The Bill of Rights Day. That has a good sound to it. The Bill of Rights, otherwise known as the first ten amendments to the Constitution was signed on December 15, 1791. It is celebrated now on December 15 each year.
The Patriot Act. That sounds so impressive and so -- well, patriotic . It was passed by Congress four years ago and In the name of "patriotism and
self -defense," it took away many of the civil rights that we have defended for 200 years.
The Patriot Act was passed by Congress on October 26, 2001 and the President signed it the same day. It was thrown together in just 45 days in response to 9/11, "to protect our freedoms." It contains 342 pages, and most members of Congress admitted that they had read only a few paragraphs or none at all. President Bush enthusiastically signed it on the day it was passed. We do sort of doubt that he read it.
It threatens the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, including the freedom of speech and religion, freedom from search and seizure, right to due process of the law, and the right to privacy in one's home. It also says that anyone defined as an "enemy combatant," including American citizens, can be held indefinitely by the government without charges, a hearing or a lawyer.
Among its many provisions, the Act makes libraries and book stores subject to inspection of their records, and to reveal books that have been read by patrons and customers. The Act further allows government access to the books, videos and Internet messages which we read, listen to and write.
Thanks to the Patriot Act, The Bill of Rights Day does not have the same meaning in 2005 that it did five years ago.
Congress is currently trying to reach some agreement on amending the act. A few minor changes have been made, but most of the restrictions have been kept. At this point there is no assurance that any compromise will be achieved. The Bush administration has made the renewal without changes a priority of his administration.
In spite of the odds, many highly respected organizations on both sides of the ideological line have been fighting this vigorously. The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conservative Union, the American Library Association, Americans for Tax Reform and the Free Congress Foundation are among several groups that formed a coalition -- "Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances" -- to lobby Congress to repeal three key provisions of tCongress is currently discussing changes in the bill, and the extension of part of it.
Certainly we need to protect ourselves as well as possible from terrorism. But many good, solid, patriotic Americans do not believe that we can be protected by taking away our basic rights. Benjamin Franklin wrote in the Historical Review of Pennsylvania in 1759, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety."
The best way that we can remember that awful day four years ago is to maintain in America the freedoms that have made it great, that have survived. To do anything else is to deny the ideals our country was founded on.