Carnegie Mellon University

Fanning the flames of freedom

May 06, 2020

Fanning the flames of freedom

By Sam L.L. Columbia

Americans allow too much encroachment on their civil liberties and other freedoms in the face of perpetual international dangers.

The founders acknowledged the need to restrict civil liberties in emergencies. Article One, Section 9, Clause 2 of the constitution reads, “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." The exigence of a crisis that makes restrictions both constitutional and acceptable for the social contract ebbs in emergencies. In emergencies, more rights must be sacrificed to preserve freedom and expedite a return to normalcy. President Lincoln’s suspension of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War served to shut down Confederate spy rings and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly in both World Wars maximized US fighting efficiency[i]. Today, when a natural disaster hits, curfews, a restriction of civil liberties, are used and abided to expedite recovery and maintain public safety[ii]. Immediate challenges have a defined, specific objective, estimated end date, and are followed by a return to normalcy with full restoration of civil liberties. COVID-19 stay-at-home orders are excellent examples of civil liberties sacrificed temporarily in response to an immediate challenge. Immediate challenges should be the only permissible reason to encroach on civil liberties, yet, since the Cold War, perpetual challenges have been stealing away liberties and freedoms in the “land of the free.”

Perpetual challenges, like the threat of Communism during the Cold War and terrorism in the present, have been used to draw back civil liberties while the public quietly submitted to the theft of freedoms. The people accepted implicit restrictions on freedom of assembly and speech throughout the red scare by angry mobs and Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. A January 1954 Gallup poll reported McCarthy polling at a 50% approval rating with only 29% disapproving[iii]. The collapse of free speech along with a system of political blackmailing and civilian informing during the Red Scare had the United States on the path to Orwellian 1984 all while the people thought the United States was as free as ever[iv]. Ultimately, McCarthy was censured but the suppression of civil liberties in the Cold War continued long after McCarthy was gone.

The forever War on Terror has also served to strip away civil liberties. Section 215 of the Patriot Act enabled bulk data collection and, subsequently, the NSA started sharing this information with the DEA, FBI, IRS, and local law enforcement; Big Brother is watching you[v]. Furthermore, using “parallel construction,” aka lying about the origins, this warrantlessly collected evidence is permissible in court. Moreover, as the nation’s sons' and daughters' naked pictures were traded like baseball cards amongst NSA workers, 61% of Americans supported the renewal of the Patriot act, yet Section 215 remains the law[vi][vii]. Too easily America has been sucked into perpetual conflict and too easily has it been used to perpetually rip away liberty. “The fire of freedom may be choked but as long as the fire burns, it can burn brighter. It is time Americans fan the flames of freedom and restore liberties to our American Land.”

[1] ShareAmerica. “Civil Liberties in Wartime.” Civil Liberties in Wartime, Bureau of Global Public Affairs, 6 Apr. 2015, share.america.gov/civil-liberties-wartime/.

[1] Haag, Matthew. “Houston Curfew Follows Many in Big Cities Facing Disaster or Unrest.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Aug. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/us/houston-curfew.html.

[1] “Pointing Their Pens: Herblock and Fellow Cartoonists Confront the Issues Red Scare.” Library of Congress, Library of Congress, 21 Mar. 2015, loc.gov/exhibits/pointing-their-pens-editorial-cartoons/red-scare.html.

[1] Schrecker, Ellen. “McCarthyism: Political Repression and the Fear of Communism.” Social Research, vol. 71, no. 4, 2004, pp. 1041–1086. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40971992. Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.

[1] Savage, Charlie. “N.S.A. Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted Communications.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Jan. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/us/politics/nsa-gets-more-latitude-to-share-intercepted-communications.html.

[1] Rusbridger, Alan, and Ewen MacAskill. “Edward Snowden Interview - the Edited Transcript.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 July 2014, www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/18/-sp-edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-interview-transcript.

[1] Kurtzleben, Danielle. “Americans Say They Want The Patriot Act Renewed ... But Do They, Really?” NPR, NPR, 1 June 2015, www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/06/01/411234429/americans-say-they-want-the-patriot-act-renewed-but-do-they-really.

[i] ShareAmerica. “Civil Liberties in Wartime.” Civil Liberties in Wartime, Bureau of Global Public Affairs, 6 Apr. 2015, share.america.gov/civil-liberties-wartime/.

[ii] Haag, Matthew. “Houston Curfew Follows Many in Big Cities Facing Disaster or Unrest.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Aug. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/us/houston-curfew.html.

[iii] “Pointing Their Pens: Herblock and Fellow Cartoonists Confront the Issues Red Scare.” Library of Congress, Library of Congress, 21 Mar. 2015, loc.gov/exhibits/pointing-their-pens-editorial-cartoons/red-scare.html.

[iv] Schrecker, Ellen. “McCarthyism: Political Repression and the Fear of Communism.” Social Research, vol. 71, no. 4, 2004, pp. 1041–1086. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40971992. Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.

[v] Savage, Charlie. “N.S.A. Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted Communications.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Jan. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/us/politics/nsa-gets-more-latitude-to-share-intercepted-communications.html.

[vi] Rusbridger, Alan, and Ewen MacAskill. “Edward Snowden Interview - the Edited Transcript.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 July 2014, www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/18/-sp-edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-interview-transcript.

[vii] Kurtzleben, Danielle. “Americans Say They Want The Patriot Act Renewed ... But Do They, Really?” NPR, NPR, 1 June 2015, www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/06/01/411234429/americans-say-they-want-the-patriot-act-renewed-but-do-they-really.