On May 3, the mayor of the town of Pomeroy, Wash., the small town where many members of my family live and from where I am currently typing this, gave an important and insightful speech at a National Day of Prayer evening event.
Like many other cities and towns in the U.S., to mark the national event, people from across the community signed up for 30-minute slots to lift up the nation, military, state and local leaders, media, schools and churches in prayer for the entire day. That evening, there was a all-community event where various representatives were asked to speak on their area of expertise (government, schools, churches, media, etc.). The 5-minute speeches were followed by prayer for each of the addressed areas.
Mayor G. Paul Miller, a long-time judge and retired school teacher, delivered the "government" address, and here it is (emphasis added):
There are many aspects of government that are worthy of consideration, but in the limited time available tonight let us concentrate on civil liberties, rights and freedoms, and how our government is dealing with those issues.
On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorists stated a group of suicide attacks on the United States that caused significant property damage and massive loss of life. As terrible as the 9-11 attacks were, a longer-lasting and perhaps even more serious injury to our country is still continuing and slowly getting worse. The greatest tragedy is that while the actual physical terrorist attacks have been controlled, al Qaeda has actually succeeded in seriously damaging the basic structure of our country -- with the unwitting help of the American government.
The government responded to the attacks with legislation called the Patriot Act -- The Patriot Act is composed of many laws already on the books that are designed to counter terrorism in the United States. What distinguishes the Patriot Act from these pre-September 11 laws is its ENABLING characteristics. Put simply, the criminal statutes, investigative rules and court procedures which safeguarded our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties in previous anti-terror legislation were stripped away by the Patriot Act. They have been replaced by a system of Executive Branch Orders, now institutionalized in the Department of Homeland Security.
How does the Patriot Act affect our freedoms? The Patriot Act seriously damages the following constitutionally granted freedoms in the name of conducing terrorism investigations:
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION: Government may investigate religious, labor and political institutions without suspecting criminal activity.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION: Government has closed once-public immigration hearings, has secretly detained hundreds of people without charges and has encouraged bureaucrats to resist public records requests.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Government may prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they tell anyone that the government subpoenaed information.
RIGHT TO LEGAL REPRESENTATION: Government may listen in on federal prison jailhouse conversations between attorneys and clients and deny lawyers to Americans accused of crimes.
FREEDOM FROM UNREASONABLE SEARCHES: Government may search and seize Americans' personal records, business documents and telephone or internet activity without probable cause or court order.
RIGHT TO A SPEEDY AND PUBLIC TRIAL: Government may jail Americans indefinitely without a trial on mere suspicion.
RIGHT TO LIBERTY: Americans may be jailed without being charged or being able to confront the witnesses against them.
Another serious level of concern is generated by the continuation and expansion of these laws that ignore our constitution and invade our privacy.
The Patriot Act was set to automatically expire in February 2010, but Congress re-authorized it and the President signed it into law again at that time.
On December 31, 2011, the President signed a law known as the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2012 fiscal year. Normally, this is just an act which funds the Department of Defense and which is passed every year. However, the act passed for the 2012 fiscal year has extensive changes and can be seen as an extension of the Patriot Act. Now, the indefinite detention has been extended to United States citizens as well. If people are spied on and suspected of being terrorists, they may be detained indefinitely without trial.
In a country famous for the belief that one is innocent until proven guilty, this is an upsetting change that is being placed upon the American people with many unaware of what it means.
The provisions of the Patriot Act allow the government to spy upon U.S. citizens, and the National Defense Authorization Act allows the government to whisk a citizen away to imprisonment for no reason other than being suspected of terrorism.
The President's lawyers have stated that not only may the President kill Americans HE THINKS have taken sides with the enemy in the Global War on Terror, but also his decision to do so is not reviewable by the courts.
That statement by the President's lawyers was in response to questions about the killing of an American citizen who was also an al Qaeda terrorist -- Anwar al-Awlaki.
As one progresses down this path of escalating government removal of our civil liberties, right and freedoms, it becomes obvious that the America we once had where the rule of Constitutional Law could be depended on is rapidly disappearing.
We should remember that while the terrorist attacks came primarily from outside America, the damage to our liberties, rights and freedoms came (and is continuing to come) primarily from our own government.
It is worthy to note that Benjamin Franklin said: "Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one."
Let us fervently hope and pray that we can restore our country to the shining example of a Free Constitutional Democracy that it once was.