Originally Published on March 22, 2012.

The Weekender has been a bit ornery of late, heaping criticisms on elected officials past, present and also on the campaigning wannabes. It’s time for me to ratchet down the cynicism and start to “give back” by making a constructive proposal which would improve our society. Although this proposal may at first seem radical, when readers calmly and carefully consider it, they will conclude that it is beneficial, practical and in the truest sense modest.

Let’s all get behind making extreme ignorance of basic facts taught in all public schools a crime. Given the availability of a free public education throughout the United States, this proposal seems eminently fair. No exemptions for the home schooled.

The idea for this enhancement in our lives came about in the last several weeks after witnessing two closely related incidents. Both were stimulated by the presidential race and the primaries being held by Republicans to select their nominee. The day before the Kansas primary, an NPR reporter was interviewing likely voters about their opinions of the leading contenders, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. One Santorum partisan chimed in that Barack Obama had no right to be president nor to stand for re-election this November because it was a known fact that he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. He elaborated on his assertion by stating “Obama’s father was a citizen of Kenya and it says right in the Constitution that both your parents have to be citizens for you to be one.”

The very next day I was sitting at the counter of a diner in the aptly named town of Freedom Plains, New York, when the gentlemen next to me loudly proclaimed to all trying to enjoy our burgers that when Obama came to Dutchess County, he was going to be arrested as an illegal alien. The reasons stated were similar to those voiced by the Santorum backer in Kansas.

Now let’s count the many ways that arresting, convicting and jailing these two guys, as well as similar extreme ignoramuses, would benefit our great land. Imprisoning these two would reduce noise pollution and improve digestion among all of the many within earshot. Prosecutions for extreme ignorance would have a deterrent effect on other drastically uninformed people — not making them any less ignorant, but at least a little reluctant to open their mouths. It also would be a boon for primary and secondary education and, in particular, the study of American government. By the end of seventh grade, all students would be expected to know the basic and major provisions of the Constitution, including what it says about U.S. citizenship in Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The current practice (prevalent in the Upper Hudson Valley) of only knowing something about the Second Amendment and generally misunderstanding even that, would no longer be acceptable.

Another benefit of the proposed law would be an inevitable increase in the prison population. Gov. Cuomo has irresponsibly begun to close prisons with the silly argument that there are too many and these have too many empty cells. Well, after my ignorance crime law takes effect, the governor no longer will have that lame excuse.
The Weekender hasn’t worked out all the details of how this new law would function, such as what exactly constitutes extreme ignorance, but the two examples given above clearly pass the test.

Another matter to be resolved is whether the crime should be a felony or merely a misdemeanor. Congress has done a great job lately and should have an easy time working out the details. I have two suggestions for them. One might be to define a class of “accessories” to ignorance crime for parents and public school teachers of the people convicted of these crimes. Another is to make extreme ignorance a “hate crime” when the act is motivated or accompanied with bias regarding race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. In such cases, as with other hate crimes, the penalties, including jail time, would appropriately be enhanced.

Modesty, the hallmark of this proposal, dictates that this new law not be named after The Weekender.