Both chambers of Congress and the President have recently – and quietly – passed legislation that is now being vigorously argued as criminalizing the freedoms of assembly and expression within earshot of our political leaders, most especially those under the security of the Secret Service. Even the ACLU has weighed in on this issue with a less than supportive statement in regard to this new affront to our liberties. I have disagreed with many of the ACLU’s positions on other issues, but I am encouraged by their principled stance on this one. To many readers, it may seem that parts of the ACLU’s argument minimizes or perhaps even justifies pieces of this legislation, but I must resoundingly agree with the author’s final assessment:
“[W]hile H.R. 347, on its own, is only of incremental importance, it could be misused as part of a larger move by the Secret Service and others to suppress lawful protest by relegating it to particular locations at a public event. These "free speech zones” are frequently used to target certain viewpoints or to keep protesters away from the cameras. Although H.R. 347 doesn’t directly address free speech zones, it is part of the set of laws that make this conduct possible, and should be seen in this context.“
The article’s usage of the term "incremental” hits the bullseye of this argument. Those wanting to suppress essential liberties rarely attempt to suppress them entirely in one stroke of the pen or by a sudden marshaling of arms. Were they to attempt such blatant restrictions of our natural rights, they might well see a vigorous backlash on the scale of 1776. But by trespassing only upon the fringe of our rights, they hope that most of us will simply ignore it as a thing of little consequence (“it is only a little loss, after all”) and they expect that any backlash that does arise will be small enough to be easily ignored, dismissed, or squashed like an annoying insect.
This is why the Framers of our Constitution drew no gray areas around these rights, using such wording as “Congress shall make no law” and “the right of the people … shall not be infringed” (emphasis added). They did not list exceptions for “gun-free zones” or allowances for “free speech” zones. The right of the people to assemble peacefully, to petition their government for grievances, to have their voices be heard, especially by those elected to represent and serve them, and to be able to defend themselves, their States, and their country from unlawful infringements upon their rights cannot be removed from the People.
Any “incremental” infringement upon our essential liberties can only progress in one direction. If this is “progressivism”, if this is “moving on” or “forward”, I want none of it. Power once granted to government is power lost forever to government. That is why government always grows and never shrinks. At best, its growth can be slowed or stalled only for a short while. That is why both Republican and Democrat parties can claim spending cuts when in truth their so-called cuts are merely reductions in the rate of spending increases. It’s why Bush Sr.’s “no new taxes” pledge was phony on its face and why Obama’s “not one penny” promise on tax increases for the poor and middle class was likewise a blatant deception. Because those on government dole – politicians, bureaucrats, government employee unions, and those on federal assistance – will always endorse more government dole even while talking as if they believe entirely otherwise. This is why even the best of candidates once sent to office rarely retain their principles for long – assuming they had any when they began.
The solution can only be what what it has always been since the British Empire attempted to force the Thirteen Colonies into submission in 1775. The People must re-assert their independence from government. They must be their own agents in providing for themselves and their families, enjoying the fruits of their own labors and enduring the consequences of their own failures. Charity must once again be enshrined as a moral obligation, not a taxable one. Our leaders must be chosen “by the content of their character”, not by race, religion, or by promises of government dole to their constituents. In short, the solution can only be small government with very specific, enumerated powers, reserving all other rights powers and privileges for the People that sustain it. Our government was once the smallest government in the world, consisting of thirteen independent States, and that small government not only overthrew the dominion of the most powerful empire in the world, but it continued to resist every threat against it. We the People have it within ourselves to be more powerful than any threat to our liberty, but only if we remain free to act for ourselves and not to be acted upon by those in power. Every power we grant to government diminishes our own.
But we cannot rely merely upon small government. We must also ensure that legal protection is applied universally, not merely to those embracing specific behaviors or ideologies or possessing specific ethnic backgrounds. The right to work should not be contingent upon one’s immigration status or upon union membership. Taxes should be spent on items of general public interest and benefit, not as bribes to win votes from narrow constituencies. Every person who votes should have a stake in the government’s debt and expenditures, not just those whose incomes meet arbitrarily defined thresholds.
Those in power should be held to the same laws as those whom they represent. They should have no power to grant themselves exceptions from health care laws or social security withholdings. They should be granted no special immunity from fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, sexual harassment, perjury, libel, or slander. In short, they deserve no protection that is not due to every citizen of this country. If my Senator or my President has the right to be surrounded by agents with concealed weapons, then I have a right to carry a concealed weaponry if I choose to do so. Their political office does not raise their human value or entitle them to rights not enjoyed by their fellow citizens. We the People are their employers. The President is not our “boss” and he possesses only those privileges granted him by the People and the Constitution that binds us as a nation.
If We the People, regardless of our political affiliation, are not eternally vigilant in denying government’s attempts to trim even the very fringes of our unalienable rights, we will find that the space in which we are allowed to enjoy those rights will grow narrower and narrower until, ultimately, our elections will be farces (if they aren’t already), our leaders will behave themselves as lords and kings (if they don’t already), and our people will live, work, speak, and believe only according as these sovereigns allow us.
I believe that freedom will endure. I’m just not convinced that it will endure for those who choose to abandon it.