For over a decade, The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation, Washington's preeminent think tank, have annually published the Index of Economic Freedom. The Index covers 10 basic freedoms that include property rights, freedom from corruption, entrepreneurship, and a host of personal freedoms in 184 countries. Hong Kong leads the list, followed by Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Ireland, and Denmark. All these countries outscored the U. S. as America just slipped into the top ten, barely edging out Chile and Bahrain.
America’s downhill slide from individual freedoms began just after 9/11. The country was scared. The entire national defense apparatus that included the military, the CIA, the FBI, and the Justice Department failed miserably when it allowed a handful of Saudi Arabians, armed with box cutters, to bring down the Twin Towers and cause the collapse of part of the Pentagon.
911 was the first and only attack on our homeland since the Revolutionary War, and when people are terrified as we were, they are more forgiving of those who usurp their basic freedoms. The Bush administration saw an opportunity, and jumped in to limit a whole host of individual freedoms.
“But just what harm was done,” you might ask. Don’t these restrictions just apply to the bad guys?” No, they apply to everyone.
Conservative columnist John Whitehead put it this way: The so-called “Patriot Act” has driven a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments -- the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eight Amendments -- and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well.”
Whitehead goes on further to say: “In the name of fighting terrorism, government officials are now permitted to monitor religious and political institutions with no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing; prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they told anyone that the government had subpoenaed information; monitor conversations between attorneys and clients; search and seize Americans’ papers and effects without showing probable cause, and jail Americans indefinitely without a trial.”
In pushing the Patriot Act through congress and into law, the Bush Administration showed a major disregard of American values, the country’s history, and over 200 years of jurisprudence. Judge Andrew Napolitano describes this misdirection: “President Bush argued frequently and forcefully that his first job was to keep us safe. He was wrong. The Constitution tells us that his sole job was to enforce the Constitution; and that means keeping us free. Free from tyrants who sought and claimed power from thin air; free from prince-like federal agents who could behave without constitutional or legal restraint; free to live with a government that obeyed its own laws. Any president who keeps us safe but unfree is rejecting his oath to the American people.”
President Obama compounded the continuing decline of American freedoms by reauthorizing the Patriot Act, and signing into law the egregious National Defense Authorization Act that allows for indefinite detention of American citizens without any charges being filed or any trial allowed. The President, quite simply, has proven to be a disaster when it comes to protecting civil liberties. Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley viewed the President’s actions this way:
“Protecting individual rights and liberties — apart from the right to be tax-free — seems barely relevant to candidates or voters today. One man is primarily responsible for the disappearance of civil liberties from the national debate, and he is Barack Obama. While many are reluctant to admit it, Obama has proved a disaster not just for specific civil liberties but the civil liberties cause in the United States.”
One could hope that there would be a line of defense for basic individual liberties by the U.S. Supreme Court. But recent Supreme Court decisions give little indication that government usurpation of basic rights would be protected. Just recently, the Supreme Court ruled that an individual who is arrested for a traffic ticket can be jailed and strip searched. This case is a chilling example of government over-reach with little to no recourse for the aggrieved citizen.
Albert Florence is a respected New Jersey car dealer, who was in the car with his wife and four-year old son. His wife was driving and was pulled over by a state trooper, but Florence, himself, was not given a ticket. However, in checking the license plate of the vehicle, the trooper found an outstanding traffic ticket from several years earlier. So Albert Florence, who was not driving, was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail. It was a mistake as he had paid the ticket, but New Jersey had failed to purge the arrest warrant from its files.
Florence was strip searched twice, and spent seven days in jail. “I went from having a good day with my wife standing next to me to being scared, petrified, humiliated,” he said. Florence sued prison authorities saying his rights had been violated by an unreasonable search, which is, of course, prohibited by the Constitution.
Not so, said the Supreme Court -- nothing wrong with a strip search, even if it’s based on a mistake by the court. It’s just part of the process of being an inmate. The court then went on to approve a strip search for biking with an inaudible bell, for driving with a noisy muffler, and for walking a dog off a leash. Does this sound like personal freedom to you? And what about the constitutional protections? Our basic rights as Americans are being ripped off.
In the Broadway play, “The Music Man,” there was trouble in River City. In America today, there is serious trouble with the flagrant disregard of basic freedoms by government operatives who seem more concerned about their concentration of power than in anything else.
Thomas Paine said it best over 200 years ago. “It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government.” In this presidential election year, we can only hope that Democrats and Republicans, alike, will set aside the bickering and the blame, heed the call for freedom, and come back to the principles on which this country was founded. Not to do so would be the great American tragedy.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at . http://www.jimbrownusa.com.