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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Book of Matthew: RIP: The Constitution

Published: February 15, 2008
Section: Opinions

02150803.jpgI don’t think I have ever been as disgusted with Congress as I am now.

Although this body is supposed to uphold the rule of law in this country, it recently failed miserably. Only a few days ago, the Senate passed a measure that expanded the government’s surveillance powers, which is never good news. However, the most difficult pill to swallow was the measure that was included in the bill. It granted retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that had been illegally spying on the phone conversations of ordinary Americans, in the name of “national security”. This means that these companies, who had been facing about 40 civil lawsuits for their crimes, are going to be let completely off the hook.

President Bush is, naturally, ecstatic about the passing of this bill. In a televised statement, the president told the nation that, “At this moment, somewhere in the world terrorists are planning attacks on our country,” and, “Their goal is to bring destruction to our shores that will make September 11 pale by comparison.” For good measure, he also mentioned the fact that, “Without this law, our ability to uncover new terrorist plots will be weakened.”

You know something? As much as I don’t want to see another terrorist attack on American shores, I am sick and tired of President Bush and the Republican Party using the threat of terrorism to scare America into supporting their ideas.

I mean, the telecommunications immunity measure is going to protect companies who have violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (that’s the one that requires the government to get a warrant before commencing a search), and we are supposed to be happy about it. In fact, if you believe some Republicans, we are supposed to applaud these companies for their “volunteerism” in the name of a “noble cause”.

The rule of law is one thing, but safety from a mysterious enemy? That’s a whole ‘nother ball game.

Of course, I’m sure there are skeptics out there. I’m sure there are people who are perfectly willing to give up some of their rights in order to stay safe. I’m sure that there are people who think the whole thing is insignificant, and that it won’t affect them anyway. To such people, I say this: Everything that your government does sets a precedent for all future members of the government. If Congress is passing unconstitutional laws that invade our privacy now, how long will it take before Congress decides to take away more of our rights in the name of “national security”? They could take away free speech, or the right to protest, and they could certainly give free passes to more companies who break the law.

All the government will ever have to do is say the word “terrorism”. Because once people hear the word “terrorism”, they start to care less and less about their individual rights and more about their safety.

The House of Representatives will soon be making its own decision regarding government surveillance and the immunity measure, and it is vitally important that it rules in favor of constitutional law. I have already contacted my Congressman and let him know my views, and I ask all readers who value the rule of law to do the same. The only way we can protect our liberty is by making our voices heard.

I feel like it is appropriate to end with some words of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin, who once said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. This statement is just as relevant today as it has ever been, and we would all do well to remember it.