What are your rights? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, according to the Declaration of Independence. There are all of those rights listed in the Bill of Rights. We talk about rights to privacy regularly but few people can point to what exactly those rights are. More importantly, what guarantees those rights? What guarantees us that our rights will not be infringed upon? The answer is... nothing!
George Carlin often spoke about the illusion of our rights, punctuating this idea of illusion by inviting anyone to Google "Japanese internment." The Supreme Court even upheld that this action was constitutional. Whether it is World War II or the "War on Terror," Americans simply abandon all the freedoms that we claim define our American society based on what is convenient at the time. Just as in the stock market, the phrase "this time it is different" needs to be heard with extreme caution.
The Patriot Act allows the FBI to obtain, without a warrant, "any tangible things" as long as the FBI can convince the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the information they want is relevant to antiterrorism work. So much for any "right to privacy! It is tough to imagine writing a more obvious blank check to the government to do whatever they want, whenever they want. Every loyal American wants our country to be safe, but conservatives and liberals alike need to be united in not allowing the government unfettered access into our private lives.
What about the "right to assembly," or more precisely, "right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"? This sits firmly in our Bill of Rights as the First Amendment. Hundreds of peaceful protesters found out recently in NY that this right is not guaranteed. You can be penned in by police, pepper sprayed while already contained and even arrested for protesting peacefully. Whether you agree with the protesters or not, every American should defend their right to protest government actions peacefully without being harassed, attacked and even arrested by the police.
What about the right to a fair trial? This sits firmly in our Bill of Rights as the Sixth Amendment. From the extended incarcerations without trials of Americans, Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, to the recent assassination of American Anwar al-Awlaki we know that the right to a fair trial is not at all guaranteed for citizens.
Of course I want America to be safe. Of course I want terrorists to be stopped. Of course I want a government and nation that is strong.
But I also want more. I want rights. I want rights guaranteed. I want the rights that we claim are the foundation of American society. I want the rights that we claim are guaranteed by the laws in the land. I want the rights we claim are protected by our courts.
So let's stop pretending to our children and ourselves that famous pieces of paper are anything more than items that can be torn, burned and discarded as long as society allows it to occur.
I only get these rights if everyone else gets these same rights at all times, not just when it is convenient for the government or the majority of society. So, let's also agree on what rights we actually believe in as a society, rights which under every circumstance are upheld and let's call that the basis of American society instead of the mythology we keep passing along from generation to generation.