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January 21, 2008

From Walkersville With Bias

Steven R. Berryman

Advice from the publisher of The Tentacle, John W. Ashbury given to me recently correctly told me that “A pancake, however thin, always has 2 sides,” in reminding me to consider the aspects of perspective and fairness in my columns.

I have been formally accused of having bias in my writings in the proceedings of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Communities (AMC) petition, a.k.a. the hearings, for a special exception to the zoning regulations of farmland in Walkersville.

The column I came up with, and that Mr. Ashbury was referring to was from Monday 14th of January and titled “Lessons Learned.” That was certainly an opinion piece, from an insider’s perspective. I would agree to a bias in that instance.

There was a different article in question, though.

My formal accusation of being biased was delivered in public, in the form of a statement, made on the record and under oath, by AMC attorney Justin Hayes on Tuesday January 8 during the last 15 minutes of his case before the Zoning Appeals Board. Then he began reading from my “Deceiving the Infidel,” a musing from my personal web-log (blog) that I call InfoServesMe.

So that anyone discovering it has no doubts, I have clearly subtitled my blog “A random log of items of interest to me and a journal.” It’s a way for me to think out loud and also to vent. I’m not alone in this practice of blogging, it’s a huge trend.

That said, I am biased.

I admit it. Also Justin Hayes was also compelled to confirm that he himself was biased, as all humans are as a function of being human. He admitted this on the record during that same conversation.

“Deceiving the Infidel” was one of my speculative posts that amounted to thinking out loud for purposes of examining all of the possibilities out there in the media ether, especially in light of the AMCs lack of information and the world geo-political climate.

It entertained philosophies from the Koran that I had read in other articles and then extrapolated some what-ifs.

As we are currently at war with many radical-militant factions, some unknown, around the globe, as communicated by President George W. Bush, certainly reasonable prudence and examination is in order. The AMC themselves begged the issue in one of their own paid articles in The Frederick News Post when they invited scrutiny by Homeland Security.

Overhead emergency signs on I-270 admonish us to be constantly aware, and are omni-present.

Again, the AMC application was loaded with loose language, omissions, conflicting statements and clear deception. An example is their proposed 43,000 square building on the Moxley Farm in question: Is it a convention building? Is it a basketball facility? Is it a conference center? Is it a worship center, or a festival center…All of these have been used by AMC in a shifting and convenient fashion throughout this process.

But, of course, we have freedom of religious expression and of free congregation and association guaranteed by the laws of our country. But our Founding Fathers placed freedom of speech first in our Constitution.

I’m not a lawyer, an expert on traffic, water, sewer, or safety, (some of the only aspects under consideration by the Appeals Board) but to borrow from Glenn Beck, I am a thinker!

“Deceiving the Infidel” had been forwarded to the town by me and on my own behalf, as a citizen of Frederick County to provide some background, and was never entered into the record for consideration or read at any time. It was given an evidentiary number.

Mr. Hayes got away with quickly attempting to read about three paragraphs into it before he was correctly and swiftly gaveled down by Appeals Board Chairman Dan Thomas. It was stated by him that it would not be considered, as it was opinion only.

I don’t really know why Mr. Hayes was so excited to point all of this out as some conspiracy or subterfuge, as the article had already been published in part in a local paper, and had already been widely syndicated by other blogs. He acted like it was some smoking gun.

Actually, in the analysis, the bias accusation was an ad homonym attack on me due to their lack of pertinent facts in the matter at hand. From their perspective, they might have been better served to relate comments to the testimony presented by citizens, and items submitted for record.

Another aspect of this discussion is that I am a spokesman for the Citizens For Walkersville. In that capacity I speak for the group and not for myself. Groups think and act in a totally different way than individual citizens do. Groups find a consensus that can be agreed upon, and the fringe positions by individuals at the top and bottom of the spectrum of beliefs inevitably tend to drop out, as they did in this circumstance.

There were no continuing followers of our group after that first meeting that even considered religion as a topic for discussion. We agreed as a group to consider the issues at hand of Section 88-64 of the applicable town code, the so called A-N issues.

Mr. Hayes had tried to play “the religion card.”

Roman Storzer also was constantly on this point, as this would play into the specialty of his law practice in Storzer & Greene, the practice of suing via the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000” (RLUIPA) laws. A very lucrative practice indeed.

Justin Hayes was shot down in this instance…but would persist over the next few days.

So, to be human is to have bias. Bias is the slant we have on issues that we have developed through our readings and life-lessons. As a major news and Internet “junky,” I have been exposed to all of the flavors of this conversation.

Bias according to Webster’s is commonly intended to convey an aspect of prejudice.

Prejudice means to judge ahead of all of the pertinent facts.

It took a long time just to get some of the facts out in this case. Others never came out. We “pre-judge” as a human function in the absence of complete information, and conduct ourselves in the course of our lives via assumptions. Assumptions are what we use to fill in the gaps of knowledge until they are completed over the course of events. We can’t function without making assumptions.

Religious prejudice or bigotry is another matter entirely, however. That assumes a negative outlook towards another religion, presumably not one’s own.

A complete and thorough reading of all of the testimony given by our citizens under oath, before the Walkersville Town Appeals Board in this instance, shows zero indication of any prejudice or bigotry, but it did have bias.

The bias, though, is focused towards maintaining our peaceful enjoyment, traffic sanity and security of transportation, and not on denying anyone the ability to practice any faith.

I am writing this column as a citizen.

Case closed.

Steve Berryman can be reached at

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