Monday, December 1, 2014

Subverting the Presumption of Innocence

There is a very common political tactic that many different groups of people use to get around laws they don't like, and that tactic is to introduce a new law, which is related to the law they don't like and wish to subvert, which uses terms that, while they sound perfectly reasonable on their face, are so broad and vague that they can be (and are intended to be) interpreted in ways that undermine the law these people don't like. I will call this tactic "political subversion". And yes, I am aware that "subversion" is already a political term which means something different, but bear with me here.

Examples of Political Subversion

As many astute American secularists and atheists may know, the intelligent design movement, having been denied the right to inject their pseudo-scientific ideas into science classrooms in 2005, has since changed tactics to writing bills that simply wish to keep science "open" and to "encourage critical thinking". Taken at face value, this sounds very reasonable and downright obvious, but the problem is that it opens the door for teachers to, as the saying goes, "teach the controversy" and introduce non-science into science classrooms... all in the interest of doing good science, of course.

For example, there was a bill in Tennessee back in 2012 that claimed to want to protect science and ensure that students develop critical thinking skills. However, if you read the bill's text, and if you follow the Intelligent Design movement, it's obvious that this is simply an attempt to wedge anti-science into science classrooms by using broad terms that, again, sound great, but will be interpreted beyond what most people think they mean. Back in 2012, I made a video criticizing this bill.

Bill text:

For more examples of these kinds of subversive science-related legislation, visit the National Center for Science Education's website; they heavily report and document these kinds of bills that seek to broaden and subvert science education.

You must first get behind someone before you can stab them in the back.

But this tactic doesn't only happen with regard to science education; it also shows up when talking about the right to an abortion, freedom of (and from) religion, and increasingly commonly, when certain feminists talk about rape victims in a court setting. As with science subversion, they use vaguely-worded legislation to undermine laws they don't like.

Victims and Political Subversion

I bring this up because an amendment to the Illinois Constitution (Article I, section 8.1) called "Crime Victims' Rights" recently passed, which appears to be an attempt at political subversion: it reaffirms things that people already agree with (the rights of the accuser), but it uses broad and undefined terms to do so, which leaves room to go above and beyond what most people think this bill is saying. I implicate feminism in this post because the bill's text is reminiscent of some current feminist talking points.

This Illinois amendment includes, among other things, the following addition to the first stated right of victims. The addition is underlined below.

(1) The right to be treated with fairness and respect for their dignity and privacy and to be free from harassment, intimidation, and abuse throughout the criminal justice process. 

While this seems like a good idea that any reasonable person should support, the words, "harassment", "intimidation", and "abuse" are never actually defined in this amendment, which means that a wide variety of things may be banned from the criminal justice process as being "harassing" or "intimidating" to the victim, and that is where my concern begins. Specifically, my concern is that the necessary process of checking the victim's story will be labeled as "harassment" and "intimidating to the victim", and this process may be performed less rigorously or even eliminated altogether.

This would leave the courts no choice but to always believe the alleged victim (because remember, checking their story is abusive and intimidating), and the courts would be de facto forced to operate by "guilty until proven innocent", stripping the defendant of their right to the presumption of innocence. And what do you know, it turns out that many influential feminists have written in favor of exactly this in cases of rape and sexual assault, as I noted in this past blog post. On top of that, Sweden is actually considering adopting such a policy as law.

This, I think, is a compelling reason to oppose this amendment to the Illinois constitution. especially when you consider that victims are already entitled to "fairness and respect for their dignity and privacy".

That being said, if there is evidence that victims of crimes face serious problems that are require more than "fairness and respect", I might change my mind about this proposed amendment. Furthermore, if the words "harassment", "intimidation", and "abuse" were strictly defined such that they did not interfere with the necessary criminal justice process, again, I might change my mind about this amendment.

However, as this amendment is written, it raises a red flag that strongly suggests an ulterior motive to undermine the rights of the accused, much like the red flags for subverting science education, abortion rights, and freedom of religion in other bills.

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