Judge Ye Not, Mr. Vitter

There are several lessons in the Bible that advise us about being judgmental, and lying. In John, we are told that Jesus stops an angry crowd from stoning to death an adulterous woman by exclaiming, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7. In other points in the New Testament, we receive additional counseling on being judgmental: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Matthew 7:1. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37. “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” Romans 2:1.  And then there’s the classic from Exodus 20:16: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” I like to think of these things when supposedly religious folk get judgmental.

Today, U.S. Senator David Vitter accused Trout Unlimited of engaging in bribery by offering the chance to win a free trip to those people who commented on the EPA revised draft watershed assessment.

There are a few things noteworthy about this otherwise short news piece that probably won’t get much attention.  First, bribery is a term of art; namely, it is a criminal act. Every state has its own criminal code and defines it differently.  Under Alaska Statute 11.55.100, bribery occurs when a “person confers, offers to confer, or agrees to confer a benefit upon a public servant with the intent to influence the public servant’s vote, opinion, judgment, action, decision, or exercise of official discretion.” It is also a Class B Felony under Alaska law. The definition of “bribery” under Louisiana law is similar, as found in Revised Statute 14:118.

Second, a U.S. Senator has now publicly accused a nationwide non-profit organization of engaging in a criminal act, perhaps even a pattern of criminal conduct as the “bribe” was offered to several people.  (Let’s set aside the fact that, under Alaska’s definition of “bribery” and likely that of all other states, you can’t commit a bribe unless you are offering some sort of benefit to a “public servant” or “public official.” It doesn’t count if the “benefit” is offered to the public.  No official.) When you orally make a false statement about someone else, that’s what they call slander. Lawyers make whole careers over suing people for that stuff.  And when your slanderous statement is an accusation of a crime, that’s what is called “slander per se” – meaning, it is defamatory on its face without any explanatory matter.  Now, of course, Senator Vitter could just claim it’s hyperbole as a defense, but that leads me to my third point.

Third, let’s go back to what the New Testament teaches us about judging others. Senator Vitter is an “outspoken Catholic,” having been raised in and still practicing in the Roman Catholic faith.  Catholics proudly declare they were the first Christian church, tracing their papal roots right back to Apostle Peter, the most beloved of all Jesus’ disciples. According to news reports, he is on record for admitting that he engaged in prostitution. In Alaska, that’s a Class C Felony (AS 11.66.100(c)(1)). 

So, I offer some unsolicited (and would totally be ignored if it ever got to him) advice to Senator Vitter: Don’t run around accusing people of committing crimes when you know it’s not true because you are smart enough to know that bribes only involve public officials and you yourself are an admitted criminal. Try actually governing if you really need some attention.  You bet your ass that it would receive a lot of coverage because that would really be a rare event worthy of at least one 24-hour news cycle.

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