My Turn: Board picks needless battle

  • Posted: Monday, April 8, 2013 12:12 a.m.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote the Post regarding the financial aspects of the ACLU lawsuit against the Board of Commissioners. I pointed out that this is a “lose-lose” situation, and even in the best of outcomes county taxpayers would still be liable for our county attorney’s fees. These are currently at least $600 and will only go up, by my estimation. As I noted, “the board’s main purpose is to maintain fiscal responsibility ...”

On March 30, Bryce Neier, a Fayetteville attorney involved in the litigation, responded at length, maintaining that the “commissioners have the right and duty to defend any lawsuit in which the county is named as a defendant.” This is not correct. The board has the right, but not the duty. Commissioners have the choice of defending the case or complying. The board could have settled this suit by agreeing to omit sectarian references in their opening invocation or by instituting a silent moment of reflection. Either would have made the entire issue moot and left the plaintiffs with egg on their collective faces.

Instead, the board charged ahead, despite a 4th Circuit ruling that appears to support the ACLU’s position. Mr. Neier correctly points out that there is at least one conflicting opinion in the 9th Circuit. I suspect he would describe a 2-1 decision differently if the court had decided in his favor. Bottom line, the Supreme Court will decide which circuit is correct, if the justices ever feel the issue is of sufficient constitutional importance to take it up.

Mr. Neier’s and the board’s position is that “you have to fight for what is right.” At any cost. That sounds good, but in the real world we have to make decisions, and sometimes we have to acquiesce to others even when we know we are right. Assume you get stopped for speeding, even though you are certain you were going exactly at the speed limit. You believe the officer either failed to operate his speed gun correctly or that the speed gun was not calibrated correctly. How many thousands of dollars would you spend to fight the case? Most intelligent people would simply try to convince the judge there was reasonable doubt and then pay the fine. If the board had done this, there would be no case and no problem.

Mr. Neier takes this to a higher level however, by bringing in the refusal by the United States to get involved in World War II early enough. He doesn’t mention that every effort to support Great Britain and her allies was fought by the isolationist wing of the Republican Party and their allies among the so-called Southern Democrats. These isolationists fought every effort to fight Nazism right up to noon of Dec. 7. It’s impossible to tell what the effect would have been if the U.S. had joined the fight for freedom earlier and more aggressively. Would it have moved the invasion up a year or two, as Mr. Neier suggests? We’ll never know, but we do have a hint. The British attacked the port of Dieppe in August 1942, testing the German coastal defenses. These proved quite effective, costing over 60 percent casualties on the attackers.

As Mr. Neier claims, some battles are worth fighting, no matter the odds. The difficulty is in selecting which ones to fight, and at what cost. Nazi domination of Europe is an easy decision, after the fact. At the time though, it was not so easy for some Americans. Fighting a speeding ticket to the highest court is obvious. The current fight with the ACLU falls much closer to fighting a speeding ticket than fighting a world war.

Late last week, our two Rowan County legislators managed to bring this fight into the national spotlight as they offered a resolution that North Carolina does not recognize the authority of federal courts to limit their ability to establish a religion. Great for night show comedians, terrible for our state’s reputation. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed and their resolution died in committee.

I don’t know what their and the Defense Fund’s agendas are, but I do know they are not good for Rowan County. Let’s close this idiotic chapter in our county’s history and simply adopt a moment of silence and a clearly non-sectarian invocation.

Enough, already!!

Jack Burke lives in Salisbury.

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