showing. (Meanwhile, Norrisreports, infighting has overtaken a national group supportive of the “personhood” drive.) While such internal struggles are good news to those favoring legal sanity and reproductive rights, the movement remains a potent threat, and one that must be fought on ideological grounds.

Obviously, the “personhood” movement is grounded in sectarian, religious faith. The purpose of the group is to impose sectarian beliefs by political force. (We will properly leave aside the fact that the Christian Bible does not actually demand abortion bans.)

Norris offers additional detail about the news conference. Gualberto Garcia Jones, one of the measure’s main supporters, referred to advocates of the measure as an “army of faithful pro-life warriors.” Leslie Hanks, another speaker at the conference, “thanked Focus on the Family Founder Dr. James Dobson.” Hanks also recognized the Reverend Bob Enyart, who has advocated the death penalty for doctors and women who facilitate or obtain an abortion once the practice is outlawed (see page 16, note 1; see also Enyart’s YouTube video on the matter, in which Enyart also advocates the death penalty for adultery).

As Westword reports, Keith Mason, spokesman for Personhood USA, has no intention of giving up: “we’re going to keep fighting until we win.”

Ironically, Personhood USA’s own media release makes no mention of the group’s faith-based roots. That did not cause Christian News Wire, “the nation’s leading distributor of religious press releases,” from suffering any confusion on the point.

Though the advocates of the measure clearly want to ban abortion because they believe such is the will of God, their formal arguments make scant reference to sectarian beliefs, for two reasons. First, the organizers want to potentially appeal to those of different worldviews, including other Christians who doubt their religion demands a ban on abortion. Second, the organizers are aware that strictly faith-based arguments likely would not withstand judicial scrutiny, which is why, for instance, advocates of “Intelligent Design” in tax-funded schools tried to distance their arguments from their sectarian origins.

Regardless of the motives behind the measure, its critics must defeat the arguments made in the proposal’s favor, even when those arguments are merely pretext for a sectarian purpose.

Diana Hsieh and I thoroughly critiqued the “personhood” measure in our 2008 paper, Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person. Here it is worth pointing out the textual change of the measure as well as some of the bad arguments that continue to be made in the proposal’s favor.

The 2008 measure stated, “As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.” Those other sections pertain to rights to life, liberty, property, equality of justice, and due process of law.

The 2010 proposal changes the language: “As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the term ‘person’ shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.”

Why the change? Mason explains to Westword:

The differences between this year’s amendment and its 2008 predecessor “are minor,” Mason concedes. “There’s a slight change in the language. Now it says a person is a human being ‘from the beginning of the biological development of that human being’ in lieu of ‘from the moment of fertilization.’”

He credits this change to Dianne Irving, a faculty member at Georgetown University: “She felt using the term ‘biological beginning’ was more inclusive and would include all babies—even test tube babies. And that’s our goal—to protect every human.”

In other words, the language was changed to make the measure even broader. Its advocates want the measure to do everything the 2008 language would have done, plus protect non-fertilized zygotes potentially created through cloning.

Ironically, though, the change in language could actually give the courts (so long as they are not overrun by religious zealots) license to interpret the measure less broadly, not more. The courts could define a “human being” as starting its “biological development” from birth. While the implications of the 2008 language were anything but clear, at least that language unambiguously referred to “fertilization.” The new language is by one natural interpretation essentially a tautology: something is a human being from the moment it is a human being. But when something becomes a “human being” in the sense of personhood is precisely the issue in question.

This definitional problem points to a fundamental error made by those advocating the “personhood” measure. As Diana Hsieh and I wrote in 2008:

[T]he advocates of Amendment 48 depend on an equivocation on “human being” to make their case. A fertilized egg is human, in the sense that it contains human DNA. It is also a “being,” in the sense that it is an entity. That’s also true of a gallbladder: it is human and it is an entity. Yet that doesn’t make your gallbladder a human person with the right to life. Similarly, the fact that an embryo is biologically a human entity is not grounds for claiming that it’s a human person with a right to life. Calling a fertilized egg a “human being” is word-play intended to obscure the vast biological differences between a fertilized egg traveling down a woman’s fallopian tube and a born infant sleeping in a crib. It is intended to obscure the fact that anti-abortion crusaders base their views on scripture and authority, not science.

No doubt the advocates of the proposal will seek to argue that “the beginning of the biological development of that human being” (normally) refers to the moment of fertilization. Those advocates have made it abundantly clear that their long-term goal is to elect sectarian politicians who will appoint sectarian judges who will interpret the “personhood” measure to grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs. In the meantime, however, if the “personhood” measure were passed, it would generate years of expensive and unresolved legal wars.

At least the advocates of the measure are clear that they do in fact want to ban abortion from the moment of conception. Garcia-Jones said, ”The point of what we’re trying to do, just for everyone who thinks we’re trying to be sneaky, we’re trying to end abortion.” The group’s web page states:“The goal is very simple, END ABORTION NOW by protecting all innocent human life from the beginning of biological development.” The same page clearly counts fertilized eggs as “human beings.”

Unfortunately, one consequence of the measure’s language change will be to further confuse many voters about the intent and implications of the measure. While the advocates of the measure want to equate the moment of fertilization with the beginning of a human being, in the full sense of personhood with all the legal rights of a born infant, many voters will understandably think the measure means something else. If the measure were to pass and land in court, perhaps lawyers would drag in voters from 2010 to testify about the various interpretations given the measure.

Another variant of the group’s equivocation is its use of the phrase, “preborn baby,” invoked by Garcia-Jones in the group’s recent media release. Ordinarily a “baby” means a born infant. However, often a pregnant woman will refer to her fetus as a “baby” as well. But merely using the same word to refer to a fertilized egg, a fetus, and a born infant does not make them equivalent. Again the advocates of the “personhood” measure rely on word games, rather than arguments, to “prove” that a fertilized egg should be granted the full legal rights of a born infant.

I’ll have more to say about the claims of the “personhood” crusaders in a subsequent post. The critical point here is that the advocates of the “personhood” measure are motivated by sectarian faith, and they wish to impose their sectarian beliefs on the rest of us by political force. The non-sectarian arguments they offer are extremely weak, amounting to little more than word games intended to disguise the fundamentally sectarian nature of their cause. That cause should be rejected accordingly.