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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Erosion of Freedom

The not-so-slow erosion of freedom continues. It appears that governments - and particularly police officers - consider that We, The People, are the problem. They forget that the authors of the U.S. Constitution firmly believed that the power of government is conditional on the consent of the government.

"Unt ve have vays of making you do the zings ve vant you to do" is UnAmerican - conjuring up images of a police state.

An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes the ugly reality of modern day police attitudes to citizens The topic of the article is the issuance of nearly two hundred citations, by Pittsburgh police in the past twenty months, for the crimes of disorderly conduct relating to swearing, making profane gestures, or just generally acting like a jerk.

While rudeness and bad manners should be decried, it is an abuse of power to consider such actions and words to be criminal offenses. Decisions of the courts are quite clear that that the First Amendment protects speech - albeit not absolutely - up until the level that such speech becomes "fighting words".

While my concern for free speech may seem excessive, it is worth remembering these thoughts (although no written record of the exact words exists) from Pastor Martin Niemoller, referring in 1946 to the Nazi dictatorship:

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Freedom is precious and we must constantly be on guard for assaults on our liberty. Those who would take it away from us, whether out of malice or simply for their own convenience, will succeed most easily if they remove it one tiny slice at a time.

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