WASHINGTON — Catholic architect Robert Smith finds it ironic that he was fired last month by Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Jr. from the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

Smith’s transgression: He upheld traditional Catholic teachings about homosexuality during one of his regular appearances as a political analyst on a local cable TV program.

“The really bizarre thing here is that Maryland was founded as a haven for Catholics under persecution in England,” Smith said. “Here we are almost 400 years later, and this is still an issue.”

The controversy that led to Smith’s dismissal from a state appointment had its genesis during the June 9 taping of “21 This Week,” a cable TV show on which he has appeared as a panelist for the last 12 years. Smith said he has often defended Church teachings on hot-button issues like abortion and homosexuality on the show, which some locals have nicknamed “The McLaughlin Group for Montgomery County.”

On the June 9 show, during a brief discussion of the proposed federal amendment to ban homosexual “marriage,” another panelist pointed out that Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Richard Cheney, had said that she wouldn’t want the government interfering in her life.

“That’s fine, that’s fine,” Smith interjected. “But that doesn’t mean that the government should proffer a special place of entitlement within the laws of the United States for persons of sexual deviancy.”

When the show aired later that weekend, Smith said that an openly homosexual representative in the Maryland General Assembly watched the broadcast and relayed what he had said to James Graham, an openly homosexual District of Columbia councilman.

Graham represents the district on the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Smith was also a member of that board as a representative of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission, where he had served as a member since being appointed in 2003 by Ehrlich.

Set-Up?

When the transit authority board convened June 16, Smith said a pack of reporters were on hand, having been tipped that Graham intended to confront him about his “sexual deviancy” comment. Until then, Smith said, he had no idea anyone was upset.

Graham demanded that Smith issue a public retraction or resign from the board. Smith refused, and told reporters afterward that he stood by his earlier remarks.

“Homosexual behavior, in my view, is deviant,” he said, the Washington Post reported. “I’m a Roman Catholic.”

A few hours later, Ehrlich issued a press release stating that Smith had been dismissed from his state position.

“Robert Smith’s comments were highly inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable,” Ehrlich said. “They are in direct conflict to my administration’s commitment to inclusiveness, tolerance and opportunity.”

Smith said Ehrlich did not contact him before or after the dismissal to discuss the matter. He suspects that the governor, who is a Republican, took the action solely to boost his re-election chances this fall.

“It’s obviously, in my mind, part of the election-year politics,” Smith said. “The governor is behind in the polls, Maryland is a 2-1 Democratic state, it’s known as a very liberal state and the governor is trying to court votes from the liberal side of the agenda.”

Added Smith, “I happen to think that’s probably not a very good strategy. In doing that, he’s cutting off a significant number of people in his base.”

Ehrlich’s spokesman Henry Falwell said the governor had “respectfully declined” the Register’s request for an interview.

Bill Donohue

Catholic League President Bill Donohue became embroiled in the fallout from Smith’s firing when he appeared June 21 as a guest on “The Ron Smith Show,” a talk-radio program on Baltimore’s WBAL station.

During the show, Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan called in to challenge Donohue’s assertion that Smith’s controversial remarks were in agreement with the Church’s teaching that homosexual behavior is “intrinsically disordered.”

Donohue cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Catechism states, “Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’” (No. 2357).

Flanagan’s office did not reply to the Register’s request for an interview.

Speaking June 28 to the Register, Donohue said that Smith’s remark about “sexual deviancy” accords both with Church teaching and with the generally accepted secular understanding of homosexuality up to the 1970s, before many social scientists stopped classifying homosexual behavior as “deviant” because of pressure from homosexual activists.

And, Donohue said, Ehrlich’s effort to muzzle Smith’s opinion showed “a lack of respect” for religious expression and free speech rights.

The New York-based Donohue said that Ehrlich might have had reason to discipline Smith for his remarks, had Smith made his comments in his official capacity. “However, he wasn’t speaking in that role,” Donohue noted. “If he can’t say that on a cable TV show after hours, then we really have put at stake freedom of speech.”

Added Donohue, “This guy Ehrlich is a menace to democracy. He should be thrown out by voters, purely on the basis of his contempt for the First Amendment.”

Family Tradition

Paying a price politically for standing up for Catholic teachings is a tradition in Smith’s family. His uncle, Michael Foley, lost his seat in the Maryland General Assembly in 1974, largely because of his opposition to the legalization of abortion.

Said Smith, “I think we were raised with the notion that there is a duty and responsibility to be truthful, and I think just on a basic level to be truthful and honest is what is comes down to.”

Tom McFeely is based in

Victoria, British Columbia.