The video to the left is from the recent sting operation by independent reporters regarding the Baltimore office of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. We all know the story by now; the reporters pose as pimp and prostitute, the workers give them advice how to game the tax laws. (You can read about how the project came about here.)
Yesterday, ACORN filed suit in Circuit Court for Baltimore City against Andrew Breitbart, the owner of the Big Government blog on which the films were presented, and against Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe, the two reporters who posed in the video. They seek punitive and compensatory damages for their ruined reputations, and they seek an injunction to stop the circulation of the videos. Good luck with the latter — they’re on YouTube and they’ve gone viral.
The two employees who were captured on video have been fired by ACORN. The organization has frozen hiring until an investigation is complete. Congress has cut off federal funding for the organization. ACORN claims damage was done to its reputation, and claims also that the two employees, Thompson and WIlliams, suffered “extreme emotional distress” as a result of the video. Also, the lawsuit claims that O’Keefe and Giles violated Maryland law by taping audio without the consent of the people being taped.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Put yourself in the place of a legitimate citizen organization. You’ve been visited by a hostile team of reporters who are aiming at ruining your reputation. They’ve discovered a pair of rogues working in one of your offices, and broadcast the video of these two clowns violating your organization’s clear intent and helping criminals establish businesses that hide their crimes and steal from the taxpayers. Your reputation has suffered, your donors are running for the hills, and you want compensation.
Why the hell are you concerned about the “extreme emotional distress” of the two human sewers that the reporters discovered? These two are the reason the reporters were able to ruin your reputation! You should be suing them! Sure, it makes sense also to sue the reporters to get compensation for the damage, but you should be suing these employees for every penny they earn for the rest of their lives, for bringing their garbage into your legitimate place of business and making your organization look like a criminal enterprise. You should be spreading memos throughout the organization with pictures and descriptions of those two, saying “If you do what these two did, expect to be fired, jailed, folded, spindled, mutilated, and have teams of flesh-eating lawyers gobbling the income from your estate for the rest of eternity.”
CNN’s story on the matter cites a relevant falsehood (without identifying it as a falsehood.) It says:
ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — said O’Keefe and Giles also attempted to capture similar videos at ACORN offices in other cities but failed.
What they do not say is that O’Keefe and Giles claim exactly the opposite — that they visited exactly five ACORN offices, and obtained exactly five videos of employees helping them break the law. They had no trouble finding ACORN employees to help them, because that’s what ACORN does: it helps people break the law.
So why is ACORN listing the pain and suffering of these employees in the lawsuit? Simply because the lawsuit is not aimed at producing justice. They know other employees are engaged in precisely the same activity. They hire them to do that. If they went after the employees like a sane organization would, they would lose all their employees overnight. So they can’t do that.
The purpose of the lawsuit, frankly, is to discourage honest people from attacking ACORN, so they can continue to operate without scrutiny. They want people to think twice before blowing the whistle on their criminal enterprise. And the purpose for listing the pain and suffering of criminals in the complaint is to throw more mud on the wall to see what sticks. If they manage to get a judge to award them compensation for the suffering of these two, all that much more pain for the reporters who dared to cross them. It can’t hurt their lawsuit, so they do it.
The lawsuit is not about justice, not even a little. The whole picture does not look like a legitimate organization seeking redress of real grievances. It looks like a criminal enterprise engaging in warfare.
ACORN has the right in the United States to sue in court to seek compensation for damages. That’s the legal side, and the rights of individuals, regardless of how vicious or immoral they might be, must be protected equally, or none of us are safe. Courtesy of one of my commenters, allow me to quote a conversation from the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, between Sir Thomas More and his son-in-law to be, William Roper:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
Having said that, I want to be clear: I believe that what these reporters did was morally right. I believe that ACORN is a deeply corrupt organization, from top to bottom. I believe that ACORN’s employees were doing precisely what they were hired to do, and that they were fired solely for appearance’s sake. I do not believe any other conclusion is possible.
And I believe this lawsuit is an evil act.
The phrase that comes to my mind is from the prophet Isaiah, where he condemns the Israelites for fasting with wrong motives: he says they pray and fast in order to “strike with a wicked fist.” (Isaiah 58:4, New American Standard Version) That’s what ACORN is doing here. They got caught doing what they do. They are using the laws of the land to punish the righteous for exposing them, to make sure nobody else ever exposes them again without thinking twice. They want to perform their evil deeds in the dark, as evil people always do. So they use the laws to punish the righteous.
This is not, by far, the only sort of misuse of the system we call “Justice.” Research has established that one of the greatest contributors to the costs of medical care is what we call “defensive medicine,” medicine that serves no purpose other than to protect the doctor, and more to the point, the insurer, against lawsuits. This has become necessary because people use the courts, not to get justice, but to get rich. They sue if the doctor makes an error (which is common enough, since doctors are human,) or if nature deals them a bad hand and they can blame the doctor somehow. They reason, “The doctor has lots, and I have only a little, so why shouldn’t I get some of it?” The sort of thinking that says “I should only ask for what is just” has vanished from our culture. So has the sort of thinking that says “I should offer what is just,” because lawsuits have driven that sort of thing underground. One does not admit error, because that puts you at risk in the lawsuit. We have become corrupt, and our corruption has broken the system of justice.
I’ve begun a series of articles reviewing theological thinking about politics in the American colonies before the American Revolution. It’s a bit boring, but the reason I’m doing it is so I can wrap my mind around what it might take to build, from the ground up, a society that honors God’s laws, that rewards righteousness and discards wickedness as though it were garbage. The current American system does not do that; it rewards wickedness, and protects it.
The system actually protects righteous people if the people are, on the whole, righteous. The reason the system protects wickedness is that the land is full of wicked people. We have become corrupt, and have earned our demise. We need to resurrect righteous thinking; we need to mark the money-grubbing that abuses the system as the evil that it is, and we need to resist that sort of thinking when it arises within ourselves. We need to call corruption by its name, and we need to root it out from among us, “…each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)
The cure begins in the mirror; each of us bears the responsibility to become righteous, and the responsibility to learn to think, speak, and act like righteous men and women. The only version of this that will bear legitimate fruit is the version that relies on God, Himself, to build righteousness in us. No counterfeit will produce anything worthwhile. The mere fact that one calls oneself “Christian” (or any other denomination) does not produce what’s needed. It’s just as easy for a Christian to get greedy or foolish as it is anybody else. What we’re after is not religious words, but godly behavior; not church attendance, but decency.
There can be no other foundation for a righteous nation; the laws that defend liberty, defend wickedness where wickedness is common. The only solution is to make wickedness uncommon.
John Adams’ name has risen in esteem recently, as historians rediscover the mark he left on the fledgling nation, so I’ll end this by recalling his warning issued to militiamen of Massachusetts in 1798:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.
We are no longer a moral and religious people, so ACORN is free to strike with wicked fists against the righteous who expose their criminality. This does not have to be, but the cure begins right there where you sit.