An Episcopal priest in Louisiana sent along a story that ran on KSLA-TV in Shreveport. The provocative headline -- "Homeland Security Enlists Clergy to Quell Public Unrest if Martial Law Ever Declared" -- promises a juicy story. Particularly for civil libertarians like myself who fear just such hypotheticals. Here's the lede:
Could martial law ever become a reality in America? Some fear any nuclear, biological or chemical attack on U.S. soil might trigger just that. KSLA News 12 has discovered that the clergy would help the government with potentially their biggest problem: Us.
Now that's a hot story. I can't wait to see how they dug this info up. It's a libertarian's biggest fear -- the church and the state conspiring to grab our guns and civil rights! Unfortunately the story is so horribly written that it singlehandedly sets back all positive thoughts I've cultivated toward broadcast journalists in the last five years. Reporter Jeff Ferrell mentions Charlton Heston's "cold, dead hands" NRA speech -- misspelling the actor's name -- as a segue to the gun confiscation that occurred following Hurricane Katrina.
But gun confiscation is exactly what happened during the state of emergency following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, along with forced relocation. U.S. Troops also arrived, something far easier to do now, thanks to last year's elimination of the 1878 Posse Comitatus act, which had forbid regular U.S. Army troops from policing on American soil.
Again, this is where reporters need to be careful. We still have the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, so saying it was eliminated is not technically correct. Presumably the reporter is referring to Congress' passage of the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, which allows the president to declare a public emergency and station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities. I'm not saying the 2007 bill doesn't effectively nullify the Posse Comitatus Act, but word choice is key here. And until a court decides that the Posse Comitatus Act has been done away with, it's best to be careful. Anyway, the reporter finally gets to the juicy stuff. He says a "Clergy Response Team" helped ease public fears and quelled dissent following Katrina:
Dr. Durell Tuberville serves as chaplain for the Shreveport Fire Department and the Caddo Sheriff's Office. Tuberville said of the clergy team's mission, "the primary thing that we say to anybody is, 'let's cooperate and get this thing over with and then we'll settle the differences once the crisis is over.'"
Such clergy response teams would walk a tight-rope during martial law between the demands of the government on the one side, versus the wishes of the public on the other. "In a lot of cases, these clergy would already be known in the neighborhoods in which they're helping to diffuse that situation," assured Sandy Davis. He serves as the director of the Caddo-Bossier Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
No details are provided about this Clergy Response Team unit and Dr. Tuberville is the sole clergy source for the story. Is this a federal Homeland Security Department effort? Is it a state or local effort? Does it exist outside the mind of the reporter? I don't know. But I love this idea that the tightrope that clergy have to walk is one that puts the demands of the government on one side and the wishes of the public on the other. Do you sense anything missing from this tightrope equation? Any other outside entity or entities whose views might also need to be considered? Reporter Ferris swiftly dismisses all theological debate on the topic with this quote from Dr. Tuberville:
For the clergy team, one of the biggest tools that they will have in helping calm the public down or to obey the law is the bible itself, specifically Romans 13. Dr. Tuberville elaborated, "because the government's established by the Lord, you know. And, that's what we believe in the Christian faith. That's what's stated in the scripture."
Love the lowercase on both Bible and Scripture, and the assumption that casual viewers and readers will know what Romans 13 says. More than that, though, I love the notion that all biblical exegesis leads to the same conclusion as Dr. Tuberville's. Certainly Christianity does teach -- with Paul -- that all authority in heaven and on earth comes from God and that Christians should obey that authority. But as this story could have clearly pointed out -- some might say that this country's Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution might be deemed more authoritative than the John Warner Defense Authorization Bill of 2007. I'm just saying. Perhaps speaking with more than one man of the cloth -- maybe one not employed by the government -- might have helped provide balance to the story. Speaking of balance, check out the final paragraph:
Civil rights advocates believe the amount of public cooperation during such a time of unrest may ultimately depend on how long they expect a suspension of rights might last.
Yes, Mr. Ferris. I'm sure civil rights advocates' greatest concern is the length of time that rights are suspended. Not that they're suspended in the first place. Not that the government is using churches to push its agenda. Not that churches are complying with this request (not that this story in any way supports that contention). Yep, it's the length of time that rights are suspended. Not that anyone assumes civil rights advocates were spoken to for this story.