Sunday, April 16, 2006

Through Immigrant Eyes

There is a pre-med student at Rice University. Every year he re-applies for his scholarships. The application packet always has a 2-page written essay included.

One of the questions this year: If you could go back and ask the Framers to clarify the meaning of any part of the Constitution, what would it be.

If a person could go back and ask the Framers to clarify the meaning of any part of the Constitution, then the First Amendment of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….” certainly is an issue that needs clarification.

This part of the Bill of Rights has come under attack in the recent years. It remains an issue that is hotly contested in the courts and in the homes of many American citizens and clearly has no clear-cut definition that all can agree on. Paparazzi often cry out “freedom of the press” while they vehemently invade the lives of celebrities to a degree that make most people disgusted. Clearly society needs a balance between freedom of the press and the rights of others. Libel laws cover inalienable rights. When does one end and the other begin? How can a government invalidate a person’s rights on one hand and fundamentally uphold them on the other? When individual rights conflict with government, there is cause for concern with policy.

Upon examination, the Patriot Act appears that it severely limits the Freedom of Speech. The Bush Administration justifies the narrow language in the legislation as necessary for “security” purposes. While loyalty is a very important virtue that all citizens should apply, it does not justify removing a person’s rights due to some sort of atypical duress.

I personally question this method to combat terror because it appears that the terrorists are winning while the legislators continually concede civil rights. America is a county with undeniable rights found no where else in the world. Removing any part of them only serves to enhance society’s fear of terror. It feels as if the government fears outsiders and United States citizens sending a message that anyone could potentially be the new “enemy”. How can the few foreign and domestic enemies justify law-abiding citizens surrendering rights they have enjoyed all their lives?

What would James Madison and Thomas Jefferson feel if they could see how today’s legislators slowly eat away at the Bill of Rights? Thomas Jefferson understood how important a Bill of Rights would be and supported the draft that James Madison created. He also understood the controversy. In his March 15, 1789, letter to Madison, he wrote “If we cannot secure all our rights, let us secure what we can . . . it is not absolutely efficacious under all circumstances, it is of great potency always, and rarely inefficacious.” Little did he realize that 220 years later the Patriot Act would test that statement.

In addition to the memory of the Framers, I sincerely believe that the United States is a great country for its ability to introspect as a country. When people critique their own actions, they create a country capable of the meanings of “freedom, equality, and justice” that they espouse as fundamental ideas. However, when people question legislation restricting those values, it is treasonous. Consequently, people begin to close their minds what is truth, and the truly virtuous ideals become nothing more than empty words. America wholly symbolizes the ultimate goal of freedom, justice, equality, and the inability to question. It is wrong to feel that way if government only serves to open the door for the misuse and bastardization of American ideals and virtues.

Thus, I would ask questions concerning the right for free speech if I could go back in time. When is the government justified in taking away this right? How does the threat of terror justify the government right to impose its will so forcefully? While the Constitution’s strength lies in its flexibility, Jefferson and Madison should address this issue. The ramifications concerning the right of free speech affects the very core of democracy and equality in the United States of America in the 21st Century America.
A simple perspective from the son of immigrants. He is busy working on his pre-med undergraduate coursework at Rice University. He is also quite good playing the violin.

Cross-posted to LiberIL View

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