Our College Civil Liberties Tour went absolutely fantastic. We are all still flying high from the experience.
We kicked off the program at Columbia University in New York City on Monday evening. The next day we flew to Indianapolis for a combined Indiana University/Purdue University program. On Wednesday we were in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for a program at Middle Tennessee State University. And then we wrapped up the tour in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio State University.
The theme of the tour was “The War on Terrorism, the Constitution, and Civil Liberties.” One of things that made the program special was the different ideological perspectives of the three panelists: Bruce Fein is a conservative, Glenn Greenwald is a liberal, and I’m a libertarian. Another interesting dimension to the program is that all three of us are lawyers.
We did the program in partnership with the Young Americans for Liberty, a great pro-freedom group that has college chapters all across the country. The moderator of the panels, Jack Hunter, works for YAL and also writes for American Conservative magazine. He gave a great introductory perspective at the beginning of each panel.
The audiences, which consisted of both students and non-students, were transfixed at all four venues. It was obvious that most of them had never heard this message before — or at least not so directly and passionately. I think they were especially struck by the fact that the three of us were clearly on the same page about this subject notwithstanding our ideological differences in other areas.
Why the emphasis on civil liberties, the war on terrorism, and the Constitution?
The most direct, totalitarian-like power of all is the power to simply seize people, send them to a concentration camp, torture and abuse them, and execute them. When government wields that type of power, freedom is non-existent.
Yet, as I pointed out during the panels, we now live in a country in which the government wields that kind of power.
We also now live in a country where federal agents can secretly enter into people’s homes and businesses and look around, peering into people’s most private matters, without a warrant. Even when a warrant is technically required, everyone knows that nothing is going to happen to the federal agent who violates the law, especially when he cites “national security” as his rationale.
We now live in a country in which the president wields the omnipotent power to send the entire nation into war on his own initiative, without a declaration of war from Congress.
Indeed, we live in a country in which the president now wields the power to assassinate anyone he wants, including Americans, without providing any reason, explanation, or rationale to anyone.
Everyone would agree that that’s not the type of government that our American ancestors envisioned when they called the federal government into existence through the Constitution. It is precisely the type of government that our American ancestors were doing their best to avoid with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Indeed, that’s why our ancestors devoted four separate amendments restricting and obstructing the government’s power to take people into custody and do bad things to them: the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eight Amendments. The Due Process Clause in the Fifth Amendment stretches all the way back to Magna Carta, when King John agreed that he no longer wielded the power to deprive people of their lives in violation of “the law of the land.”
There are those who claim that such powers are no big deal because, unlike the situation in countries like Egypt and Syria, whose governments also wield such totalitarian-like powers, President Obama is employing such powers sparingly. But that’s not the test of a free society. The test of a free society is not the extent to which a ruler is exercising totalitarian powers but rather whether the ruler wields such powers at all. After all, once people realize that such powers can be exercised more widely, especially during a crisis, how can they not factor that into their decision-making today?
All the presentations were recorded and we’ll have them together on FFF’s website this week. If you haven’t seen them, I highly recommend doing so. In fact, the speakers, who spoke with few notes, were changing, modifying, or expanding their talks at each campus, and so I think you’d enjoy all of them.
One thing is for sure: By watching the presentations, you will be able to capture the passion and commitment that all the speakers bring to this subject and understand why all of us believe that it is so urgent that these powers be eliminated. Our freedom and well-being depend on it.
A special note of thanks to the local YAL chapters for hosting and organizing the events on each of the campuses. You all did a fantastic job, and it sure made it easy on us to just come in and do our presentations.