Let’s talk about “cancel culture” and free speech.

A good starting point for this conversation is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the freedoms of speech and press in the United States. The text has been “incorporated” by the Fourteenth Amendment and now applies equally to federal, state, and local governments (i.e., not just to “Congress”):

Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . . .

U.S. Constitution, First Amendment (excerpt)

An important point that we need to make right here at the beginning is that the text of the First Amendment does not create a freedom of speech. It doesn’t say that it is establishing or defining some new freedom out of thin air. Read it more carefully. It is saying that Congress cannot abridge the preexisting freedom of speech. It assumes that the freedom is already there. The freedom of speech is a human right that comes not from governments, but, depending on your worldview, from nature, evolution, or God.

So we have to make a distinction between the “freedom of speech” as a general principle or idea, and the “freedom of speech” as a constitutional limitation on government. They are related, but they are different. Both have value. Both deserve to be defended.

. . . Continued

Public primary elections for the Democratic and Republican parties will be held on June 8, 2021. Off on a Tangent is making recommendations to party primary voters in each contested state- and federal-level primary race in Virginia, as well as those for Loudoun County local offices.

Political parties are private organizations that should not have any official standing in our political system, but Democratic and Republican primaries are held by the Virginia Department of Elections and are funded by Virginia taxpayers. The purpose of a party primary should be for members of that party to choose who will represent them on the general election ballot. Virginia, however, has an “open primary” system where any registered voter may vote in any one (but not more than one) primary each year.

This series of recommendations applies only to public, taxpayer-funded primaries. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are making some of their nominations at party conventions or through other private means.

. . . Continued
South Riding Proprietary
South Riding Proprietary

The South Riding Proprietary is a homeowners’ association (HOA) that acts as a defacto local government for the South Riding community in Loudoun County, Virginia. At the propriatary’s annual meeting on May 25, 2021, two seats on the Board of Directors are up for election. Members of the board serve three year terms. South Riding property owners may cast votes for these board seats either by attending the annual meeting in person or by submitting a proxy vote beforehand. Proxy votes may be cast using paper ballots that were mailed to property owners, or electronically on the South Riding Proprietary web site.

The annual meeting must achieve a quorum (combining in-person attendance and proxy ballots) of at least ten percent of all South Riding property owners. If a quorum is not achieved, the meeting will be recessed for a period of less than thirty days. At the resumption of the meeting, a quorum of only five percent is required. The meeting may then be repeatedly recessed and resumed until the five percent quorum is achieved. The South Riding Board of Directors cannot seat members or perform any official work without a quorum.

Three candidates appear on the director ballot: incumbent Director Michael Hardin, incumbent Director Kevin Ubelhart, and Francois Desamours. Property owners may vote for up to two candidates, and may write-in other names if desired.

HOAs provide shared community services including maintenance of common areas and private streets, trash services, snow removal, community pools, playgrounds, parks, and so-on. But most HOAs, including ours, claim numerous other authorities to restrict the use of private property. These broad authorities are supposedly authorized by the disclosures (i.e., covenants) that owners accepted at the time they purchased property in an HOA neighborhood. Among the terms each homeowner must accept is that they will include the same disclosures when selling the property later.

In practice, this establishes a kind of private government. But no government (or private organization, for that matter) may restrict a person’s human rights to life, liberty, and property except in certain very limited ways. Your property is your property, and you may do whatever you want with it as long as you don’t directly harm others. Compulsory HOAs that restrict these rights violate Article 1, Section 11, of the Constitution of Virginia, which guarantees that citizens may not be deprived of their property without due process of law (paragraph 1) and states that the right to private property is fundamental (paragraph 3). They also violate the similar protections in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The South Riding Proprietary (and all other HOAs) must repeal all unconstitutional policies and regulations and stop all extralegal civil enforcement. Until it does, I recommend that all South Riding property owners abstain from voting in the Board of Directors election. We should deny them a quorum and prevent them from operating at all until they confine themselves within the limits of natural law and human rights.

Includes photos by Couleur and Hans Braxmeier (Pixabay)

The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) announced today that the agency will perform a controlled burn of the famous cherry blossom trees in Washington, DC. The measure is described as a necessary COVID-19 prevention step that was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

NPS Northeast Region spokesperson James McPhearson, speaking at a press conference in Washington earlier today, said this step is not taken lightly. “We know how important the blossoms are to the region, and they are an important part of the area’s history, but, you know, COVID. The blossoms are now a serious threat to public health. We’re all in this together.” When asked to elaborate on what specific threat the cherry blossoms posed to the community, McPhearson said, “Look, I really don’t understand it either. Maybe the trees release the coronas when they get to full bloom? I don’t know. The CDC told us to do it. It makes as much sense as all the other stuff we’ve been doing since this pandemic started.” He then made an air-quotes gesture and blurted out, “Science!”

Fire experts from the U.S. Forest Service will assist the NPS in coordinating the burn. Officials are expecting only minor damage to monuments and structures around the National Mall and Tidal Basin, mainly from smoke. The U.S. National Weather Service has issued a Fire Weather Watch for the entire area because burning blossoms on some trees may turn into cute, little firebombs that travel on the wind throughout the DC metro area. During the burn, there will be rolling closures of roads and highways in the affected area.

Off on a Tangent attempted to contact Doctor Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor for the White House COVID-19 Response Team, for comment. Fauci, who was locked in a sterile containment unit and wearing six face masks even though he has already been vaccinated, was unable to communicate.

The United States Senate voted today to acquit former President Donald Trump (R), ending what was only the fourth presidential impeachment trial in American history. It was historically notable as the first time a president had been impeached a second time, and the first time an impeachment trial had been held for a former president.

The United States House of Representatives passed an article of impeachment in January, while Trump was still in office, alleging that he had incited an insurrection. This led to a trial in the Senate which was presided over by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Senate’s president pro tempore. It would have required a two-thirds supermajority of senators to convict and remove the president from office.

The Senate voted 57-43 to convict, however this fell short of the required two-thirds majority of 67. All of the Democrats, and the two independents who caucus with the Democrats, voted to convict. All but seven of the Republicans voted to acquit. Republican senators voting for conviction were Richard Burr (R-NC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Pat Toomey (R-PA).

Three presidents have been impeached—President Andrew Johnson (D) in 1868, President Bill Clinton (D) in 1998, and President Donald Trump (R) in 2019 and 2021. All were acquitted in Senate trials, and no president has ever been removed from office. Articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon (R) passed the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 but Nixon resigned before they could be considered by the full House or brought to the Senate for trial.