Frederick advocacy group bemoans erosion of constitutional freedoms -- Gazette.Net


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Ben Reddington scrolled through his iPad, instructing about 35 onlookers in the upstairs room of a Frederick restaurant on the history and details of the Fourth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution.

He talked about the Patriot Act, intrusive searches by the Transportation Security Administration following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the FBI’s use of national security letters to conduct secret investigations.

After Reddington finished, members of the audience discussed various aspects of the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

Participants brought up court cases they’d been following or personal experiences in which they believe their rights had been violated, often sparking other threads of discourse among the group.

The event was the monthly meeting of Frederick Campaign for Liberty, a group focused on maintaining individual liberties and constitutional government.

Campaign for Liberty groups first sprang up nationally in 2008, and came to Maryland in 2009, said Jason Laird, one of the leaders of the Frederick chapter.

That group began holding regular meetings in 2011, after initially meeting in Hagerstown with other groups from Allegany and Washington counties.

They took a hiatus for a few months before starting up again with regular meetings in the summer of 2012.

Since resuming, their attendance has increased, with about 30 people at their September meeting, 35 in October and 40 in November, according to Laird.

Dean Harding of Jefferson, who has attended four or five meetings, said he is drawn to them because he’s dissatisfied with the direction of the nation.

Harding said he thinks the group and others like it will continue to grow as more people become dissatisfied with high unemployment, lowered wages and losing their homes.

Ron Meyer of Frederick was attending his third meeting after a coworker brought the group to his attention.

Meyer said he thinks lots of people are looking for change.

Each month’s meeting covers a different amendment to the U.S. Constitution, with the Dec. 20 meeting featuring Reddington’s presentation on the Fourth Amendment.

The group isn’t affiliated with any political party, but its members tend to focus on issues that reflect their general interests in free markets, sound government and money decisions, and a noninterventionist foreign policy, Laird said.

“We don’t think that the government is the right vehicle to affect social change,” said Darren Wigfield, another leader of the Frederick chapter.

While parts of their agenda overlap with the wider Tea Party movement, Laird and Wigfield said they believe that the movement has been co-opted by political forces that have moved it away from the original purpose.

One of the Frederick group’s current issues is calling for the repeal of Senate Bill 236, an effort by Maryland to limit the spread of septic systems in large developments to control the amount of nitrogen emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.

Laird said the bill is a threat to small farms because it limits the property rights of farmers to subdivide parts of their land and sell them to pay their tax bills or hand them down to future generations.

Patrick Opitz of Frederick criticized the bill for placing control of local property decisions in the hands of state bureaucrats rather than the people who are directly affected by them.

“Everyone’s for smart growth,” Opitz said. “But smart growth doesn’t mean someone way over there tells you what you can do with your property. Smart growth is letting people who own the land decide the best way to handle their property.”

The meeting also featured a talk by Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R), who claimed property rights are “under assault” by actions like the septic bill.

“With measures such as SB 236, Maryland wants to tell people where to live and how to live,” Young said.

But Rich Josephson, the director of planning services for the Maryland Department of Planning and who helped develop the bill, said it provides local jurisdictions a way to do what they say they’re going to do in their comprehensive plans and another tool to further their preservation and development goals.

People also need to look at the state as a whole and acknowledge that there is a broader interest in maintaining the health of the Chesapeake Bay, one of the state’s driving economic forces, Josephson said.

“It’s in the best interest of the whole state to do things that keep the bay clean,” Josephson said.

As part of their opposition to the bill, the Frederick Campaign for Liberty distributed fliers in some areas of the county criticizing Young’s father, state Sen. Ron Young (D-Dist. 3) of Frederick, for his support of the bill.

Laird said they were looking for legislators who’d voted for the bill to try and make the issue relevant locally.

“We don’t want to talk about [Gov. Martin] O’Malley, or [President Barack] Obama, or anyone else who’s out of our reach,” he said.

Ron Young said he stands by his support for the bill, the final version of which had been developed as a result of a series of compromises engineered by Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton (D-Dist. 28) of Waldorf, a farmer himself.

Young said he also met with leaders of the Frederick County Farm Bureau to address concerns they had about the bill.

The Chesapeake Bay is an economic engine for Maryland and needs to be protected, he said.

“I think it’s a sensible bill,” Young said.

rmarshall@gazette.net