Saturday, 1 January 2011

HOW LIBERTIES ARE LOST


When a major liberty is infringed in these United States, we eventually rise up to correct the wrong. Civil rights, congressional reapportionment and the widespread rejection of John Birchism are good examples.

But somehow we let our little liberties be eroded away, in the mistaken notion that they aren't really, or because we do not notice, or because we confuse worthy ends and unworthy means.
On our Feature Page the other day, columnist Irene Kuhn complained about the attrition of morality in politics, business and literature. But these are symptoms, not causes.

The cause, we suspect, is general apathy, acceptance of the good life, and a tendency not to be bothered unless it concerns you directly.

Take four recent examples, two of which we mentioned before.

First is the proposed drunkometer test for Michigan drivers, which asks them to trade away their Constitutional guarantee against self-incrimination for the privilege of operating a motor vehicle.

It may be unconstitutional, but even more important; it is an infringement on personal liberties which makes it wrong in itself.

A second example was the revelation that the Post Office Department runs routine mail checks on anybody some government bureaucrat suspects of anything. The one that came to light was run by Roy Cohn and his lawyers, but the fact that Cohn is hardly a hero type does not make the deed less reprehensible.

Yet many who would otherwise have complained remained silent, forgetting that if it could happen to Cohn, it could happen to them.

A third case was the recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case of William Worthy. Worthy, a writer and lecturer, went to Cuba without State Department consent, and upon his return was prosecuted and convicted of entering the United States without a passport for the trip he had just completed.

The Appeals Court overturned the verdict, but specifically upheld the government's power to regulate travel, and suggested that Worthy could have been prosecuted for leaving the United States without an okay.

Americans should not be subject to whim of a Washington bureaucrat when they want to go anywhere. The government should be free to advise against, or to stop smuggling or espionage, but it is not, as the New York Times said, the American system to make travel itself a crime merely on the sayso of an official.

And the fourth case is a new law in New York State, labelled the “stop and frisk law.” Under it, a policeman is given the right to stop and search a citizen anytime, anywhere, for any reason, to demand who he is, where he is going and what he is doing.

The object, of course, was to “get at the hoodlums,” but again, if it can happen to a hoodlum it can happen to anyone. The ends are understandable but the means are inexcusable.

A citizen in this country has the right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure, just as he has the right to be secure in his own home. But in New York State, until it's tested in the courts, he no longer has that right.

By such small infringements as these, more than by overt distortions of justice, are our liberties destroyed.

(Source: Detroit Free Press reprinted in The Nudist Newsletter
Bulletin of the American Health Alliance #148/1964)

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