Tag Archives: privilege

Faith in Humanity

Occasionally things happen in life that keep popping into your head. It can be as simple as something someone said once that stuck with you or it can be much more complicated than a few words spoken once in conversation.

The former is on my mind today.

When I was in college, I was the leader of a secular campus group. I had a lot of discussions about religion with people very willing to criticize any and all of the bad aspects of religion. It’s very freeing to have a conversation with people willing to discuss that bad aspects of religion honestly. I’m not saying there’s nothing good about any religion, so don’t get lost.

The particular snippet that comes back to me over and over from one of these conversations hardly has to do with religion at all. One person essentially proposed the argument that religion as a sort of opiate (my word) can be good. This person went on to say that no one at Dickinson College could possibly understand what it was like to need religion or faith in their life because of hardship.

The background of this statement doesn’t matter a whole lot. The background of Dickinson College could use a bit of explanation. As a relatively selective liberal arts school where less than 64% of the most recent entering class received scholarship and/or grant assistance, it’s safe to say the average Dickinson student comes from an upper middle class background. It is not, then, a hotbed for the underprivileged, for racial minorities, or for students that grew up in poverty or near-poverty. There are many reasons for this, none of which matter for this post.

What matters (to me, at least) is the statistical discrimination that the person was engaging in and the complete lack of faith in humanity they exhibited.

To assume that, because the average Dickinson student has experienced very little hardship, no Dickinson student has experienced significant hardship is unfair. It’s a sort of statistical discrimination, and it’s a bit alienating.

Worse, it shows a lack of faith in humanity. The American dream may not be particularly alive and well, but humans still show a tremendous amount of perseverance. People all over the world never overcome poverty, being forced to work full time at a young age, or what have you. That most Dickinson students come from a privileged background does not mean that no Dickinson student has ever been disadvantaged.

Yes, the average student at Dickinson is well-off. Yet I know there are students at Dickinson and schools like Dickinson that came, not just from humbler backgrounds than their peers, but from hardship, poverty, and awful situations. Situations in which many people (but not everyone) turn to faith or religious communities. Situations from which comparatively privileged people apparently think you cannot work your way out of.

That appears to me to be a tremendous lack of faith in humanity, and it makes me sad. Is it hard to work your way out of poverty or other hardships? Yes. Harder than it should be I think, but not impossible. I found it tremendously unfair that this person discounted any hardship any Dickinson student had ever been through as not hard enough. I imagine there are a fair number of students that would beg to differ. I also found it alienating – I wouldn’t describe my childhood as full of hardship, but it wasn’t terribly similar to most of my peers or terribly easy – to think that others in the room at the time could have had a hard life and were basically being told they don’t understand hardship? Well, it didn’t exactly make anyone want to open up about their humbler backgrounds.

What should you take away from this post? Next time you are in a situation in which you must consider the lives of others, realize that no two lives are ever really the same. Realize that even though you are sitting across from an apparently well-adjusted, educated person you have no idea what their background is. You have no idea if their parents were millionaires or if they were raised by a single parent or grew up in the foster system or came to the United States knowing no English without any real protection or safety net. You have no idea – don’t assume they’ve never had to work for what they have in life. Don’t assume they have never made hard choices or experienced serious hardship, and I’ll try to remember my own advice.

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Follow Up: Legislator Privilege When Legislature is in Session

44 state and the United States constitutions* contain legislative privilege. Minnesota, as I mentioned in “MN State Legislators,” is one of those states.

This topic came up recently in Colorado and in Arizona according to “Legislative Privilege: Not So Popular.”

This article explains extremely well the origins of legislative privilege, basing the explanation on the behavior of British royalty toward parliament members they disagreed with**. It also highlights other times when their privileges are unjust – like the following incident:

That came into question in Arizona in 2010 after the majority leader of the Arizona Senate got into a donnybrook with his girlfriend. Rep. Scott Bundgaard told police he was a state senator and had legislative privilege. They uncuffed him, released him and took his girlfriend into custody. She went to jail. Bundgaard just resigned his Senate seat in January.

One man quoted seems to think that, because the future is unknowable, the privileges need to stay in place:

“Legislative privilege has a very important 400-year-old history in a democratic government and the separation of powers,” said Rep. Bob Gardner. “One can’t predict the future in Colorado or in the United States and what the political climate will be and for the reason those constitutional protections are important.”

Gardner believes lawmakers need to watch each other’s behavior to see if the privilege is being stretched.

But in this day and age, can anyone really expect us to believe lawmakers are going to watch each others’ behavior and not just watch each others’ backs?

Democratic Representative Clair Levy had this to say to CBS4:

“I think it’s worth having a conversation about whether that has outlived its purpose … Maybe we need to get rid of them either that or narrow them down because there’s always the risk that somebody’s going to misuse it.”

Her analysis is right on, in my opinion. We need to critically examine if this is serving a purpose or just creating a situation in which disincentives for certain behaviors don’t apply to lawmakers during sessions. As Levy said, maybe we need to get rid of it, maybe it needs to be narrowed down.

*See Article I, Section 6. Thanks to the Inactive Activist for pointing that out to me and leading me to check into legislative privilege a little further.

**Although I also think of the French royalty and their propensity to use the Bastille as a home for political dissidents. Most of my knowledge of this, sadly, comes from fiction.

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MN State Legislators Immune From DWI Arrest?

Apparently, legislators in Minnesota cannot be arrested when the legislature is in session unless they commit treason, a felony, or breach of peace.

“the members of each house in all cases except treason, felony and breach of the peace, shall be privileged from arrest during the session of their respective houses and in going to or returning from the same.”

The news articles (there were three: Kare11, West Central Tribune, and Fox*) I read explained the purpose of this part (Article IV, Section 10) of the MN Constitution very well – it was meant to prevent opponents from keeping legislators from voting by falsely accusing or, in the case of police officers, arresting a legislator for something minor.

The result of this part of the Constitution in today’s world is that legislators cannot be arrested for DWI while the legislature is in session.

This “immunity” has resulted in a disregard for the safety of others by some legislators. No names are named in the news, and we don’t know how many MN state senators and representatives are disgusting enough to use this part of their constitution to prevent the consequences of drunk driving, but it’s enough to know that some of our state legislators think it’s okay to drive drunk as long as they can’t get in trouble for it.

Thankfully, some political science students at Concordia University have brought this to the attention of the public. There is now a bill in the House to make DWI considered breach of the peace. The Concordia University students have played a major role is this bill.

The reasoning?

“. . .as legislators continue to strengthen penalties and tighten laws for drunken driving, they should be subject to the consequences as well, the students argued.”

Agreed.

Some quotes from the articles:

First, about legislators and DWIs:

It is unclear if legislators have used their protection to avoid drunken driving arrests.

“To our knowledge, state troopers have never encountered a situation where this provision was invoked,” said Bruce Gordon, Public Safety Department spokesman.

Second, about eyewitness accounts of legislators driving under the influence:

Jones said she even witnessed a clearly drunken legislator last year bragging about his immunity from DWI arrests in a St. Paul bar last year.

“We watched him actually walk out of the pub, get in his truck and drive home and he could barely stand up,” Jones recalled. “When he was leaving and I was outraged.”

And:

She described the event to her political science students at Concordia, who volunteered another disturbing example.  They said a fellow student who interned at the Capitol went out for dinner with a group that included two senators.

“When it was time to leave the Kelly Inn, one of the senator said she could drive because she had immunity,” Concordia senior Taylor Gittens explained.

“The senator ended up hitting a median on the way home, and the student intern was very frightened and upset.”

*I don’t recommend Fox’s article. It’s not very complete.

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