Several mornings since the horrible events of September 11, I have
headed for my favorite coffee shop at 7:30. Each time there were
probably twice as many people as usual sitting around drinking coffee
and talking or reading the paper, or just sitting and looking into
whatever space they were seeing. As my friend the philosopher worked on
her latte, she commented that we are seeking opportunities to come
together in communities of comfort.
We are all in this together, those of us at home. But as the shock
wears off, we are becoming concerned for our civil liberties. They come
under serious threat when a war starts, and I have lived through enough
wars to know that.
A quick look through the list of bills that Congress has already passed,
and has waiting for passage in the name of national security is worth
But something good is emerging. Americans are behaving like Americans
again after a two week lapse into nearly universal and unheard of
agreement. We are starting to argue about our freedoms. The
Constitution is still alive and well.
One healthy thing about Americans is that we have many freedoms and
they often collide. Already we are debating over ways to protect our
special interests, like the right to be secure in your home, the right
to speak and write what you choose, the right to bear arms, the right to
practice any religion you choose, the right to a jury trial. Naturally,
there is no universal agreement about which right is paramount, and we
are struggling to decide which ones we are we prepared to cut back on
for security and which ones are sacrosanct.
My special interest is the First Amendment, the freedom to speak our
opinions, whatever they are short of treason. Trouble is, that works
both ways. I was horrified at Jerry Falwell's incendiary statement.
The very next day after the horrible tragedy while the tears were
flowing across the nation, he tried to tear us apart as he informed us
that it was our fault, that we have insulted God at the highest levels
of our government because certain groups have tried to secularize
America. "God lifts His curtain and allows the enemies of America to
give us probably what we deserve."
But much as I wish I could have shut him up, he had a right to say it.
Fortunately the voice of reason has drowned him out.
A broad coalition of civil liberties groups, political, religious,
immigration and related organizations was established immediately
because of concerns over threats to civil liberties as the Nation
addresses security and other issues in this time of war. The coalition
consists of more than 150 organizations, 300 law professors and 40
computer scientists and they have signed a statement "In Defense of
They announced it at
a press conference on September 20th at the National Press Club in
When you get such opposing groups as the ACLU and the Eagle Forum, the
National Council of Churches and the Rutherford Institute, the Gun
Owners of America and Common Cause agreeing on a statement, you know
that the entire Bill of Rights is being addressed and defended.
In part the statement reads :
"2. This tragedy requires all Americans to examine carefully the steps
our country may now take to reduce the risk of future terrorist
5. We can, as we have in the past, in times of war and
peace, reconcile the requirements of security with the demands of
8. We affirm the right of peaceful dissent, protected by the First
Amendment, now when it is most at risk.
9. We should applaud our political leaders in the days ahead who have
the courage to say that our freedoms should not be limited.
10. We must have faith in our democratic system and our Constitution,
and in our ability to protect at the same time both the freedom and the
security of Americans."
I will continue to spend some mornings having my coffee in a community
of comfort. And I believe our democracy with its freedoms will survive
because so many of us care.