Growing up, I had cats and dogs. There was Bonnie the cat, Bruno the dog, C.K. the cat, and Spike the dog. Each of them played a part in my life as a child and a teen . . . and then I went off to college. While I was away at college, my parents got Roscoe the dog, and my sister got Zoe the cat. Then I finished college. I embarked upon my adult career. I married Melissa on May 28, 2005. We lived in a low-rent, ground-floor apartment in Fairfax, Virginia, as we started to build our life together.
About a year and a half later, we were still living in that apartment . . . and while I was sitting in my office, probably writing some nonsense for this website, I heard a noise out back. As I wrote about a month later, “I glanced through the blinds of my office window to see if anything was going on out back, and saw nothing.” When I heard another noise ten or fifteen minutes later, I looked out the window again and saw nothing. Then I went to our sliding-glass door, opened the blinds, and saw a little orange kitten looking at me with the same kind of surprise with which I was looking at her.
On March 12, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam (D) declared a state of emergency in the Commonwealth of Virginia because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused it.
On March 23, 2020, Northam imposed the first public health restrictions: Restaurants and gyms were closed and social distancing requirements were put in place. I complied. It was the right thing to do. We had to do what we could to slow the spread and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.
On March 30, 2020, Northam imposed a broad stay-at-home order and a prohibition on most public gatherings. I complied.
On May 29, 2020, Northam imposed an indoor mask mandate. I condemned the mandate as “pseudoscience,” which was perhaps too strong a word. I knew that only medical-grade N95 masks could reliably block out viruses, but I underestimated the effectiveness of simple cloth barriers in blocking respiratory droplets, which are the primary way this virus spreads. Simple cloth masks won’t stop individual, aerosolized virus particles, but they will stop the big globs of spit and snot that carry thousands or millions of them. But even though I thought the requirement was off-base at the time, I complied.
I came to support reasonable masking policies. Cloth masks are useful in limiting the spread of the virus in prolonged close-contact settings. They are unnecessary outdoors, and even indoors when social distancing of more than six feet is possible. But even when the requirements went beyond what was scientifically justifiable, I complied.
Let’s talk about “cancel culture” and free speech.
A good starting point for this conversation is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the freedoms of speech and press in the United States. The text has been “incorporated” by the Fourteenth Amendment and now applies equally to federal, state, and local governments (i.e., not just to “Congress”):
Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . . .
U.S. Constitution, First Amendment (excerpt)
An important point that we need to make right here at the beginning is that the text of the First Amendment does not create a freedom of speech. It doesn’t say that it is establishing or defining some new freedom out of thin air. Read it more carefully. It is saying that Congress cannot abridge the preexisting freedom of speech. It assumes that the freedom is already there. The freedom of speech is a human right that comes not from governments, but, depending on your worldview, from nature, evolution, or God.
So we have to make a distinction between the “freedom of speech” as a general principle or idea, and the “freedom of speech” as a constitutional limitation on government. They are related, but they are different. Both have value. Both deserve to be defended.
Public primary elections for the Democratic and Republican parties will be held on June 8, 2021. Off on a Tangent is making recommendations to party primary voters in each contested state- and federal-level primary race in Virginia, as well as those for Loudoun County local offices.
Political parties are private organizations that should not have any official standing in our political system, but Democratic and Republican primaries are held by the Virginia Department of Elections and are funded by Virginia taxpayers. The purpose of a party primary should be for members of that party to choose who will represent them on the general election ballot. Virginia, however, has an “open primary” system where any registered voter may vote in any one (but not more than one) primary each year.
This series of recommendations applies only to public, taxpayer-funded primaries. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are making some of their nominations at party conventions or through other private means.
The South Riding Proprietary is a homeowners’ association (HOA) that acts as a defacto local government for the South Riding community in Loudoun County, Virginia. At the propriatary’s annual meeting on May 25, 2021, two seats on the Board of Directors are up for election. Members of the board serve three year terms. South Riding property owners may cast votes for these board seats either by attending the annual meeting in person or by submitting a proxy vote beforehand. Proxy votes may be cast using paper ballots that were mailed to property owners, or electronically on the South Riding Proprietary web site.
The annual meeting must achieve a quorum (combining in-person attendance and proxy ballots) of at least ten percent of all South Riding property owners. If a quorum is not achieved, the meeting will be recessed for a period of less than thirty days. At the resumption of the meeting, a quorum of only five percent is required. The meeting may then be repeatedly recessed and resumed until the five percent quorum is achieved. The South Riding Board of Directors cannot seat members or perform any official work without a quorum.
Three candidates appear on the director ballot: incumbent Director Michael Hardin, incumbent Director Kevin Ubelhart, and Francois Desamours. Property owners may vote for up to two candidates, and may write-in other names if desired.
HOAs provide shared community services including maintenance of common areas and private streets, trash services, snow removal, community pools, playgrounds, parks, and so-on. But most HOAs, including ours, claim numerous other authorities to restrict the use of private property. These broad authorities are supposedly authorized by the disclosures (i.e., covenants) that owners accepted at the time they purchased property in an HOA neighborhood. Among the terms each homeowner must accept is that they will include the same disclosures when selling the property later.
In practice, this establishes a kind of private government. But no government (or private organization, for that matter) may restrict a person’s human rights to life, liberty, and property except in certain very limited ways. Your property is your property, and you may do whatever you want with it as long as you don’t directly harm others. Compulsory HOAs that restrict these rights violate Article 1, Section 11, of the Constitution of Virginia, which guarantees that citizens may not be deprived of their property without due process of law (paragraph 1) and states that the right to private property is fundamental (paragraph 3). They also violate the similar protections in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The South Riding Proprietary (and all other HOAs) must repeal all unconstitutional policies and regulations and stop all extralegal civil enforcement. Until it does, I recommend that all South Riding property owners abstain from voting in the Board of Directors election. We should deny them a quorum and prevent them from operating at all until they confine themselves within the limits of natural law and human rights.