Excessive Solicitousness

Montgomery County, MD abuts the northwest corner of Washington, DC and it is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. The county resembles Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, “where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” The county has no transit troubles and the average commute is a five-minute stroll from the front porch. There are no drug problems, no spousal abuse, no homelessness, and no poverty. Indeed the problems that plague other jurisdictions do not exist and the poor county council struggles to find problems to address. What else can explain the recent events in the county?

A couple of weeks ago, the county council passed legislation that drew national attention. The county would make it punishable by a fine if a person smoking in his own home annoyed a neighbor. There were no quantitative restrictions on the level of particulates that could permissibly escape from one property to another. Annoyance was the criteria.

After national ridicule, the county executive, after initially supporting the legislation, vetoed it. It became clear that the law would just become one more tool that squabbling neighbors could brandish against one another. Perhaps the clincher was the argument that since minorities smoke at higher rates, they would be disproportionately affected by the new regulation.

Just when that commotion started to die down, Kensington, MD, a town in Montgomery County, dispensed with the services of Santa Claus in lighting a holiday tree. A couple of people had perennially claimed that Santa was a religious symbol that should not appear at a publicly sponsored event. They finally had their way. The First Amendment argument against Santa had no merit. Even the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Arthur Spitzer, conceded that he doubts that “a court would tell Kensington they could not have Santa Claus.”

Fear not, Kensington, there will be a Santa Claus. Santa will be there, as Francis Church would say “as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist [1].” Whether or not Kensington will have an official Santa, throngs of locals have vowed to show up dressed in Santa costumes, demonstrating that common sense has not entirely fled the county. Indeed, the whole commotion has guaranteed that even more attention will be devoted to Santa at this year’s celebration.

These two events are bound by the common thread of excessive solicitousness to vocal minorities intent on bullying the majority. In the case of Montgomery County, the issues were relatively minor and squelched by the ridicule they deserved.

What happened recently a country away was far worse. At Orange Coast College in California, Political Science Professor Kenneth Hearlson was suspended without a hearing and told not to return to campus, after several Muslim students complained Hearlson had called them personally “terrorists,” “Nazis,” and “murderers.”

The knee-jerk reaction of the college again was excessive solicitousness. Hearlson was punished summarily and the validity of the complaints was accepted without question. Fortunately for Hearlson, a couple of students taped the September-18 class. The transcript clearly shows that Hearlson criticized some Muslim leaders for not speaking out against the September 11 attack on the US, but he went out of his way to point out that not all Muslims are responsible for the events of September 11.

Despite the transcript, Orange Coast College President Margaret Gratton, as of the end of November, had not reinstated Hearlson or issued a formal apology to him. The students who made the demonstrably false and malicious allegations have not been punished. Mooath Saidi, one of Hearlson’s accusers, when confronted with the transcript, argued, “…if some of the allegations I made were not maybe right, if my memory was shady, this is not the first time anybody brought anything against this teacher… [Hearlson] has a history, and he obviously hasn’t learned and he needs to be taught a lesson. [2]”


  1. Church, Francis P., “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897.
  2. Schemo, Diana Jean, “New Battle in Old War Over Freedom of Speech,” N.Y. Times, November 25, 2001.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.