Letters to the Editor

By Montecito Journal   |   December 17, 2020

Shock and Law

In an article in MJ’s Dec 3-10 issue, Rinaldo S. Brutoco describes the recent Supreme Court decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v Cuomo as astounding, shocking, incredible, and “out of left field.” The only thing shocking to this former trial lawyer is Mr. Brutoco’s total misstatement of the facts of this case and the law.

The facts were that the Governor of New York by executive order placed severe restrictions on the number of individuals that could attend religious services when their service area was classified as red (no more than 10 people) or orange (no more than 25). These restrictions were without regard to the denomination or size of the cathedral, church, temple, or mosque. In the Catholic Diocese which brought the case, 26 churches were covered by the order: Almost all held at least 500; 14 held at least 700; and two held over 1,000. The restrictions applied notwithstanding the precautions the churches had taken including requiring social distancing, masks, open windows and doors, eliminating singing, and disinfecting between services. The restrictions applied notwithstanding the absence of COVID outbreaks at these houses of worship.

None of these severe restrictions applied to business and activities that were deemed essential. Included in this excepted category were acupuncturists, camp grounds, garages, airports, bus stations, hardware stores, liquor stores, laundromats, bike repair shops, pet stores, big box stores, accountants, lawyers, and several more.

The church plaintiffs appealed the lower courts’ decisions refusing to enjoin the Governor from enforcing the law against the churches. The majority of the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decision and granted a preliminary injunction finding the striking difference in the treatment of the religious community to be discriminatory and a violation of the First Amendments prohibition on government making laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

As required in assessing any limitation on First Amendment freedoms, the court applied a “strict scrutiny” standard of review. While the court recognized that controlling a pandemic was a legitimate state interest, any laws regarding such must be neutral in application where First Amendment protections are threatened. The governor’s order was anything but neutral and discriminated against houses of worship. As aptly put by Judge Neil Gorsuch in his concurrence: “while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there in no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques.”

Mr. Brutoco’s editorial sidesteps the patent religious discrimination presented by the facts of the case, and argues the Supreme Court should not have decided the case because the issue was moot at the time of the decision. Shortly before the hearing, the Governor reclassified the Brooklyn area as “yellow” which permitted larger gatherings. Noting that the Governor had reclassified areas of the State several times without notice, sometimes daily, the Court recognized that the churches were under constant threat of future discrimination and had no immediate recourse. What protection against First Amendment freedoms is there if on the eve of a Supreme Court challenge to a law, the State mitigates the damage by changing the law, only to reenact the original law after the case is heard?

It is simply wrong to suggest that the Supreme Court has never decided a case that was “moot” particularly when denial of Constitutional rights are capable of being repeated, yet may evade judicial review. Most notably, Roe v Wade, was a moot case when it was decided as the plaintiff had given birth to her child and put it up for adoption before the case was heard. Under Mr. Brutoco’s reasoning, the court should have dismissed the case as “moot” “by the time it arrived at the court”?

Given the facts and the law, to describe the reasoning of the Court in Roman Catholic Diocese v Cuomo as religious prejudice of overwhelmingly Catholic justices wanting to protect their religion is unfounded and smacks of religious bigotry. There is a reason that the free exercise of religion is the first protection granted in the First Amendment, even before freedom of speech, press, or assembly. It was, and remains today, that important.

Lawrence W. Dam

Too Much for the Eyes

Great job on the latest columns! I especially enjoyed the one about plugging the oil leaks and the BAR (with my quote!) and all those damnable white buildings in town. It’s practically eye blinding! Though, yes, I understand, the Xmas shopping possibilities are endless (good job on that one, too), if you’ve got the bucks.

Hope your holidays are okay or even better!


Fran Davis

Indio Muerto Street: Let’s Remember and Honor the Native American Found There

Back in 1851, when the grid for Santa Barbara streets was being planned, surveyors stumbled onto a body of a dead Native American. The street put in at that location was named “Indio Muerto Street,” meaning “Dead Indian Street.” Because of the story associated with it, Indio Muerto Street has become a landmark in Santa Barbara history.

Due to an outcry from Chumash people and members of the public, on September 30, 2020 the City of Santa Barbara voted to change the name to what Chumash leaders suggested, “Hutash Street.” Hutash is a good word and a good name but does not tell the story of the Native American found there. Is he to be forgotten? Why aren’t the Chumash leaders honoring one of their ancestors?

Why wasn’t a replacement name about him like “In Honor of the Unknown Native American Street” not chosen? A similar concept would be the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” It’s time this concept was applied locally towards a Native American. A great opportunity is being wasted, and the memory of this person is being swept under the rug. The City of Santa Barbara is helping this to happen – but no surprise – as the City has been harming Native Americans for hundreds of years.

However a person feels about the name “Indio Muerto Street,” one cannot deny that it is a reminder of the terrible things done to Native Americans.

The “Indio Muerto” sign is being taken down by the city on December 14, 2020. The Barbarino Chumash Tribal Council is sponsoring a series of events in honor of the name change from December 7-20. Looking at their site, it’s clear they’re standing for some good things. From their site: “These wrapped posts will transform into prayer poles for unknown people who have suffered and/or have died from state and domestic violence, abuse, terror, and the current effects of the pandemic… A prayer for Peace, Love, and Tranquility will be offered as the common denominator of the world and of Native Peoples and as the antidote for hate.” Sounds like the beautiful prayer of Saint Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace…”

I appreciate the good this group has to offer, and hope it will focus on other issues than a historic street name that’s been around for 170 years.

What about the gambling industry that bankrupts so many poor people? I wish this group were trying to take down the Chumash Casino.

Landmarks and signs of historic importance shouldn’t be removed unless something comparable is put in their place to offset the loss. In this case, a monument or plaque telling the story of Indio Muerto Street could be erected. I wrote to the Santa Barbara City Council on the issue.

The only response I received from the Council was from Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez. He said, “We are speaking with the Chumash tribes about placing a plaque telling the story of the unknown native there.” Monuments and signs that offend people are taken down these days, but seldom are they replaced with anything. There’s no requirement in the case of Indio Muerto Street. That plaque could be a long time coming. And it’s a lot easier to take something down than create something worthwhile.

I responded to Mr. Gutierrez: “That’s nice to hear, Oscar. It would be nice if a banner honoring the deceased Native American had been hung by the street sign a long time ago. I hope the story behind the name ‘Indio Muerto Street’ actually gets told. Hopefully, the plaque isn’t too small…”

Plaques tend to be small and barely noticed by the public. A larger monument would be seen. In 1926 a beautiful monument in Santa Barbara was erected about a dog and his animal friends – “Jack and his Friends.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a monument of at least this size were dedicated to this Native American on the site of Indio Muerto Street?

What’s next in the effort to remove things created by past generations? Will this Chumash group want to remove the street name “Juana Maria,” which is located near Indio Muerto Street? Juana Maria was the famous Native American woman who spent 18 years living alone on San Nicolas Island. Trouble is the name Juana Maria came from the Catholics. But still the name Juana Maria is part of local history. A monumental plaque honors her at the Santa Barbara Mission. Is this group going to want it taken down?

Instead of taking things down, why not focus energy on creating new monuments to honor the Chumash?

Bryan Rosen

Let’s All Be Good Citizens

Two weekends ago there were two cases of COVID among full-time maintenance staff at one of our village’s beachfront condo complexes, Montecito Shores. The HOA board, acting responsibly, quickly informed homeowners as well as the HOAs at adjacent complexes, Sea Meadow and Bonnymede, where I live. They also contacted the Montecito Association, whose super-efficient Executive Director Sharon Byrne keeps discreet but thorough track of all things. Where would we be without Sharon’s newsletters, and the new MJ online, to keep us all connected during the pandemic?

It’s unfortunate that not everyone is so committed to duty and community. Obviously, the word about those COVID cases needed to get out pronto to all 250 beach complex homeowners – enabling us to inform our cleaners, contractors, and tenants, and to check on elderly neighbors. Yet we heard nothing but crickets for a week at Bonnymede. And even at that late date, condo owners received an email mentioning just one of the COVID cases. If only this were merely a one-time thing. In late March, after thieves cut a seven-foot hole in Bonnymede’s fencing adjacent to the railroad tracks – stealing more than $50,000 of our equipment – owners were not informed of a major burglary and substantial loss. Yet a Bonnymede board member casually disclosed all the details publicly at a Montecito Association board meeting that a couple of us happened to attend via Zoom. To add insult to injury, the HOA board has just refused to replace that aged fencing with something taller and stronger, as was done recently at Sea Meadow to improve security. Bonnymede homeowners also have not forgotten our frustration that after the January 2018 mudslide – which destroyed seven out of our 11 acres – the HOA waited a week to inform us of the mudslide. Their excuse was they didn’t have our email addresses!

During a decade in the village, and 27 years in the county, my family has become accustomed to a high level of good citizenship, generosity, fellowship, and neighborliness. Whatever level of fiduciary duty and responsibility you have to others, official or unofficial, please take it seriously. Do the right thing. Be a good human. And don’t suffer in silence when your elected leadership fails to perform. A beach neighbor has created a private Facebook group to facilitate communication and direct information sharing in our close quarters. If you own or rent at one of the three beach communities, you need to know what’s going on. Be sure to join at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/bluebirdranch

Eileen White Read

The Problem with Pardons

Being pardoned is a mark of shame. It means, obviously, that one is guilty. Innocent people do not need pardoning.

So, obviously the wise men who put together our Constitution could not have intended that a sitting (or golf playing) president could pardon himself. 

If that had been their plan, a President could become president for the sole purpose of stealing/bribing for example, or for “shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it“ (I quote D. Trump), or pay his/her daughter taxpayers’ money for doing nothing, or withholding promised money from a foreign government in exchange for “dirt” on a political opponent…

A sitting president could do all that if he had the choice afterwards of a pardon. Oh wait! I think this president is thinking of doing just that! And more, and more, including pardoning himself. (Does that mean he is finally admitting his transgressions against democracy?)

How did this bloated narcissistic amoral racist unintelligent non-tax paying self-serving bully ever ever get into the highest office in our United States? How? (And anyone who does not agree with my characterization of this President has been cowering under a rock these past four years.)

That such a disastrous event happened is both scary and amazing. I am hoping history will show him to have been an insignificant blip in the presidential story of this country, as I truly believe he is just that: “Donald Trump: blip.”

“Sir, what was your contribution to your country?” “Just a blip, ma’am; just a blip.”

Happy, happy, happy to see him blip off, 

Nancy Freeman


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