Guest commentary by Olaf Vancura
The people of Nevada suffered a temporary setback on January 8, 2010. On that day, a district court judge granted an injunction sought by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU against the Personhood Nevada initiative, effectively stifling us from moving forward. Today [April 6, 2010], the Nevada Supreme Court has the opportunity to overturn this terrible district court decision.*
The proposed constitutional amendment reads, "In the great state of Nevada, the term 'person' applies to every human being." It is 14 words in all. The first six words note that Nevada is a great state. The final eight words compose the operative phrase. It is because of these eight simple words that the district court judge ruled the people of Nevada cannot vote upon this initiative. Our amendment language uses terms that are easy to understand. It is not vague. It is our position, articulated by our attorneys, that a 12-year-old child could understand this sentence and easily explain it to an adult.
First and foremost, this is a civil rights initiative. Throughout our nation's history, we have struggled to correct our civil rights errors. However, we cannot rely on the courts to "fix things." The U.S. Supreme Court, in the infamous Dred Scott decision, got it wrong! They declared that a group of human beings were not persons, but property. It took the people, through the Thirteenth Amendment, to correct this glaring injustice. And amendments by and for the people were required to guarantee that all persons born in the U.S. were citizens (Fourteenth Amendment) and could vote (Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments).
Personhood Nevada exists because the process to amend our constitution is initiated by the people. It is one critical manner in which people exercise our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. To the extent (in 2006) the NV legislature enacted a single-subject rule, it was only to facilitate the people's ability to exercise the initiative process. It was never intended to be a means by which the activist judiciary could contort a simple phrase of a few mere words, declare it was a myriad of subjects and, thereby, thwart the will of the people.
Our nation's and state's rights, whether they be to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, the right against self-incrimination and even the very right to life itself, are all ascribed to "persons." For better or worse, this was the language used by our forefathers. Our initiative's sole subject is about the meaning of "person." It really is that simple. And it is important because some human beings, today, are deprived of their right to live. All the great freedoms we enjoy, as enumerated above, are worthless if you are dead!
This initiative is about who we are and what defines us as persons. As human beings ourselves, what are our core beliefs about humanity? What type of a worldview do we believe in and want to leave for our posterity? Do we believe that all human beings are persons? Our position is that personhood for every human being is the foundational civil right upon which all other rights are built. That "person applies to every human being" is the message brought forth by this petition under our First Amendment rights. We are asking the people of Nevada to engage in this debate, and to see if they agree that our understanding of the human family has evolved to the point where we are ready to ascribe personhood to every human being, thereby guaranteeing every human being's right to live.
The primary Planned Parenthood/ACLU argument was that this initiative had "too many" (whatever that means) effects. We strongly disagree. What makes this argument spurious is that this is a civil rights initiative by and for the people of Nevada. Civil rights initiatives, by their nature, tend to have non-trivial scope, for it is their intent to correct an injustice and to recognize rights that heretofore have been wrongly withheld. For example, consider the Thirteenth Amendment. The abolition of slavery affected numerous laws (both federal and state) and numerous industries. At the time, it "upset" the economic model for much of our nation. And yet, it was a single subject!
The district court ruled that the people are not entitled to vote on this matter. Let me repeat. The people of Nevada are not allowed to vote on whether "person applies to every human being!" This decision is an affront to the people's First Amendment rights. It also appears to be based upon a belief that the people of Nevada would not be able to understand for themselves what this handful of simple words means. For a judge, or any individual, to declare that the people are not entitled to vote upon a simple sentence of a few words is a blow to our democracy.
Perhaps most importantly, under the logic and precedent of this court, any civil rights initiative brought forth by the people of this great state will be struck down as overly broad. And yet it is precisely civil rights initiatives, within the amendment process throughout our nation's history, that have been utilized to correct injustices. Under the logic of this court's decision, the people could never seek to amend the Nevada constitution with a civil rights initiative. It is especially for this particularly sinister reason that we appealed this erroneous decision. We appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court not only because the judge erred, but for the future of democracy in Nevada.
May God bless these efforts.
Olaf Vancura, Ph.D. is president of Personhood Nevada.
*On April 6, the Nevada Supreme Court heard arguments for and against overturning the lower court decision that prevents the state's voters from voting on the Nevada personhood initiative in November. Its ruling will be issued later.