Census: It IS illegal; to not answer it.

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People-FreeFoto-dot-com-image.jpgI received my Census form yesterday, filled it out in under 5 minutes, and dropped it in the outgoing mail. When it arrived, I gave a moment's thought to whether it was important enough to take the time then to complete it, or not. I immediately recognized the importance of the census to a democratically elected government which is supposed to serve the interests of the people of the nation. To do that, the government needs to know how many people there are and where they are located, and a few particulars. I took the time and got it out of the way.

This morning, while researching an entirely different topic, I came across a Rasmussen article citing a poll which indicates only 13% of Americans know it is illegal to fail to answer all the Census form questions. I did answer them all, yesterday, but, was not aware, like most of my fellow Americans, that it was illegal to not answer all the questions.

'Ignorance of the law is no defense', is a time honored maxim in America's justice system. But, is it a valid maxim? Why is it only 13% of Americans are aware of the law regarding the Census? Like most Americans, I have seen the commercials about the Census forms being mailed out on TV. Like most Americans, received my advance notice letter that my Census form would arrive in a week or so. What I didn't see in the commercial or the advance letter was any warning that it was illegal to fail to complete the census form.

Is this Census law enforced? If it isn't, that would explain the absence of wording to inform the public about the law regarding their Census obligation. If the law is enforced, however, and their are legal penalties to be levied against violators, doesn't our government have a responsibility to inform the public about the law regarding the Census. After all, it only occurs once every ten years.

An Associated Press article dated March 16, concludes by advising readers: "Failure to respond to the census carries a fine of up to $5,000, although that law is rarely enforced." That same article also cites Census Bureau director Robert Groves as saying: "If everyone who receives a census form mails it back, the government would save an estimated $1.5 billion in follow-up visits."

With 1.5 billion tax dollars on the line, is not in the public interest to both inform the public of the law, and enforce it, regarding the legal requirement to complete the Census form? It is this lack of enforcement that sets the backdrop for Republican Representative Michelle Bachmann to reportedly state in a June 18 Washington Times article that: "she will not fill out anything more than the number of people in her household" for the 2010 census because "the questions have become 'very intricate, very personal' " and because "she feared ACORN."

There was nothing intricate nor very personal asked in my form, other than the names of those in my household and my phone number. Conservative critics like Glenn Beck have been advocating against completing the Census form as if it was some kind of violation of the U.S. Constitution and right to privacy. The fact is, the U.S. Constitution clearly calls for a national Census taking as the basis upon which to apportion the number of Representatives to fill the House of Representatives as the people's spokespersons.

A Media Matters article dated June 25, 2009 reports:

In an interview with Clyne on the May 22 edition of Fox News show, Beck called the questions included in the ACS "unconstitutional," stating, "I mean, I'll tell you how many people live in my house. I don't think I need to tell you this. This is unconstitutional; I don't think I need to tell you all of this."

On the May 20 edition of his radio show, Neal Boortz told a caller, "I received a census form the other day asking me a whole bunch of questions about my small business. I threw it in the trash. I'm not going to answer it. None of their damn business." He later added that "the federal government and the state government, they have a legitimate reason for knowing how many people live where. They have no legitimate reason for knowing anything else. The rest of the information is -- most of the rest of the information is designed to help the government steal from you in order to pass off your property to the moochers. They're looters."

It would seem conservatives who rant about the deficits and debt, are a contributory cause for the 1.5 billion dollars to be added to the deficit this year due to the refusal of citizens to mail back their completed Census form. This kind of hostility by conservatives toward the Census may also fuel violence toward Census workers hired to visit citizen's homes and businesses to acquire their Census information.

There is a glaring irony to this story. In 2000, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and North Carolina each had below-average mail participation rates of less than 70 percent, according to newly released census data. Except possibly for N. Carolina, these are all heavy Republican states. If conservatives avoid the Census, their states may be denied additional House of Representative seats as a result of a lower census count for their state, which would mean fewer Republicans in the House of Representatives.

I have come to the conclusion after this research, that our government has an ethical and legal responsibility to make every effort to enforce the fines against those who refuse to mail back their forms or answer the Census taker's questions in full, or abolish the enforcement law, altogether. It is a very slippery slope for government to effect laws which it does not enforce rigorously. It breeds contempt for the law in the open public square as evidenced by the likes of Michelle Bachmann and Glenn Beck. Contempt for the law can undermine a nation built upon the rule of law. Americans have the right to speak openly and critically of the law. They should, however, be absolutely certain that refusing to comply with the law will incur legal consequences.

There can be no equality in the eyes of the law if some are punished for violating the law and others are not. This accurate perception by the American public that this is precisely what takes place in America, is very similar to the perception of injustice our founders perceived as reason to reject the laws of England, entirely.

I also believe, however, that ignorance of the law SHOULD be a defense, when lawmakers and the executive branches of government do little, to nothing, to inform the public about the law. The Census TV commercial and the advance notification letter are obliged, in a rule of law nation, to include clear and bold language informing the public of the law on this Census taking. Failure to do so invites ignorance as a defense.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on March 18, 2010 9:30 AM.

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