When the American revolution against King George began in earnest, and the founders of our republic signed a document declaring their intentions to fight the established government and to pledge their lives and their honor to that struggle, they were exercising and celebrating freedom. The legally constituted authority was denounced on July 4, 1776 as “an absolute tyranny” by the revolutionaries, but it did not see itself in that light. The British government proceeded to defend its own sovereign national interest, saw our founding fathers as a despicable terrorist cabal, and acted ruthlessly to restore law and order and its own authority, and protect its business and corporate interests.
Our founders did not express freedom by parading and waving the flag of the world’s biggest imperial power. They questioned, they petitioned, they challenged that power when it usurped their “inalienable rights”. They flew a flag that defiantly proclaimed, “Don’t Tread On Me!” That was how our nation’s founding fathers celebrated and defended freedom on that first Independence Day.
Benjamin Franklin warned his contemporaries and posterity that those who would sacrifice freedom in order to have security would end up with neither. Ultimately the struggle for independence defeated King George’s imperial redcoats and mercenaries. Those who had courageously fought for “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” began to forge a government deriving its “…just powers from the consent of the governed…laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as…shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”. This foundation and form became our Constitution and the precious, historic Bill of Rights.
Recall that these heroes were flush with the heady confidence that accompanies survival and victory, and carried no crippling doubts of their own intentions and judgment, or the good and just character of the democracy they were carefully creating. So it is remarkable that within the spare verbiage of this document, they took pains to inscribe a few “ restrictive clauses… in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers”.
It’s good to read again some of those clauses:
“Congress shall make no law… abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
“No person… shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial… and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
The USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law in 2001 before those voting for and signing it had even read it. As with any contract or law, the devil is in the details, and the details of this Act and the proposed Domestic Security Enhancement Act it spawned are ominous to the protections of liberty codified by the founding fathers in our Constitution and those clauses designed to prevent abuse of state power.
We should be very proud of our own Senator Russ Feingold, who actually read the entire USA PATRIOT Act before voting on it, and who courageously stood alone in the Senate against the stampede. He continues to demonstrate the confidence that we can and must defeat terror without abandoning the principles of our founders and the Constitution on which rest true American ideals and values…and our strength.
Over 100 cities, towns and counties in America have passed resolutions opposing the unconstitutional provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act. The Alaska state legislature recently voted almost unanimously to condemn the law. The Republican co-sponsor of that legislation stated, “If we sacrifice our freedom, we let terrorism win”. It’s time for true patriots here to urge our county and municipal boards to ‘let freedom ring’ and pass a similar resolution. Check out the Bill of Rights Defense Committee at http://www.bordc.org for more information. The Bill of Rights is not obsolete, and must not be trampled in history’s dust.