Photo Caption: Sheriff Mack asks the audience what would have happened if the sheriff of Montgomery chose not to enforce the unconstitutional law, and allowed Rosa Parks her seat.
A nationally renowned and retired Arizona sheriff pulled over at Ohio University's campus Saturday morning, not to enforce the law, but instead to denounce local and federal laws and enforcement that he claims violate constitutional rights.
Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly, a Democrat, sat among the audience gathered to listen to the self-proclaimed "libertarian constitutional conservative."
"My body belongs to me, not to government, and government should never assume the role of protecting me from my own stupidity," said former Graham County (Arizona) Sheriff Richard Mack in an interview with The Athens NEWS before the event. "To have such an arrogant attitude among government is to have the destruction of freedom."
Saturday, Sept. 17, was Constitution Day, the U.S. Constitution's 224th anniversary of signing. The OU Young Americans for Liberty's president, Ibriham Alassaf, invited Sheriff Mack to speak on campus. (Alassaf, an OU student, is running as a Democrat for Athens County commissioner.)
Sheriff Mack, a frequent guest on TV news networks and Tea Party rallies, slammed enforcement of drug and gun prohibition, agricultural regulation and tax laws "abuses of power." He said this enforcement does not serve the "supreme authority" of the Constitution, but instead the misguided agendas of the national government.
Mack first joined law enforcement in 1977. By 1988, he had become sheriff in his home county in southeast Arizona, where he began a lawsuit against the federal government after it enacted the Brady Bill, which required sheriffs of each county to carry out background checks on gun buyers. Mack opposed the bill, citing the 10th amendment, and eventually took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in 1997 he prevailed in a 5-4 decision.
"The oaths that sheriffs and other members of government must take are to the Constitution, not to the national government," insisted Mack.
Mack criticized enforcement carried out by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and the federal Food and Drug Administration across the country. He said that he has actively protested these agencies' involvement, going as far as drinking raw "freedom" milk outside the Pennsylvania statehouse after the FDA shut down an Amish farm for distributing unpasteurized milk.
"My contention is that the local officials, especially the sheriff, should put the government in its place," said Mack during his 50-minute presentation. "The sheriff has the authority to tell the federal government, 'You're not going to do that here anymore.'"
After Mack's presentation, Sheriff Kelly told The Athens NEWS that he does not agree wholeheartedly with the Arizona sheriff's antagonistic position against federal agencies.
"He mentioned the Department of Agriculture," said Kelly. "We have to have somebody oversee these kinds of things, because even with raw milk, what if a bad batch gets out and we have an epidemic? Agencies are good as long as they live within their powers."
In his book, "The Proper Role of Law Enforcement" and his speech on Saturday, Mack not only attacked the federal government for getting involved at a local level. He also suggested local officials relax their enforcement, and preserve it for when somebody is clearly infringing on other people's rights.
"Any sheriff in this country should re-address whether he wants to risk the lives of his officers to stop people from smoking a joint," said Mack.
Mack even nicknamed excessive traffic ticket writing "taxation through citation."
"Insurance companies benefit from what we do in law enforcement and writing tickets, so vicariously I'm actually writing for the insurance company, not we the people," said Mack.
This type of "we the people" enforcement might look favorable to a typical OU student driver. Sheriff Kelly, however, looked at it differently from Mack.
"[If] they're putting other people's lives in danger, should we have the right to cite that person? Absolutely," said Kelly. "Because a law only becomes a law when people understand it is a law."
Kelly did agree that most enforcement decisions should be preserved for the sheriff of the county and not governmental agencies such as the state Department of Public Safety.
(In Athens County, the state agency's liquor enforcement section has an active presence in enforcing underage drinking laws, often working independently of local police agencies.)
"I work for the people of Athens County. When we get to the point that we have state agencies, that's not necessarily a good thing. Funding goes to the state level," said Kelly. "If funding was done right, funding would go to the county sheriffs, and we'd be able to take care of our own people and own counties."
Kelly said he came to hear Mack speak in order to broaden his perspective. "When it comes to the citizens of Athens County, that's my responsibility first and foremost," said Kelly. "To me, it's education, and I want to be educated in all aspects."
There were a number of supporters of strict "constitutional enforcement" in the audience. Brian Duffy, 48, a Meigs County resident and on the board of the Ohio Freedom Alliance, expressed his disapproval with the way raids are conducted in local areas across the country.
"All of our law enforcement walk around today with shaved heads, and they have the same appearance of the soldier standing on the street corner in Iraq has," said Duffy, who said he has over 20 years of Special Operations experience in the U.S. Army. "He's supposed to be bringing peace to the community, not policing the community."
Alassaf said he would like to "follow up" with Sheriff Kelly, and suggested that they invite Sheriff Mack back to Athens County to train officers about constitutional law and law enforcement.
The day before the Mack spoke for Constitution Day, Students For Liberty (focused on educational activism) and Young Americans for Liberty (focused on political activism) set up a Free Speech Wall at Baker Center across from College Green. As they walked between classes Friday, students approached the three large plywood boards to write phrases such as, "Politics will never solve our problems," "Stop bitching at Muslims" and "Love before it's too late." Perhaps the person who name-checked Voltaire summed it up best with the philosopher's paraphrased words, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
SFL launched in 2008, and YAL came shortly after in 2010.