Patriotism, Civil Liberties & Terrorism
“He that is not for us is against us” proclaimed the Federalist Gazette of the United States, immediately after President Adams passed the Alien & Sedition Act of 1798. This act had the power to jail critics of the president and government policies. Editors of newspapers and Congressmen were thrown in jail for their opinions. In an eerie parallel, George W. Bush declared, “Either you’re with us, or you are with the terrorists,” in response to the September 11th attack. He then quickly enacted the Patriot Act and signed it into law. With its broad definition of terrorism and even broader powers of surveillance, detention and prosecution, the Patriot Act can put any dissenter into jail. Even protesting the Patriot Act is grounds for incarceration. Opponents of the vast increase in government policing powers worry that basic liberties are being eroded. They say that only a change in U.S. foreign policy will make our citizens and the world safer. What if they are right? Should their voices be silenced?
Ira Glasser served as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union for 23 years, retiring in 2001. Prior to his work with the ACLU, Glasser was a mathematician and a member of the science and mathematics faculties of Queens College and Sarah Lawrence College. He is a widely published essayist on civil liberties and has authored a book, Visions of Liberty: The Bill of Rights for All Americans.