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The Baltimore Sun

No right to plan an act of violence

Ralph E. Shaffer and R. William Robinson miss the point in the column "Here come the thought police" (Opinion * Commentary, Nov. 19).

They view Rep. Jane Harman's new anti-terrorism bill as an ominous threat to free speech.

In particular, they claim that the bill's definition of "home-grown terrorism" (as involving "planned" or "threatened" use of force to coerce the government or the people in the promotion of "political or social objectives") would allow the government to punish the mere thought of using force.

In making this claim, they forget that both planning and threatening are actions, not mere thoughts. Planning implies an actual attempt to do something. Threatening implies an actual verbalization of a threat.

Indeed, planning or threatening violence is already a punishable crime, not because it involves contemplation but because it involves actual, concrete behavior.

This rule is not a prohibition on thought or a violation of our free speech rights. Rather, it's a prohibition on dangerous acts that are antithetical to any civilized society.

I agree that we must be cautious about allowing the government to encroach on our civil liberties in fighting terrorism. But I believe the law can make a distinction between nonviolently expressing an unpopular opinion and planning or threatening a real act of violence.

The government must never prohibit the former but has every right to prohibit the latter.

Philip Kaplan


The writer is an assistant public defender for Baltimore County.

Millions of citizens lack full voting right

The Sun's article "Always on the bench" (Nov. 8) shined a spotlight on an issue that often escapes unnoticed in our great democracy: the lack of voting rights for United States citizens who do not reside in one of the 50 states.

The right to vote for president and to elect representation in Congress is not, in fact, a right of national citizenship; it is instead a right provided to state citizens under the U.S. Constitution.

Short of statehood, the best Congress can do for our fellow U.S. citizens in our island territories is to allow local self-government.

While this may be an unintended consequence of an otherwise sound and democratic federal structure, it is a real problem in a country that prides itself on progress in civil rights and on the strength of its democracy.

My native Puerto Rico has sacrificed close to 70 men and women to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet these servicemen and women never cast a vote in favor of their commander in chief.

Unable to vote back home, Puerto Ricans are voting with their feet, and they are doing so in droves.

The number of native-born Puerto Ricans on the mainland now equals the population back in Puerto Rico. And, each month, thousands more Puerto Ricans move to the mainland, where they can fully participate in a democracy.

Puerto Rico's status still reflects the island's entry into the U.S. as a war prize from another time in history.

But how can we justify denying millions of U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico the most basic right of enjoying government with consent of the governed?

Jose Fuentes


The writer is a former attorney general of Puerto Rico.

New funding will be a boon for the bay

While Marylanders continue to debate the impact that new taxes to plug the state's shortfall will have on them ("How will the new tax plan affect you?" Nov. 20), dedicated funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay will benefit everyone in our state by making the bay healthier and our economy stronger.

The new program to clean the bay is progress Marylanders can be proud of their elected officials for enacting.

Mark Brock-Cancellieri


Ways to withstand modest tax hikes

I've had it. I must respond to the plethora of letters to The Sun whining about the budget adjustments recently made in Annapolis ("State's money grab rips off constituents," Nov. 23).

Would those tax critics who want to cut more spending please tell us what programs they would cut?

And for those who seem to think they can't make it without the $50 to $100 a year in increased taxes (or less) most will have to pay under the new rules, I've got some ideas on how to make that money up.

Go to one less Oriole game (save yourself the agony).

Go to one less Ravens game (same thing).

Give up your cable TV for one month or cut out the premium channels.

Quit smoking for a month.

Park your SUV for a week.

Drink one less beer a week.

Quit buying lottery tickets.

There is no free lunch, folks.

And, in this case, thanks to the neglect and posturing of the previous governor, a serious state shortfall was created, and it required immediate attention.

Bill Hettinger


It isn't Father Martin who needs advice

Like many others, I have followed with interest and incredulity the sacking of the Rev. Ray Martin.

Following public outrage, including demonstrations, a walkout and numerous letters to the editor, the archdiocese has decided that it may permit Father Martin to return to his three parishes but only after he submits to counseling for his transgressions ("O'Brien urges priest back to fold," Nov. 15).

What is it that Father Martin needs counseling for - for showing compassion to a family that had lost a loved one, for lending a helping hand to someone down on his luck, for loving all of God's creatures?

Or is it just so that the archbishop can save face?

Blind adherence to rules and regulations is an exaltation of form over substance that trivializes important values such as compassion, caring and human decency that lie at the heart of the Catholic religion.

Counseling may well be in order in this instance, but it is not Father Martin who needs it.

Nedda Pray


Archbishop is right to uphold canon law

It shocks me to see the number of letters attacking the archbishop and the archdiocese for doing their job in the firing of the Rev. Ray Martin (e.g. "Legalistic dismissal dishonors church" and "Archbishop imposes a new cross to bear," letters, Nov. 21).

Father Martin's actions over an extended period of time violated serious church teachings and practices as well as archdiocesan policies.

Father Martin also took part in the con-celebration of the Eucharist with a non-Catholic minister, which violates the Code of Canon Law.

Since we Catholics don't share fully in the communion of faith with non-Catholics, we do not share Holy Communion with them either.

And how sad it is that Father Martin's inappropriate actions at Shirley Doda's funeral caused additional pain to her family as a result of the publicity surrounding his dismissal.

Terry Maxwell


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