by Constance Daley
The American Reporter
St. Simons Island, Ga.
July 5, 2005
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- My plan was to write something patriotic this July, and I started perusing books on my shelf for inspiration. The first quote that grabbed my attention was Benjamin Franklin saying: "They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety."
That simple line took me away from my original thought and directly to the Patriot Act, most of which I thought was okay. Now I look at Franklin's line again and see that "a little temporary safety" is what I was bargaining for by giving up some of my rights as a citizen of the United States of America.
If something about my car caused a policeman to stop and search it because it looked like a car under suspicion of carrying weapons of mass destruction, then, fine. Go ahead and stop me. The same with my person and my home and my workplace and my computer. I figured if it catches one bad guy who could lead law enforcement to the ring of others, I wouldn't mind.
But now I change my mind. Benjamin Franklin is so right. I should not have to give up "essential liberty" to provide short cuts into investigative procedures.
There's another book on my shelf that's been there for 48 years - it has my maiden name inscribed on the inside cover - called "By These Words." It's a collection of speeches and the scenario of the times and circumstances surrounding their delivery.
Without exception, the word liberty is spoken in each speech. I went as far back as the Mayflower Compact and also Roger Williams' assertions in 1655 that "Liberty is not License," explaining that "infinite liberty of conscience is a mistake." (They must have had a few citizens practicing "if it feels good, do it.")
The Constitution uses the word only once: In the first paragraph, the document states that we the people of the United States establish the Constitution to, among other things, secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It's never mentioned again, assuming we all know what liberty is. It doesn't have to be spelled out.
Well, maybe it does have to be spelled out. When the government announced the enforcement of the Patriot's Act, I thought, well, they must know what they're doing; they're the experts. They'll do what's best for me and mine.
No. That's not what's best for me and mine. Did I have to read what Benjamin Franklin said over 200 years ago? I guess that answer is yes. I never read the Patriot Act until just now.
First, let me copy Amendment IV of the Bill of Rights:
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.
Now, I'll refer you to Section 213 of the Patriot Act giving "them" the right to search your home and not even tell you. "They" can take photographs as if it's a crime scene they're investigating, and "they" can seize things.
In Section 215 "they" can collect information about what books you take out of your library, what you study on your computer, what purchases you make, what your financial status is and even your sacrosanct medical records. All without the permission of "we" the people. In the Bill of Rights' Amendment IV above, it says clearly these rights shall not be violated.
Until you read it in black and white exactly what the Patriot Act means to us, we don't realize what "we" are allowing. Granted, as I looked for references, I found a great deal of dissent -- not from the weirdo fringe but from those who stepped up and complained long before now when
I show up and say, "Hey, what's going on around here?" Just because I have not been stopped doesn't mean the Act is not in force. It has been used over 150 times or more. Were those stopped or searched at home without a warrant innocent? Well, I don't have those statistics. I will hazard a guess, however, that my not being stopped is not because I'm such an innocent but because I do not fit a profile.
After all, how many white women in their seventies driving a Mustang convertible are guilty of anything - well, except speeding occasionally?
For any law enforcement person who offends an innocent person who happens to fit a profile, I let it be known he is offending me. How can any of us rest easily knowing someone out there is giving up his or her right to liberty because we all think it's okay under certain circumstances to be stopped and searched?
Liberty is a word as hard to define as, say, "soul." You can't say exactly what it is but you know when it isn't there. The strongest identifier of liberty is to emphasize its opposite: Suppression. As a nation of immigrants, we have heard of lives lived in a controlled environment where their every action was restrained. They know suppression well. They risked their lives to reach the United States of America, a land on record as guaranteeing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I'm every bit the patriot I've always been and never miss an opportunity to wave a flag. But the Patriot Act has to be re-examined again and again and amended as necessary to synchronize more closely with our Bill of Rights.
In America, we have "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." None of us can pursue happiness unless we all can and we all can just as soon as we grasp that we the people, are us. There are no "them."