Candidates undermine rights

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The Colorado Freedom

Candidates undermine rights

by Ari Armstrong

The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on October 12, 2006.

I continue to contemplate which candidate for governor I'm going to vote against. Ritter doesn't support a woman's right to an abortion. When Ritter was Denver's district attorney, his office approved a misguided search warrant against a bookstore (as I discussed previously). He has indicated that he'd try to further politicize medicine and restrict the right to bear arms. While Ritter has admitted to using marijuana, he favors keeping legal penalties for possession of under an ounce of the plant by adults over 21.

Ritter has been unfriendly toward the First, Second and Fourth Amendments, and he has also scorned the Fifth Amendment's due-process clause and the Sixth Amendment's jury protections. In 2002, then-District Attorney Ritter fought against reforming the state's asset forfeiture laws to require a criminal conviction (with a few exceptions) and higher standards of proof before police can keep a suspect's property.

Ritter argued against the reform because sometimes there is a "person on the jury who frustrates our attempts to get a conviction." Damn those juries, anyway. What are they thinking, not rubber-stamping the prosecutor's case? Ritter said, "We lose drug cases we should not, cases that are fairly solid cases."

Due process? Prosecutor Gus Sandstrom argued that even if you're found "not guilty" by a jury, that still "does not mean you're innocent of criminal activity." Prosecutor Bob Grant complained that, under the requirements of the reform, "The burden of proof is shifted to us." I always thought that was the idea. Ritter added that, if people are carrying more cash than the police think they should have, they should be able to demonstrate "evidence of legitimacy." That's the presumption of guilt.

If Ritter becomes the next governor of Colorado, he must stop looking at the world through the eyes of a prosecutor. Prosecutors tend to think that the cops are always right, the accused are always wrong, and more power in the hands of government is always an improvement. That's somewhat understandable, because prosecutors see the nastiest side of humanity on a daily basis. Prosecutors have a tough job and generally do it well.

But sometimes prosecutors forget that criminality is the exception, not the rule, in human society. Reducing crime is crucial, but protecting individual rights is the higher principle. Without safeguards, the power of police and prosecutors can imperil justice rather than serve it. To protect individual rights, the powers of government must be strictly limited.

Thankfully, Republican Shawn Mitchell and Democrat Bill Thiebaut shepherded the reform bill through the legislature.

Then-Sen. Thiebaut argued, "It is inappropriate for law enforcement to seize and liquidate people's property before they are convicted of a crime. If you're an innocent person, you shouldn't have your property taken away, and if it is taken away, you should have due process, even if you're guilty."

The House passed the reform measure 51-11, the Senate passed it 23-10, and Gov. Bill Owens signed it.

A major reason to vote against Republican Bob Beauprez is that he injects religion into politics.

As I discussed in this column on Oct. 21, 2004, I decided to vote for John Kerry over George Bush because of the same issue. My comments also apply to this race: "the Republican Party has decided to pander to the religious right and snub the secularists who champion liberty." Beauprez is considerably worse than Ritter about pushing religion into politics, though he's not as bad as Bush.

While Ritter has downplayed his opposition to abortion, Beauprez has made it a campaign theme, pointing out that he wants even more restrictions than Ritter does. The idea that the state should outlaw the abortion even of a few undifferentiated cells obviously comes from a religious view of God's role in conception.

An Aug. 16 story in the Rocky Mountain News discussed the answers of Janet Rowland, Beauprez's running mate, for a 2004 questionnaire from Western Colorado's Christian Chronicles. Her answers were appalling.

"What is your position regarding President Bush's 'faith-based initiatives?'" Rowland answered, "I fully support it. I introduced faith-based programs into the Department of Human Services." Funneling our tax dollars to religious organizations is an affront to our rights to control our own income and decide which, if any, religion to support. (According to a Sept. 26 story in the Rocky, Owens also praised Bush's faith-based tax programs.)

"Do you believe that creationism should be taught in our schools along with the theory of evolution or just one?" Rowland answered, "Either both or neither. All religions are welcomed in the schools except Christianity. This is wrong." So Rowland demands that schools either stop teaching science or start teaching mythology as science, again on the taxpayer's dime.

"How do you feel about the issue of 'separation of church and state'?" Rowland answered, "It's not in the Constitution. We should have the freedom OF religion, not the freedom FROM religion." We shouldn't have freedom from religion? That's theocracy. We certainly do have freedom from religion, if we have any rights at all.

Yet Beauprez selected Rowland to become his successor, should he remain in office. Apparently, to maintain our right to remain free from religion, we have to vote to remain free from the Republican Party.

The Colorado Freedom