Commentary: Why take action to benefit pagans?

it is our duty to protect the right of the individual

By Bret Hrbek

Over the past several months, Front Royal’s “conversation” about tarot card readers has gone way off target. The actual motion and issue before the Front Royal Town Council last Monday night and the subject matter that has been discussed over the past two weeks on the news, social media and at the public hearings are not the same. Ordinance 110-17 banned the economic activity of tarot card readers and others who charge to perform “magic arts.” In other words, can or should we ban a legal business in Front Royal?

The town attorney weighed in and advised us that we could not ban these businesses because of Fourth Circuit Court rulings. Even a representative from the conservative American Center for Law & Justice — founded by Pat Robertson — essentially concurred.

What this comes down to is the basic American ideal that free speech is not limited to just the speech that we agree with.

Unfortunately for our community this issue has moved past the point of just economics. Vocal members of our town have made Front Royal the current epicenter for a faith war and it is one that has not drawn a favorable light onto Front Royal. Television coverage has spread across the commonwealth and across the country. What must people around the country think of us? How much harder have we made the jobs of the Economic Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce and Front Royal Independent Business Alliance to attract new businesses?

We have seen the worst of people in this debate. The best word I have heard used to describe the public hearing on ordinance 110-17 was “chilling.” That’s what it was. I feared for the future of our community. I hurt for our town.

This issue should have been cut and dry. We should have repealed this ordinance without incident. I will not judge the people and the times from 70 years ago. I cannot understand their thinking or the context in which this ordinance was written. But I can determine that it is not consistent with what is acceptable today.

Above all else though, there is one point that was raised at the public hearing that has not been given a lot of attention and is, to me, the most frightening question of all. It is worse than absurd accusations that our Warren County teachers are recruiting children to be gay or pagans. It is worse than demanding that the state determine what is a worthy religion or who should be determined a journalist. It was the question of why “take the action to benefit pagans — a small part of the population?”

This question goes to the heart of why we exist as public officials. The entire purpose of government and the rule of law is to protect the rights of the minority — especially the smallest minority of all: the individual.

Rights are derived at the individual level. Natural or God-given rights do not belong to a group. Gay rights, women’s rights, black rights, Christian rights are all man-made. Only individual rights are natural. The right to freely believe or not believe in a deity and practice that belief (as long as one is not violating the natural right of another through force) is one of the most basic rights we have as human beings.

This is why we take the time we do to debate this and other topics like it. While providing roadways, schools, parks, economic development and utilities are important local government functions, it is our duty to protect the right of the individual to exist that is paramount and the primary reason government exists.

When we violate the rights of one person, we take away the right to exist for all people. We — I — didn’t need the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to tell us repeal of this ordinance was the right thing to do. We didn’t need the Fourth Circuit. We didn’t need the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Constitution to instruct us. We know that allowing a person to make a living or to practice their faith is the right thing to do because it is our natural right as man. I’m proud that Front Royal has taken this step to restore liberty to the people.

Bret Hrbek is a member of the Front Royal Town Council and former vice mayor of the town.