Freedom. It may be the most singularly nonpartisan value shared among Americans. We resonate with it as an abstract concept, but wrestle with its definitions, especially as they relate to law, order and issues of national security. We claim to be a free people — a people able to peaceably assemble in protest against our government, guaranteed the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury when charged with a crime, a people allowed to bear arms and believe whatever we want to believe as it relates to religion. It would not be a stretch to say that freedom is the foundation of the formation of these United States, and historically we have welcomed into the fray anyone desiring our way of life, to experience the ups and downs of a democratic/capitalistic society in a relatively young country, living out this experiment imagined by idealistic men and forged by brave ones.
Yet as we exercise our freedom under the watchful eyes of satellites and cameras, under the weight of debt and the threat of unemployment, and in the midst of man-made environmental disaster, and we send our youth to the trenches, ostensibly to defend it, we must not forget on Memorial Day, or any day, how tenuous it is, and that preserving it is as much our responsibility at home as it is that of our soldiers abroad.
Yes, we have enemies; yes, terrorism exists; but it becomes a “baby with the bathwater” scenario when we allow our fears to erode our rights, ultimately putting our freedom in peril. Congress is currently working on legislation that would allow law enforcement to postpone constitutional Miranda rights (the rights to have legal representation and not to self-incriminate) to terror suspects. This effort arrives on the heels of Times Square attempted bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad’s arrest, and the failure of interrogators to inform him of his rights before undergoing several hours of questioning.
Acquiescing once again to Republican pressure, President Obama has stated that he is open to rethinking Miranda, even though one year ago he demanded that terror suspects be given these rights, the same ones granted to anyone with feet planted on U.S. soil. This is not the only area where Obama has gone wishy-washy on civil liberties: 18 months into his presidency and his campaign promise to revisit the Bush Administration’s Patriot Act (which allows the federal government to eavesdrop on American citizens) has been quietly deprioritized, as have his pledges to put an end to racial profiling and shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Unpalatable as it is to some, we believe that in order to maintain our freedom, to keep our civil liberties intact, we must continue to extend the same rights and privileges that we enjoy as American citizens to anyone in our country, be it friend or suspected foe. The lines are too blurry otherwise, and we inch dangerously closer to something just short of totalitarianism. Alarmist? Maybe, but every journey begins with a step and we believe every human being has the right to fair and equal treatment, as our laws state. We begin modifying rights to serve specific needs and specific types of people it becomes difficult to know where to draw the line.
So as we barbecue with friends and family this weekend on behalf of the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, let’s commit to partnering with them to preserve our rights by staying aware, being informed and keeping our government accountable — it’s the most meaningful and tangible way to support our troops.