IS THERE something in the water in Maryland?
I ask because over the past year the Free State has been home to a series of wacky, intrusive and divisive rulings that sometimes defy common sense while paying fealty to the politically correct wishes of holier-than-thou busybodies.
For instance, take smoking. Yes, a legitimate debate exists about the effect of second-hand smoke on nonsmokers in offices and other public places. But the scientific support for second-hand smoke leading to lung cancer in nonsmokers is weak at worst, modest at best.
Yet that didn't stop Friendship Heights in Montgomery County from trying, with the support of the Montgomery County Council, to prohibit outdoor smoking on its streets. It was snuffed out by a legal challenge.
Another measure adopted by the County Council to ban smoking, this time in restaurants, was overturned in court and is tied up in appeals. Then, inexplicably, the council decided it would again try to ban smoking - on the argument it was an indoor pollutant - in a person's own home. After national ridicule, County Executive Doug Duncan shifted gears and said he would veto it.
This kind of politically correct initiative is not the sole purview of the Montgomery County Council.
Several county school systems in the state -in Montgomery, Prince George's, St. Mary's - are now purging Indian names or mascots. About two dozen schools use such names in more than half the state's educational districts. The impetus for change is coming from the state's Commission on Indian Affairs, which is supposed to oversee social and public relations campaigns and promote appreciation for Maryland's tiny (0.3 percent) Indian population.
But in trying to force these changes on administrators, students, parents and communities, the commission is not likely to engender warm and fuzzy feelings for Indians. Some school districts have adopted these edicts voluntarily; some have not, and at least one vows to keep its "Warrior" mascot.
So far, only Montgomery's school board has offered financial support for making expensive alterations to school signs, uniforms, stationery, etc. It prompted one assistant principal to ask why there were tens of thousands of dollars available for name changes but none for students' activity buses.
Even if the use of those names is offensive to Maryland Indians, wouldn't it have been better to phase in these changes, lowering costs to free money for more pressing educational activities? Wouldn't everybody have been happier without such a heavy-handed approach?
Of course, any offense, real or imagined, seems to be a cardinal sin in Maryland. Just look at Kensington, also in Montgomery County. Its four-person council decided to ban Santa Claus from its annual Dec. 2 holiday tree-lighting ceremony because, as the mayor put it, "two families in our town felt they would be uncomfortable with Santa Claus being part of our event."
So two families, out of Kensington's population of 1,873 families, felt "uncomfortable." The town attempted to accommodate them by banning Santa and turning the holiday ceremony into a patriotic celebration.
I have nothing against patriotic celebrations, but December is not the Fourth of July. Couldn't the town say that perhaps, on this one day, those "uncomfortable" families might want to stay home and let those who want to celebrate with Santa enjoy it?
One of the protesting family members said Santa wouldn't fit into a "secular celebration." But in 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court found in Lynch vs. Donnelly that Santa Claus was indeed a "secular" figure, and he thoroughly passed constitutional muster for inclusion in a civic celebration.
The resulting negative publicity over Kensington's ban was massive and, in the end, the city reversed it. Numerous "Santas" showed up in protest. But beneath the good nature were some bruised feelings that tarnished the "celebration."
It was all predictable and completely unnecessary.
P.C. advocates like to think they're promoting tolerance and inclusion and otherwise sensitizing the population when they advocate these divisive approaches to public life. They do neither. They only sow discord when there isn't any to begin with, and rub usually genial feelings raw.
These people should be put on leashes like cats. That sounds odd, you say? Sure it does, but that was yet another P.C. trial balloon floated recently in Montgomery County, which is fast becoming a kooky jurisdiction in an increasingly bizarre state.
Neal Lavon is a journalist and writer based in Takoma Park.