12/02/2010 12:14 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

We Need to Talk About Body Scans, Not Scream About Them

If Shakespeare had written about it, it would have undoubtedly been the sequel to Much ado about Nothing.

On the busiest travel day of the year, it just wasn't worth the time of a complete body pat-down that could potentially cause one to miss that trip to grandma's house, or worse, impede on plans to participate in the Black Friday extravaganza.

The mere seconds from start to finish of the body scan felt like, mere seconds.

The much anticipated protest that threatened to snarl airports across the country turned out to be a far cry from the March on Washington, the Vietnam protests, or, for that matter, the recent tea party demonstrations.

In short, the "Opt-Out" protest over Transportation Security Administration screening procedures was a complete dud. As I raised my hands and the body scan whisked around me, I wasn't quite certain which of my constitutional rights I was relinquishing.

Was it free speech or the right to assemble? Or was it something more benign in that the body scan represented another sliver of lost freedoms that, unless stopped now, would ultimately lead to our eventually having no freedoms worth protecting.

The outrage, at least overtly, was based on that time-tested, deeply held constitutionally protected value otherwise known as a right to privacy. The problem being the Constitution does not specifically mention a right to privacy.

Supreme Court decisions over the years have established the right to privacy is a basic human right, and as such is protected by virtue of the Ninth Amendment, which simply states:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

The right to privacy has come to the public's attention via controversial Supreme Court rulings, including several dealing with contraception (the Griswold v. Connecticut), interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia) and abortion (Roe v Wade).

Moreover, it is said that a right to privacy is inherent in many of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, such as the Fourth Amendment's search-and-seizure limits, and the Fifth Amendment's self-incrimination limit. The court has obviously yet to weigh in on this latest potential constitutional crisis -- the government's use of full-body scans at airports.

The protest in opposition to full-body scans always felt to be a controversy without a real problem. I heard one individual on NPR, who was out of the country at the time, adamant that he would not subject his family to such tyranny. He was prepared never to return if need be.

Really? I wonder if cooler heads have since prevailed. Or is this not a case where the individual doth protest too much?

Could it be the political climate of anger that symbolized much of the recent midterm elections was not satisfied by the results? Did the anger simply need another place to incubate itself, opting for the temporary warmth of body scans and right to privacy?

I don't suggest a majority shares this view, but enough do to make it part of the 24-hour news cycle. Nor would I offer that there are no reasons for concern -- anytime we travel into uncharted territory questions should be raised.

But for some it has become the obsession of the obsession.

Who exactly are these vanguards of all things constitutional? Moreover, how did the country survive Civil War, Jim Crow segregation and Watergate without their sage wisdom?

Is this the same lot who shout from the rooftops the perfection of the Founders? They speak of original intent as if James Madison descended from Mount Rushmore with two tablets containing the Constitution.

They shoot from the hip in their blind obsession about illegal immigration, shamelessly calling for some type of repeal of the 14th Amendment void of any intellectual honesty that this revision to the Constitution was necessary in part because the Founders punted on the issue of slavery.

The constitutional challenge has always been to balance between the values we hold dear and the reality of the human condition. Too bad the bravado displayed about the implied constitutional right to privacy in relation to body scans was not balanced against another implied right that most Americans also hold dear: the right to feel reasonably safe when boarding an airplane.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his Web site