Thursday, December 15, 2005

In honor of defenders of the Bill of Rights


December 15 is Bill of Rights Day. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed it, in 1941, just a week after the country was thrust into a terrible war by the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

A couple of years ago, when I was giving a talk in Tacoma about my lawsuit to find out why I was on the no fly list, I met a retired military man. He had sat down one day and read the Bill of Rights -- and ever since he has devoted himself to activism to preserve these liberties. In honor of Tim Smith's work I'll list those rights here:
  • Freedom of speech, press, religion, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government.
  • Right to keep and bear arms.
  • Protection from having to house troops.
  • Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
  • Due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, private property.
  • Trial by jury and other rights of the accused.
  • Civil trial by jury.
  • Prohibition of excessive bail, as well as cruel or unusual punishment.
  • Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights.
  • Reservation of powers of states and people.
Roosevelt's U.S. honored its freedoms as much in the breach (think Japanese internment) as in fact. We're probably doing worse.
  • Today the Washington Post tells us that the Pentagon is building a wide ranging database that names nonviolent protesters as military threats;
  • the U.S. continues to lock up several Uighers (a Chinese minority) in the Guantanamo prison camp, even though even the U.S. military says they have committed no offense and are no threat to the country;
  • Meanwhile Cobb County, Georgia went to appeals court today asking to be allowed to place anti-evolution stickers in high school science textbooks, something a lower court found would introduce a religious position into the curriculum;
  • and yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed an extension of the USA PATRIOT Act (signed 46 days after the 9/11 attack). Civil libertarians in the Senate led by Russ Feinguld (D-WI) plan to filibuster.
It hasn't been a good week, or a good couple of years, for rights and liberties.

In honor of the day, it seems right to hear from some of the men who wrote the Bill of Rights.

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere." Thomas Jefferson, letter to Abigail Adams, February 22, 1787

And, perhaps even more subversively

"Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth." George Washington

The plant needs some cultivating.

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