Aren’t there any Constitutional limits? Maryland’s Republican Governor, Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., obviously doesn’t think so, even though he took a solemn oath of office in which he swore to uphold the law of the land. He intends to authorize grants – public taxpayers’ money, sourced by the Federal Homeland Security Law – totaling $230,000, to Jewish groups, synagogues and schools throughout the state to protect their religious-related properties from possible terrorist attacks (Baltimore Sun, 09/22/04). Congress originally established the grant program to fund “critical public infrastructure, such as bridges, roads, tunnels and airport facilities” (See, for more details, http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/).
Ehrlich’s excuse is that he became concerned about security around Jewish-maintained facilities when an individual, supposedly of “Middle Eastern origins,” was seen videotaping a Baltimore-based Jewish school, last October. The FBI investigated that matter, which went nowhere. The governor, nevertheless, requested the Homeland Security bureaucrats to broaden their guidelines for grant money to include “non governmental organizations,” which it did in June, 2004. It would be interesting to know who pushed this matter calling for favored treatment for Jewish groups with the governor? Also, why didn’t the governor request a legal opinion from the state’s Attorney General, Joseph Curran, on the constitutionality of his planned actions? Isn’t that the way it is usually done? What’s the big hurry here?
What does this all mean? Well, suppose someone is seen videotaping the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Baltimore. He then gets back into his car, with has a bumper sticker on it, that reads: “The Pope is the Antichrist!” Does this then require our security-conscious governor to also fund the thousands of Roman Catholic schools, churches and related-facilities in the state, as he has the Jewish groups? Are these security grants now going to become just another government giveaway program that benefit only political insiders and also foster Ehrlich’s career ambitions? Maryland presently has $39 million in its Homeland Security budget.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from conferring special favors and advantages on one church that it denies to others. There is also supposed to be what the legendary Thomas Jefferson called, in a letter to a Baptist congregation in Danbury, CT, in 1802, “a wall of separation between Church and State.” Where is the wall – the separation between Church and State in this matter? Isn’t this a situation, too, where the volume of the aid in the aggregate, $230,000, is so large and direct that it, per se, violates the Establishment Clause? And what about the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and its application to this controversy? Isn’t it, too, being violated by the special treatment being doled out to the Jewish groups by Governor Ehrlich, to the exclusion of similarly situated nonprofit religious organizations?
I think it is wrong for the taxpayers to be picking up the tab in the millions of dollars to provide permanent security improvements for Jewish owned and maintained synagogues, religious-related schools and facilities-or those of any religion, for that matter. According to the report in the Baltimore Sun, authored by Andrew A. Green and Frank Langfitt, the money will be used by the recipients for “security cameras, reinforcing exterior doors and installing key card locking systems.” These groups should pay for their own security needs, like everybody else does. They shouldn’t be treated as royalty at the expense of the taxpayers.
Set to receive $100,000 in a state Homeland Security grant is a Jewish day school, the Charles E. Smith Day School, located in Rockville, in Montgomery County, MD, a suburb of Washington, DC. Montgomery County is one of the most affluent, most racially segregated areas in the U.S., with median incomes and home sale prices far exceeding the national average. The idea that taxpayers are going to foot the bill for security for this private, exclusively Jewish institution, which as a matter of course bars admission to Christians, Muslims and others of a differing religious orientation, is an outrage. It mocks the law and it is patently unfair. It also doesn’t pass the smell test! There is something seriously amiss here!
Also chosen for a government freebies, thanks to the generosity of Governor Ehrlich, to the tune of $30,000, is the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, which is situated in the city’s Park Heights area. The Jewish Community Center of Baltimore will soon pick up a state check for $37,000 for its Owings Mills campus; and another one-try $63,000-for its Park Heights’ location. Who said Christmas (or Hanukkah) only comes once a year?
By what standards, if any, were these final dollar grant amounts arrived at? Did each recipient suggest the amount of the grants or did the governor? What documentation is there to justify these figures and their relationship to security needs? What non-governmental agencies are next on the governor’s list? How about the Society for the Preservation of Newt Gingrich’s Thoughts? There are a lot of questions about this matter left hanging. I would hope that someone in the General Assembly of Maryland would have the courage to ask the relevant questions, demand that Attorney General Curran give his legal opinion of this issue, and to also call for a full public inquiry by the General Assembly. But alas, if history is any judge, don’t hold your breath waiting for any elected politico to get involved in a controversial situation that challenges the powerful Jewish community.
Politically speaking, Ehrlich is a conservative clone of President George W. Bush, Jr. He has supported the costly Iraqi War without raising one question about its lawfulness, morality or the massive deceptions of the Bush-Cheney Gang that got us into it. Ehrlich also is well known as a union-basher and a man dedicated to privatizing as many of the state’s assets that he can get his hands on (AFSCME Voice Council 92, Spring, 2004 issue).
Meanwhile, what is Governor Ehrlich really doing to ensure security for the people of this state? I’m referring to vulnerable government public buildings and to possible targets for a terrorist attack in Maryland, like: the sprawling BWI airport; the Chesapeake Bay Bridge; the Harbor Tunnel; the Fort McHenry Tunnel; the Port of Baltimore, with its hundreds of miles of shoreline, along with the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.’s nuclear facility, which sits on the western banks of the Chesapeake. How does Governor Ehrlich spending $230,000 in Homeland Security grant money on religious-related Jewish groups make the above sites or Marylanders safer?
And, finally, isn’t it all so ironic? If the General Assembly of Maryland opens its annual session with a prayer by a Christian chaplain, and he or she dares to mention the name of “Jesus,” (as the clergy have done since the founding of the Colony back in the 17th century), one of the Assembly’s Jewish members is sure to scream, (as one did a few years back), at the top of her lungs: “Separation of Church and State!”