Every week in this space, the Syracuse New Times will give you a piece of our mind. For what it’s worth.
Rights are tricky things.
They’re easiest to defend when they least need defending; they most need defending when doing so is unpopular and, often, distasteful.
It’s easy to defend freedom of speech … until Nazis march in Skokie, Ill., or protesters burn the flag. It’s easy to defend religious freedom for Catholics and Protestants … but some forget the right when the religion is Islam and the question is whether to build a mosque in Tennessee. Freedom of the press sounds fine … until that free press publishes secret government documents, or pornography.
But if Americans don’t defend their rights even when exercised by those with whom they disagree, under circumstances they find distasteful, those rights will be lost.
Which brings us to this week’s Sanity Fair by Ed Griffin-Nolan. He writes about a vote in the House to rein in the National Security Agency and its data collection activities.
Remember the days after Sept. 11, 2001? Fear that the attacks were only the first assault by terrorists. Disbelief that the attacks were so effective, and so easy to plan and execute. Everyone said we must make sure it never happens again.
And so some chose to curtail rights in the pursuit of security. Once, Americans didn’t accept torture. Amercians didn’t hold prisoners without due process. The government couldn’t spy on citizens without due process and judicial review.
When those things changed, they were bargains with the devil and, at their foundation, un-American. The national security apparatus should work tirelessly against the forces that would harm Amercians … within the bounds of U.S. law and rights. Law enforcement must use all the tools at its disposal to thwart threats to our people … within the bounds of U.S. law and rights. Prisoners – whether American or foreign – must be prosecuted to the full extent possible … within the bounds of U.S. law and rights.
For where is the victory if our enemies, by terrorist act or threat of terrorist act, can drive Amercians to abandon their most cherished values?
The House bill was sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrunner (R-Wis.), one of the champions of the Patriot Act, which empowered the government to do things it shouldn’t. He concluded it had gone too far.
The new House bill is a proper step in the right direction.