The Bill of Rights Competes With Terror
Does the Bill of Rights, as written by the original authors, still stand today in the United States of America as it did over 200 years ago? Many will argue that it surely applies, but a more important stance on the questions is whether or not United States citizens are still granted those basic rights as defined by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution? In the last few years, there have been many changes to the law of the land and on top of that many people don't even know it. It is extremely easy to show, with little work, how the government of the United States of America has gotten more secretive and more powerful. The result is the citizens of the United States, and even those that are not, know less and they have less freedom and rights. The Bill of Rights as a protector of human rights and civil liberties is slowly deteriorating in the face of its very purpose of freedom.
Historically, the Bill of Rights was written as an addition to the Constitution to protect the basic rights of the people. The Constitution would have undoubtedly been rejected because it was the perfect ingredient to create a tyranny without a bill of rights. Back in that time, the whole point of drafting this new Constitution was to get away from a tyranny not only in the government, but on the freedoms and expressions of the people. It was thought to be needed in a free society to protect individual rights from government abuse. Government almost never acts in opposition to the majority, so these rights may be seen to directly give a voice to the minorities. The Bill of Rights relied heavily on Virginia's Declaration of Rights as it was being drafted by George Mason. Later on, the Bill of Rights was adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention on June 12, 1776 and they were later ratified December 15, 1791 (The Bill of Rights).
Today, the Bill of Rights is in a battle with terrorism. Human rights have nothing to do, nor do they interfere, with human security. The Bill of Rights grants such simple things like freedom from religious and nationality discrimination, the right to work, and even the right to life. On September 11, 2001 these basic yet vital rights to being a citizen of the United States of America were denied not originally by the government, but by other people. So the great question at hand here is what is the perfect balance between security and basic freedoms? Is the Bill of Rights hindering security and if so, what's more important: freedom or security. With careful investigation, one will find that freedom and security are two completely different things and fixing one should not hinder another, but it is. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, stated that rights and security are indeed not contradictory when he said "here in this country and in other nations round the world, laws will be changed, not to deny basic liberties but to prevent their abuse and protect the most basic liberty of all 'freedom from terror'" (Is a Bill). The solution to this inherent thinking by many people, including those actively participating in the government of the United States, that security and freedom are at conflict is to get the citizens of the United States more involved with their election process.
In the wake of September 11, the Bill of Rights is no longer a driving force in the United States government. Instead, security and terror are driving forces that have put the government on the defense making it far easier to pass bills that would otherwise never have made it. When bills and acts are hastily put together directly in reaction to something like terrorist attacks, the process of government and protection of the citizens is put on hold and thrown away. The USA PATRIOT Act (an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) and the Homeland Security Act are two major acts that directly stomp on the Bill of Rights without question. One may find it hard to understand how two laws can exist in a government that are completely opposite in practice. The First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, and the Sixth Amendment are no longer protecting the rights of people thanks to the USA PATRIOT Act, otherwise known as the anti-terrorism bill. According to the Associated Press "freedom of information, freedom of association, freedom of speech, right to legal representation, freedom from unreasonable searches, right to a speedy and public trial and right to liberty have all been abridged since the Sept. 11 attacks" (Lydersen).
With the new anti-terrorism bills, the United States government is allowed to "jail non-citizens and American citizens indefinitely without a trial" and "deny lawyers to those accused of crimes" (The Attack). Hundreds of people are being held in Guantanamo Bay under this very law without a trial. This is in direct violation of the Bill of Rights, Amendment VI to the Constitution. To expand on this, law enforcement is allowed to search homes and offices of people without first telling them and without the request for permission by a judge. Amendment IV of the Bill of Rights is now gone. Among other things, the Government may "search and seize American citizen's papers and effects without probable cause", "prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they tell anyone that the government subpoenaed information", and "monitor religious and political groups without suspecting criminal activity" (The Attack).
A recent anti-terrorism law "permits the government to detain or deport suspects, eavesdrop on Internet communications, monitor financial transactions and obtain electronic records on individuals" (Thomas). Literally, the government is allowed to read every e-mail anybody sends and receives without a warrant and without ever notifying the person. The government is also allowed to monitor web pages a person visits without a search warrant. "The federal government could covertly enter a person's house, copy the contents of his computer, and then break in the next month, and copy the hard disk again. To perform secret searches, the government would merely have to show that there "might" be an "adverse result" if the person found out about the search" (Kopel). However, this so-called ability of the government does not limit this type of activity to terrorism at all. This can be done any time they want without consequences and it doesn't even have to be related to counter-terrorism.
What is interesting about the ability for such bills to be passed despite the existing Bill of Rights, is that most people don't even know what the bills contain. The media has not made a big deal at all of the violation of rights of the citizens of the United States or anyone else under the law of the United States. As if this couldn't get any scarier, the very people in congress that voted on the bill don't even know what it says! In what way is this democratic and how is something like this even allowed to happen? "On October 12, right after that coup, the House voted, 337 to 79, for a 175-page bill that most of its members hadn't even had time to read" simply because Attorney General John Ashcroft pressed for the passage of his anti-terrorism bill in a week (Terrorizing the Bill of Rights). The bill was drafted secretly behind closed doors by a small committee. When it came time for voting, why did it pass by such a huge margin? What is the catch? Are our congressmen truly only worried about their public appearance and getting reelected when it comes to voting on bills that violate our Constitution. For goodness sakes, many resources conclude that the bill has very little to do with terrorism to begin with and has a lot "to do with the government and the FBI having a wish list of things they want to do" (Terrorizing the Bill of Rights).
Attorney General Ashcroft is one of the key people responsible for the very creation and backing of bills that violate the Constitution. From the beginning, he has gotten such a strong and ignorant backing by the people and this is utterly the worst type of power people in our government can have. A backing that is blind and false out of fear. Ashcroft public ally stated, "to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies..." (Hentoff). From the beginning he promised that the bills would not violate Constitutional right, but how can one even begin to argue they aren't violated. It is a disgrace to this country and its power to label the bills he is fighting to pass, and is successfully passing, with a counter-terrorism label when most of the laws that are passed have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. Granted, there are very good anti-terrorism measures being taken with these bills, but they are different in that they do not violate the founding human rights of the United States.
In conclusion, once the basic rights of United States citizens are taken away, it will be almost impossible to get them back. The rights this country was founded on are being taken away one by one. There are key players in the government that have made it a priority to pass their own beliefs and ideology through the rest of the government in a time of war and fear. The anti-terrorism bill was passed through congress quickly at a huge price on civil liberties of the American people. The American people are frightened in the face of terrorism and they feel they will only be safer if the president passes yet another anti-terrorism law- despite that they are actually giving up.
1. "The Attack On Our Bill of Rights" November 23, 2003. <http://www.citizeninfo.org/RIBoRDCfactsheet.PDF>.
2. Thomas, Helen. "President Bush and John Ashcroft trample the Bill of Rights" November 16, 2001. Hearts Newspapers. November 23, 2003. <http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/46852_helen16.shtml>.
3. "The Bill of Rights" November 23, 2003. <http://www.archives.gov/national_archives_experience/bill_of_rights_transcript.html>.
4. "Is a Bill of Rights Relevant Today?" November 23, 2003. <http://www.gtcentre.unsw.edu.au/Bill%20of%20Rights%20Conference%20Robert%20McClelland%20Paper.doc>.
5. "Bye, Bye Bill of Rights" November 23, 2003. <http://www.glocaleye.org/billofrights.htm>.
6. Hentoff, Nat. "Terrorizing the Bill of Rights" November 23, 2003. <http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0146/hentoff.php>.
7. Kopel, David. "Will the War Kill the Bill of Rights?" October 18, 2001. Cato Institute, November 23, 2003. <http://www.cato.org/current/terrorism/pubs/kopel-011018.html>.
8. Hentoff, Nat. "Organize to Bring Back the Bill of Rights" December 12, 2001. Investigative Fund of Mother Jones. November 23, 2003. <http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/columns/2001/12/ashcroft.html>.
9. Lydersen, Kari. "Defending the Bill of Rights" February 21, 2003. Alternet. November 23, 2003. <http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=15227>.