NOV. 19, 1995
THE LIBERTARIAN, By Vin Suprynowicz
It's only been in living memory that the Catholic church has allowed the use of a liturgy translated into the vulgate.
While this is usually attributed to a preference for the beautiful sound of the Latin mass, and to a lesser extent the benefits of universality, in fact it descends directly from the medieval doctrine that the commoner has no business trying to figure out the scriptures for himself.
This not only rendered all those priestly middlemen indispensable, it also dealt a pre-emptive blow to that lone troublemaker who will always insist on looking things up.
Few today would tolerate a return to the days when they were forbidden to consult the scriptures of their own religion. But oddly enough, we tolerate a precisely parallel prohibition on looking up the original words of a set of documents which can be of far more immediate importance to a fellow citizen's life and liberty.
When American jurors are asked today to decide whether a fellow citizen shall lose his life or liberty for violating a specific law - a law which is invalid if it violates the Bill of Rights - they are widely forbidden to actually read the law, or the Bill of Rights.
In 1993, the United States Congress passed as law an "apology" to the people of the Hawaiian Islands for wrongly seizing their kingdom a century before.
Prompted in part by this acknowledgment, members of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement gathered in 1994 to adopt a new constitution, and elect a new head of state: Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele.
On Aug. 3, 1995, a federal grand jury secretly indicted Kanahele for harboring a federal fugitive. He was thrown in prison, bail denied.
Anyone familiar with the travesty of justice perpetrated on Jerry and Darlene Span of Phoenix - arrested and tried for "resisting" plainclothes federal marshals who came onto their property, jumped them, and beat them up without ever properly identifying themselves, will start nodding around this point.
"Government claims that its agents could not find and arrest convicted tax protester and political prankster Nathan Brown are nonsense," wrote columnist Brett White in the Honolulu Advertiser Nov. 9. "I saw Brown around Honolulu on numerous occasions - as did hundreds of other folks who know him - during the times that the feds say he was 'hiding and being harbored' by Kanahele. ...
"Kanahele's detention is as classic an example of political imprisonment as America has seen in many years," White continues, intended to "silence the most powerful and troublesome sovereignty activist in modern Hawaiian history."
The Interfaith Prisoners of Conscience Project of the National Council of the Churches of Christ agrees that Kanahele is a "political prisoner or a prisoner of conscience."
Kanahele's defense argued the man Kanahele stopped from entering his property had gotten out of an unmarked car wearing an aloha shirt, and had presented no identification as he ran for Kanahele's gate.
Naturally, when the trial finally started last month, the Honolulu Advertiser reports Judge Helen Gillmor of the federal district court "ruled she would not allow the trial to become a debate over Hawaiian sovereignty or Kanahele's claim that the state and federal governments are illegally occupying the islands."
Barred from presenting his defense - or even arguing self-defense - Kanahele did not address the jury, at all.
Judge Gillmor sent the jury out on Oct. 27. They immediately started coming back with questions. Were they to "exclude facts and evidence presented, because it appears the instruction is saying we have to allow anyone to enter our private property because they may be marshals?" the jurors asked.
On Oct. 31 the jurors sent the judge their fourth question: "Can we make a decision using a law from the Constitution of the United States and from the Bill of Rights? (Article IV)?" - the "unreasonable searches and seizures" Amendment.
That afternoon, the Advertiser reports, "Gillmor revealed that the question apparently stemmed from research done by one juror, Robert DeCosta, on his own in the court's law library one floor below the courtroom. Librarian Patricia Butson said DeCosta asked to see 'Article IV of the Bill of Rights' and checked out a thick law book on the Constitution for about a half-hour that morning. Gillmor's instructions to the jury at the start of the trial had included standard language warning the jurors not to conduct any research or investigation" of their own.
Citing this, the fact juror DeCosta possessed a copy of the "Jury Rights Handbook," and a further unsubstantiated suspicion of "jury tampering," Gillmor declared a mistrial. Bumpy Kanahele remained in Halkawa Prison until Nov. 13, when a different judge remanded him to a halfway house to await a new trial.
Juror DeCosta did not sneak out to the scene of the crime to play amateur detective. He simply looked up the highest law of the land.
Laws are not supposed to be written in some code, interpretable only by robed priestesses. If common folk are to obey them, then they must be written for common folk to read and understand. Jurors have every right to do so.
Defense attorney Hayden Aluli says he'll object to a re-trial, since the mistrial was declared over his objections. The panel's questions "showed me that the jury was really a smart jury and could have been possibly leaning toward the defense."
Except, of course, that the high priestess in the black robes caught them trying to look up the "scriptures" for themselves.
Contributions for Kanahele's defense: Hawaii Social Justice Fund, P.O. Box 402, Waimanalo, Haw. 96795.
Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.
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