A Crisis of Liberty

By Colby Hess

America today is facing a crisis of liberty perhaps more profound than even that faced in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. On one hand are the continuing militarization of civilian police forces and the steady erosion of civil liberties embodied by the Patriot Act, the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, and the just-passed National Defense Authorization Act.  In addition to trashing the protections of the Bill of Rights, these laws authorize and promote the sale of surplus military hardware (including grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers) to civilian police departments nationwide – the vast majority of which is being used, not to combat terror, but rather in enforcing the over-thirty-year-old and increasingly futile War on Drugs.

On the other hand is the reactionary resurgence of the religious right, evident in the near-universal denial of evolution by Republican primary contenders, and the sweeping challenges being mounted in states across the country against the reproductive rights of women legally guaranteed by Roe vs. Wade.  Campaigns such as Mississippi’s recently-failed “personhood” initiative, would, if passed into law, have potentially had such far-reaching and perverse effects as banning the use of contraceptive pills and in-vitro fertilization, or counting blastocysts as legal persons when deciding voting districts.

Despite the distorted history currently in vogue among many Tea Party types, and the erroneous claims they’re so desperate to believe regarding the Founding Fathers of our nation, the truth – clearly evidenced in the Founders’ own writings and correspondence – is that they would undoubtedly be sickened by the direction the country is currently heading in.

These men were adherents to and products of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, a time in the late eighteenth century when the ideas of universal liberty and equality first began to be widely disseminated by such thinkers as John Locke and David Hume in England, and Rousseau, Diderot, and d’Holbach in France. You know, those people who gave us the Statue of Liberty?

What’s crucial to understand – and the inescapable conclusion to be found by anyone who bothers to read their writings firsthand – is that political liberty is both impossible and meaningless without freedom of conscience and freedom of thought.  That is to say, it makes little sense to speak of democracy while simultaneously bowing down to the dictates of an invisible sky king, or his self-appointed representatives on Earth.  Both principles of freedom are derived from, and grounded in, the factual reality and inviolable laws of Nature itself.  This realization provided the rational basis for these enlightened thinkers’ assertions about the inherent rights of humankind which are enshrined in our nation’s core principles, and it continues to serve as the underlying justification for the moral example we wish to shine upon the world.

The men who founded our country had no intention of setting up any kind of Christian theocracy of the kind which Michelle Bachmann and her crowd would drool over – quite the opposite, in fact. It’s telling that the words “Jesus” and “God” appear nowhere in the Constitution – the founding document of our country and the law of the land to this day. The men who conceived of and set up the original institutions of our nation were largely deists, believing only in the vague notion of some far-off creator god, unaware of and indifferent to our lives and our affairs. They said as much themselves.

Jefferson stated, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter,” and he strongly advocated that “the ‘wall of separation between church and state’ is absolutely essential in a free society.” John Adams wrote, “The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole cartloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.”

Nor did our founders have any tolerance for the excuses proffered in the name of the War on Terror to justify restrictions on our fundamental rights. As Benjamin Franklin famously admonished, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Everything these men stood for, everything they fought for and believed in is being imperiled by this radical, Orwellian shift to the right, in this ongoing assault against our civil liberties, in the increasing militarization of everyday life.

This great experiment in democracy, in government of the people, by the people, for the people, is in grave danger of going the way of the Roman Empire if we as freedom-loving citizens do not act to preserve it.

Speak up. Write, demonstrate. Learn your true history; exercise your power at the voting booth.

Our future and the freedom of our children depend on it.

Originally published as: “The New Face of America, and the Betrayal of Values” on September 30, 2011 by Prism Magazine > http://prism-magazine.com/2011/09/the-new-face-of-america-and-the-betrayal-of-values/

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