By Rod Miller, columnist
Cheyenne City Councilman Richard Johnson is proposing an ordinance aimed at penalizing anyone who would violate the civil rights of a Wyoming citizen. Its agenda item #15, if you care to read it.
Johnson and his colleagues on the council crafted the proposed ordinance to combat “malicious harassment” based on race, gender, religion or any other human quality that might differentiate one citizen from another.
In an increasingly fractious and polarized society, in which personal attacks have almost become the norm, and civility among citizens is becoming nothing more than a distant memory, legislation like this ordinance is how we will stem that dismal tide.
But to characterize this effort as anti-hate crime, or anti-discrimination legislation is to miss the most important point. This ordinance is pure civil rights lawmaking, intended to protect the political rights of each and every Wyomingite regardless of circumstance.
Richard says he modeled this ordinance from one that he found in Oklahoma, but I like it because it draws language directly from one of the most egalitarian, humanistic and democratic documents that I have ever read – the Constitution of the State of Wyoming.
Besides, those boys from Oklahoma roll their joints all wrong.
Indulge me while I respectfully remind you that the “Bill of Rights” in the Wyoming Constitution contains 37 sections, while that in the U.S. Constitution has only 10. Wyoming’s grizzled old Framers obviously had more on their minds than cows, water and railroads, bless their hearts.
Here are Sections 2 and 3 of the Wyoming Constitution’s Article 1 Declaration of Rights:
Sec. 2. Equality of all. In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal.
Sec. 3. Equal political rights. Since equality in the enjoyment of natural and civil rights is only made sure through political equality, the laws of this state affecting the political rights and privileges of its citizens shall be without distinction of race, color, sex, or any circumstance or condition whatsoever other than individual incompetency, or unworthiness duly ascertained by a court of competent jurisdiction.
And here is the opening provision of the proposed Cheyenne ordinance:
A. It shall be unlawful and an offense for any person to maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, or disability, commit any of the following acts:
Nobody is naive enough to believe that prevention of intimidation or harassment (the goal of the ordinance) will fully ensure “the enjoyment of natural and civil rights…through political equality” (the mandate of Wyoming’s Constitution), but its a genuine and timely start.
And it takes real political courage to propose an ordinance like this one when the tenor of politics in our state and nation is increasingly based upon harassment and intimidation.
Debate over this ordinance in Council chambers, coffeeshops and online platforms will probably be just as rancorous and divisive as everything else these days. And this ordinance will do nothing to diminish or punish our First Amendment rights to rant.
I hope this ordinance passes. And I hope it also serves as a model for future legislation at both the state and local levels that transfer the ideals embodied in the Wyoming Constitution to laws on our books that we live by….together as citizens of this most remarkable state.