Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. – William Shakespeare: Hamlet (Act I, Scene 4)
It seems to me that something is rotten in politics in the State of Maryland. I no longer reside in the “Free State,” but that does not lessen my concerns about what is going on there in the political arena.
Take, for example Anne Arundel County’s upcoming election for sheriff that pits a longtime law enforcement officer against a relatively unknown political outsider. Incumbent Democrat Ron Bateman is seeking his third term as sheriff by touting his successes in decreasing the office’s backlog of unserved warrants. Challenger Joseph Delimater, a Republican, vows to be a “constitutional sheriff” who will not enforce “pretend legislation” that is not in accordance with the state and federal constitutions. Delimater’s pastor, the Reverend David Whitney, called Delimater “an honest an sincere Christian who loves the Lord Jesus Christ and wants to serve his fellow citizens and protect their God-given rights.” How loving the Lord Jesus qualifies Delimater is a mystery to me, but let’s move on. Delimater states that his best quality as a candidate is “knowing what the law is,” having studied both the state and federal constitutions. Delimater says that he has attended twelve-week courses on both the state and federal constitutions at the Pasadena-based theocratic Institute of the Constitution, a group founded by Michael Peroutka (more on Peroutka and this organization below).
On his campaign website, borrowing heavily on an essay by Peroutka, Delimater concludes that it is the duty of county council members and the sheriff to cooperate in resisting the enforcement of state laws – such as Maryland’s laws on marriage equality, transgender rights, and storm water runoff fees – which, in Delimater’s views, contradict God’s Law as revealed in his reading of the Bible. “If these man-made actions conflict with God’s moral law,” Delimater states, “then they are not law at all…. When our local officials, including county councilmen and sheriff’s [sic] confront such ‘pretended’ legislation, it is their duty to resist its implementation.”
How do you like that for an understanding of the Constitution?
And then there is this.
Michael Peroutka backed a plan to defy United States District Court for the District of Maryland Judge William D. Quarles’ order that the Carroll County Board of Commissioners cease grandstanding by opening their meetings with a sectarian prayer. But a day after Judge Quarles barred the commissioners from invoking Jesus Christ in their pre-meeting prayers, Commissioner Robin B. Frazier did just that — twice — saying she was willing to go to jail for her beliefs.
But unreported in the media was the support from Michael Peroutka and Pastor David Whitney – who praised Frazier’s “principled stand” against Judge Quarles’ “ungodly and unconstitutional ruling” in a sermon. Whitney even said he called Frazier’s office to commend her, and hoped her county sheriff would prevent her from being hauled off to jail.
Whitney concluded that telling “an elected official that they cannot acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ, the one to whom all authority belongs, is to deny that the so-called civil government has any authority at all.” I find this to be an extraordinary statement that suggests that because a federal judge issues a preliminary injunction against sectarian prayer in a county commission meeting, that therefore the entire federal government has no authority at all. “What is apparent,” Whitney declared, “is that our Federal Government, of whom Judge Quarles is but one example, is opposed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” Well, it may be apparent to Whitney, but I do not believe Judge Quarles’ order had to do with Jesus so much as it had to do with the “wall of separation between church and state,” (Thomas Jefferson’s phrase.)
“When a civil government denies the Lordship of Jesus Christ,” Whitney concluded, “it asserts that it, the civil government itself, is greater than Him – that it is above Him and that its own so-called laws, not His Law, are the laws that must be obeyed. So the Federal Government has made itself into a wretched beastly idol in our day.” He claims that requiring people to conform to the law of the land when it is out of sync with his personal notions of “the Law of the One True God” is “the very essence of tyranny.”
Perhaps you are starting to see why I am concerned? But wait, there is more.
Those same Carroll County Commissioners made a “request” that employees attend a class produced bt the Institute on the Constitution. I don’t know what would happen to an employee is the “request” was not obeyed, but I can guess. The class was taught by the Institute’s David Whitney – the same David Whitney mentioned above who is also the chaplain of both the Maryland League of the South and the Southern National Congress. The Baltimore Sun’s article on the class described it as having “biblical overtones” and Whitney as “basing his teachings on the biblical view of law and government.” In this case, the biblical worldview is the same one espoused by Rousas Rushdoony – a worldview calling for American law to be reconstructed to align with one interpretation of biblical law and to strip the federal government of regulatory power.
“Constitution” classes are a ploy being used all over the country. What could possibly be wrong with a class on our nation’s Constitution (or state constitutions)? I will tell you what is wrong. These classes are taught from the viewpoint of “theocratic libertarianism,” the Christian “Dominionist” belief that after the regulatory powers have been stripped from the federal government, society will be kept in check at the local and state level through strict adherence to a narrow interpretation of biblical law.
And you thought this kind of stuff only happened in Iran!
But I have saved the best – or rather the worst – for last. There is one name that keeps cropping up in all of these stories and that name is Michael Peroutka. And it is about him that I will devote the rest of this space.
Republicans in Anne Arundel County, Maryland – home county of Annapolis, Maryland’s capital, home to the U.S. Naval Academy, National Security Agency, and Fort George G. Meade – ostensibly with the capacity to read, write, and think – voted for a man who has openly declared war on science, on the United States Constitution, on marriage equality, and who does not just whistle Dixie – he thinks it is the national anthem.
“He” is Michael Peroutka, described by one writer as “a party-switching theocrat.” This anti-science, anti-evolution, racist, homophobic, secessionist won his primary election for county council and could possibly win in the general election in November.
So what? you might ask. Peroutka is not running for national office. Or even for state government (yet).
Even if he loses the council race to Democratic contender Patrick Armstrong, Peroutka still won an elected position in the primary election: He is now a member of the Republican State Central Committee in his district, making him a leader of the local GOP faithful – whether they like it or not. Combine that with depressingly low voter turnout in mid-term elections, and you have a recipe for political putrefaction. Sounds like the folks in Anne Arundel County had better wake up, get fired up, and get some “boots on the ground” to do some more registration for Patrick Armstrong.
Who in the world is Michael Peroutka?
Michael Anthony Peroutka was born in 1952, is a Maryland lawyer, and the founder of the Institute on the Constitution. He once held a position in the United States Department of Health and Human Services and was the Constitution Party candidate for president in 2004. He is co-host of The American View radio program.
In the 2004 United States presidential election, he was the Constitution Party’s candidate. His campaign theme was “God, Family, Republic” and he emphasized the Bible, the traditional family, and the need for constitutionally limited government. He gained support from many paleoconservatives, and was also endorsed by the America First Party and Alaskan Independence Party. Peroutka was also endorsed by the League of the South and supported by a group called “Southerners for Peroutka.” Peroutka accepted the endorsement from the League at their 2004 national convention. If you do not know about these groups, you owe it to yourself to learn about them.
Peroutka appeared on the White Nationalist radio show, The Political Cesspool to promote his campaign, describing the show as a “Christian/Constitutionalist radio program” and “a great blessing to our cause.” Political commentator Pat Buchanan stated on Hardball with Chris Matthews, that “There is a chance I would vote for Peroutka.” Peroutka received just over one-tenth of one percent of the national popular vote, finishing fifth nationally with just fewer than 150,000 votes. This was a showing similar to the previous Constitution Party candidacies of Howard Phillips – however, it was the only third party to increase its share of the vote in 2004.
Peroutka emphasizes the Bible and believes that America has a Christian heritage that should be reflected in government. He opposes abortion without exception. He opposes a federal marriage amendment, believing that civil government (federal/state/local) does not have jurisdiction over marriage. He advocates for free market capitalism. He supports the right to keep and bear arms – and to his credit – strongly opposed the war in Iraq, calling it ungodly, immoral, and unconstitutional. He supports the right to homeschool and believes the federal government should not regulate or fund education.
In 2012, the Human Rights Campaign called Peroutka an “active white supremacist and secessionist sympathizer” due to his links to the League of the South. Peroutka told The Baltimore Sun that he “continues to be a proud member of the League of the South,” since it “has a belief that the central government is too large, too spend-thrift and too out-of-control,” but he called the Human Rights Campaign’s characterization of him as a white-supremacist sympathizer “absurd” and “not at all true.”
Peroutka has declared that the laws of the State of Maryland are invalid. In an Institute on the Constitution video, Peroutka claims that the Maryland General Assembly is “no longer a valid legislative body” and as a result, none of the laws that it has passed are “legally valid and legally enforceable.” This is because, Peroutka argues, the Maryland Assembly has passed laws that “violate God’s law” and therefore have violated the Constitution and moved toward “despotism.” The laws that have invalidated Maryland’s entire state government in Peroutka’s estimation are a marriage equality bill, a transgender rights bill, an assault weapons ban, and a storm water runoff fee.
Oh, but it gets worse. As I mentioned earlier, Peroutka founded the Institute on the Constitution.
What is that?
Recently, this innocuous-sounding group issued a press release about their God and Government Project (appropriately, GaG), the purpose of which is to remind elected officials and those who seek civil government offices, that government is from God and their first duty must be to obey God and His Word (Romans 13.)
The folks at the Institute on the Constitution want officials to use the Bible as the basis for civil law and encourages followers to use Institute on the Constitution prepared scripts. The God and Government Project is consistent with Institute on the Constitution’s Christian Reconstructionist worldview. During his course on the Constitution, Peroutka twists history to make it appear that the founders deliberately created a biblical form of government in line with Institute on the Constitution views. That, of course, is a “twisted” view of our founding and of our Founders’ intentions. In a current commentary on his Institute on the Constitution website, Michael Peroutka makes a case that civil government officials are obligated to govern in accord with his view of the Bible. He writes: “Since civil government is ordained by God in order to protect God-given rights, then the function of civil government is to obey God and to enforce God’s law – PERIOD.” Who can argue with logic like that? (I am being facetious, of course.)
According to Peroutka, government can only do what he thinks God says government can do. The Institute on the Constitution website enshrines the late Rousas Rushdoony, the father of Christian Reconstructionism. John Lofton, the one-time Institute’s Director of Communications, called Rushdoony his “theological mentor.” Rushdoony’s articles on theocracy and dominionism, politics, taxation, and religion in law are available along with many others. According to Mark Rushdoony (son of Rousas), Christian Reconstructionism sees the church as Israel. In a book on covenant theology by Charles D. Provan called The Church Is Israel Now, the heart of covenant theology is summed up: the Christian church is heir of the promises to and the responsibility of the Hebrew nation of old. Thus the proper society is ruled by an Old Testament style regime where the Christian Reconstructionist’s understanding of the Bible is the basis for civil law. This is exactly what the Institute’s God and Government Project promotes as the message followers should tell elected officials.
Even after his death, Rushdoony’s views are controversial. The Institute on the Constitution does not back away from this controversy. Rushdoony affirms that civil government should be based on the Bible, including injunctions that would lead to the death penalty for some fifteen crimes including homosexuality, abortion, adultery, incest, lying about one’s virginity, bestiality, witchcraft, idolatry or apostasy, public blasphemy, atheism, false prophesying, kidnapping, rape, bearing false witness in a capital case, and truly incorrigible sons.
Given its reverence for Rushdoony, I believe that it is a fair to assume that the Institute on the Constitution is in sympathy with these views. I wonder if Peroutka and his ilk, in the government they are calling for, would put people to death for adultery, homosexuality and the other crimes delineated by Rushdoony? If I were a voter in Anne Arundel County, I would sure like to hear his answer.
One thing I do not need to wonder about is the Institute on the Constitution’s view of public schools. Peroutka has said that civil government has no role in education. Historically, reconstructionists have been strong supporters of Christian schools and homeschooling as alternatives to public education.
One of the leading reconstructionists, and Rushdoony’s son-in-law Gary North, wrote this about the relationship between Christian schools and religious liberty: “The major churches of any society are all maneuvering for power, so that their idea of lawful legislation will become predominant. They are all perfectly willing to use the ideal of religious liberty as a device to gain power, until the day comes that abortion is legalized (denying the right of life to infants) or prohibited (denying the ‘right of control over her own body,’ after conception, to each woman). Everyone talks about religious liberty, but no one believes it.
“So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God. Murder, abortion, and pornography will be illegal. God’s law will be enforced. It will take time. A minority religion cannot do this. Theocracy must flow from the hearts of a majority of citizens, just as compulsory education came only after most people had their children in schools of some sort. But religious anarchy, like ‘democratic freedom’ in ancient Greece, is a temporary phenomenon; it lasts only as long as no single group gets sufficient power and accepted authority to abandon the principle. Religious anarchy, as a long-term legal framework for organizing a society, is as mythical as neutrality is. Both views assume that the institutions of civil government can create and enforce neutral law. They are cousins, and people believe in them only temporarily, until they make up their minds concerning which God they will serve.”
There you have it! Do you want to know what a theocracy looks like? Look no further than those words of Gary North.
Will this ever happen? I doubt it, but my doubt does not lessen my concern because it seems clear to me that the Institute on the Constitution and like-minded reconstructionists will keep on trying to make it a reality.
But Institute on the Constitution supporters who love the First Amendment have a rude awakening coming. As Peroutka proclaims, civil law should obey and enforce God’s law, and by that statement he means his interpretation of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Someone’s religion must be obeyed according to Rushdoony, and the folks at the Institute on the Constitution want to make sure it is their religion. For now, they will use freedom of speech and religion at city council meetings to have their voices heard but if ever they get their way, one cannot count on such rights remaining. If you really believe in freedom of conscience and religious liberty, then you cannot embrace the Institute on the Constitution’s GaG program. While the folks at the Institute on the Constitution want freedom of religion so as to be able to speak at public meetings, they very openly proclaim that they want civil government to obey their religious views to the exclusion of all others.
I am all in favor of reconstructionists being able to speak their mind, but I do not want civil officials to use religion as the basis for their governing. Gary North may say that no one really believes in religious liberty, but he is wrong. The framers of the Constitution certainly did and they most certainly did not intend to establish a theocracy.
As long as we the people do not get up off our collective ass[ets] and exercise our franchise, we will continue to see more Peroutka’s seeking elected office. We can forget that sane and rational Republicans will put a stop to it. I am utterly convinced that is not going to happen. Just look at the loonies in the Republican Party: the birthers, the creationists, the theocrats, the climate-change deniers, the nativists, the gay-bashers, the anti-abortionists, the media paranoids, the anti-intellectuals, and the out-of-touch country clubbers. None of these people should even be elected dog catcher. Peroutka and his ilk are against people of color, women, LGBTs, immigrants, workers, unions, the elderly, Muslims, Jews, atheists and educators. They are equal opportunity destroyers.
Yes, there is really something rotten in the State of Denmark Maryland.