Imagine living in a country where armed soldiers crash through doors to arrest and imprison citizens merely for criticizing government officials. Imagine that in this very same country, you’re watched all the time, and if you look even a little bit suspicious, the police stop and frisk you or pull you over to search you on the off-chance you’re doing something illegal.
If you’re thinking this sounds like America today, you wouldn’t be that wrong. However, the scenario described above took place more than 200 years ago, when American colonists suffered under Great Britain’s version of an early police state.
No document better states their grievances than the Declaration of Independence. A document seething with outrage over a government which had betrayed its citizens, the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, by 56 men who laid everything on the line, pledged it all - “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” - because they believed in a radical idea: that all people are created to be free.
Photo Credit: U.S. Government
Imagine the shock and outrage these 56 men would feel were they to discover that 238 years later, the government they had risked their lives to create has been transformed into a militaristic police state in which exercising one’s freedoms is often viewed as a flagrant act of defiance.
Indeed, as I document in my book "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State," a cursory review of the true state of our freedoms as outlined in the Bill of Rights shows exactly how dismal things have become:
The First Amendment says Americans cannot be silenced by the government. Yet despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault. Whether it's a Marine detained for criticizing the government on Facebook or a protester arrested for standing silently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, these are dangerous times for those who choose to exercise their rights.
The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." Yet while gun ownership has been recognized as an individual citizen's right, Americans continue to face an uphill battle in the courts when it comes to defending themselves against militarized, weaponized government agents armed to the hilt.
The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen's home without "the consent of the owner." Unfortunately, the wall of separation between civilian and military policing has been torn down in recent years, as militarized SWAT teams are now allowed to burst into homes unannounced in order to investigate minor crimes such as marijuana possession and credit card fraud.
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The Fourth Amendment prohibits government agents from touching you or placing you under surveillance or entering your property without probable cause and even then, only with a court-sanctioned warrant. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has been all but eviscerated in recent years by court rulings and government programs that sanction all manner of intrusions, including giving police carte blanche authority to break into homes or apartments without a warrant, conduct roadside strip searches, and generally manhandle any person in manner they see fit.
The Fifth Amendment is supposed to ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without following strict legal guidelines. Unfortunately, those protections have been largely extinguished in recent years, especially in the wake of Congress' passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the president and the military to arrest and detain Americans indefinitely without due process.
The Sixth Amendment was intended to not only ensure a "speedy and public trial," but it was supposed to prevent the government from keeping someone in jail for unspecified offenses. That too has been a casualty of the so-called war on terror.
The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. However, when the populace has no idea of what's in the Constitution that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears.
The Eighth Amendment is similar to the Sixth in that it is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court's determination that what constitutes "cruel and unusual" should be dependent on the "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society" leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether.
Photo source: Americans for Prosperity
The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. However, it has since been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme.
As for the Tenth Amendment’s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, D.C. power elite - the president, Congress and the courts.
Thus, even on those rare occasions when the courts provide us with a slight glimmer of hope that all may not be lost, those brief reprieves of judicial sensibility are quickly overwhelmed by a bureaucratic machine that continues to march relentlessly in lockstep with the police state.
This brings me back to those 56 men who risked everything - their fortunes and their lives - to speak truth to power in that sweltering Philadelphia heat 238 summers ago. Remarkably, these men - who were community leaders, business owners, judges, lawyers and inventors - sacrificed their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor so that you and I could live freely in a nation where we have the right to stand up and speak out against tyrannical government. In the face of torture and even death, they did not waver.
The choice before us is clear. In the words of Patrick Henry, will we choose dangerous freedom or peaceful slavery?
Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute and author of "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State." Whitehead can be contacted at email@example.com.
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