Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Step in the Wrong Direction

"Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither."
Benjamin Franklin

One of the jobs of a nation’s schools is to educate its offspring in the values of that nation, entrusting them to the upcoming generation in order that these nationalistic values will be understood, cherished and preserved through word and deed. When I was a young student, I learned about the US Constitution. I learned Western history and came to realize that this simple document evolved after centuries of thought, debate, revolutions and bloodshed. Then French UN ambassador and now current prime- minister, Dominique de Villepin, was wrong when he argued before the UN Security Council during the build up to the Iraq war that democracy should not come through bloodshed. Democracy comes from those people who willingly sacrifice their lives in its name. Our Founders and centuries of their predecessors and successors have suffered and bled and died for the principles and protections spelled out in our Constitution. I was pretty much an ”A” student. I bought it all , hook, line and sinker.

Freedom of speech and the right to assemble are such important tenets of a free society that they are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, America’s version of human rights. Yet we have a US president who tries to disrupt the right to assemble and protest the war in Iraq, who accuses those who question his policies of being traitors. Today we read about a NJ mayor being arrested as he protested against the proposed toll hikes offered by our governor.

“Protecting Free Speech Demands Vigilance”


Too often in this new millennium when there are differing views, instead of having the benefit of debaters walking each other down a path that is rich with reason and issues resolved in favor of the common good (i.e. two heads are better than one), we may see overtly aggressive tactics to thwart debate, such as arresting Mayor Lonegan, removing dissenters from view. There are more subtle tactics to stifle dissent, lazy ones. Sometimes folks resort to labeling those they disagree with to discourage them from speaking. Dissent is dismissed out of hand because the label rather than reason is supposed to justify dismissing another point of view. The disdain ignited by the use of labels justifies the objection to a viewpoint the way the Jets and Sharks in “West Side Story “ justified turf wars by labeling each other with condescending terms like ”mick”, “spic” or "Polack”. A seemingly denigrating term is thrown at someone as if it were a full-blown argument for a position in and of itself, lazy debate. "Micks" and "Spics", Jets and Sharks, Republicans and Democrats land us mindlessly in the antagonistic worlds of them vs. us. Using the labels, calling people names, we all lose here just like “West Side Story”.

It is not just protecting freedom of speech that needs vigilance. Nowadays Americans must show vigilance in protecting the entire Constitution, particularly our most personal rights as human beings---our rights to privacy, assembly, freedom to practice religion, to dissent. Elected officials swear to uphold the Constitution. I hope Governor Corzine did with respect to Mayor Lonegan's rights. The governor must now convince me though. When elected officials do not obey the oath they take to uphold the Constitution, citizens must see to it that there are consequences.

Abiding by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is not optional. Violating the Constitution is against the law. Those who observe it are simply Americans doing nothing more than rightfully exercising their American birthright bought and paid for with another's blood. Perhaps that is why the document is so cheap to us today. It costs us nothing. So we must be very careful to realize that maneuvering to sidestep the Constitution is not enlightenment. It does not progress us to a better place. It is a regression backwards to the place people fought to escape throughout history. People are still fighting doing so in order to step forward.

Stay tuned.

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