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More security and fewer rights

We hear much these days about the loss of rights.

Not a day goes by we do not receive a missive in which the author warns of a loss of rights, claiming government has put its boot on the throat of democracy-loving citizens. Many, if not most of these complaints come from those who object to taxation … of any kind.

Occasionally, warnings come from those concerned their firearms are about to be confiscated by government agents. Others write they fear they will be soon be sent to one of the hundreds of secret prison camps they say have been constructed and staffed by FEMA.

We treasure the rights granted us by the Constitution and, we too, worry that some of those rights are under direct attack by government. But, our take on the nature of those rights, and on which rights are being eroded, differs from that of many of the writers who contact us.

We create our opinion against the backdrop of a couple of ideas.

First, is the understanding that tyranny (whether it be of the extreme right or the extreme left) begins with demonization of groups following creation of a climate of fear —fear that leads to a mass acceptance of what follows, namely the denial of rights to members of the group. Once the foothold is established, new groups can be added to the list until, if all works as it has too many times in recent history, nearly everyone is a member of a group. Then, the carnage begins.

Second, we take a perspective on our rights —those spelled out in The Bill of Rights— that recognizes them as essentially undemocratic. The full flower of democracy, with all the options and ideas it entails, blooms in an undemocratic bed. Our rights are intended to protect minorities against the tyranny of the majority, or of government, and thus freedom for all is protected.

Many factors are now in place to cause concern and we wonder how many of us worry about the situation, and how frequently. The current climate of fear has been in place since 9/11. A group has been demonized (terrorists and, in more sweeping terms, Muslims) and members of the group have been denied rights with majority consent (remember, the Bill of Rights does not specify “Americans.” It does not specify religious belief). It seems to trouble few of us that individuals have been held in prison for nearly a decade, without charges, without a speedy trial. It troubles few of us that property has been confiscated, properties entered without warrant.

With the recent triumph of our intelligence services in the extermination of bin Laden, it is not easy for many of us to understand that, since 9/11, and propelled by fear, we have failed to reckon with massive, invasive information-gathering efforts by elements such as the National Security Agency. Information — e-mails, telephone conversations, etc. — is now scooped up indiscriminately. In violation of which amendment in the Bill of Rights?

We have weakened the fourth through eighth Amendments for supposed security and that process is not one that can be quickly or easily brought to a halt as long as most of us do not understand the connection between what is done to members of the group du jour and what can be done, or will be done to us.

In order for democracy to thrive, we must sacrifice a measure of security for freedom. We must insist the Bill of Rights be applied to everyone on American soil or, soon, we might awake to find we live without the rights that have made our nation unusual, and unusually strong.

Karl Isberg

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