What I Want For Independence Day: Freedom From the Patriot Act

A prominent evangelist and former security hawk explains why the U.S. government has gone too far in spying on its own people

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I was born in 1946, the same year that Winston Churchill declared that an “Iron Curtain” had crashed down rending asunder both Berlin and Europe into East and West. From my earliest memories there was avid talk of nuclear war, bomb shelters and “duck and cover” drills in grade school. The Cold War filled the entirety of my conscious memory, “Checkpoint Charlie” was an iconic place, and the Cuban Missile Crisis happened during my sophomore year in high school. As a consequence of this life experience, I was from my early adolescence onward a lean-forward, “better safe than sorry,” security hawk.

No more. In light of the recent revelations concerning the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance activities, I have now crossed the surveillance Rubicon. I adamantly oppose the blanket electronic information gathering of American citizens’ phone and email communications and I have lost basic trust in the U.S. government not to violate my constitutional rights.

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Because of what’s at stake, I also believe Edward Snowden’s outing of the government’s unconstitutional activities was admirable. If he had then voluntarily surrendered himself to face prosecution for breaking the law,  his version of “A Letter from the Birmingham Jail” would have been heroic. But by fleeing, seeking asylum, and possibly revealing damaging information to our adversaries, his behavior has been despicable.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks I supported, with reservations, the passage of the Patriot Act. Even then, I argued strenuously, albeit unsuccessfully, for the legislation to be temporary and time-limited, thus up for mandated periodic review and renewal by the U.S. Congress. I should have known better.  The NSA and its progenitor, the U.S. government, have engaged in rapid “surveillance creep” going far beyond anything imagined in the post 9/11 legislation.  If not checked now, the expansion will continue with ever more intrusion into our personal lives, routinely violating our Fourth Amendment guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure. The treasure trove of unconstitutionally gathered data on American citizens is more temptation than any government, by nature, can withstand.  If not stopped, sooner rather than later, government will mine that information mountain for their own purposes of power and control.

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People say we need to do this comprehensive surveillance to protect our country from terrorist attacks. But as Benjamin Franklin said in the eighteenth century, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

If we accept this gross infringement on our constitutionally guaranteed liberties, then the terrorists will have succeeded in destroying our American way of life and severely eroding our God-given freedoms. At present the NSA’s activities pose a far greater threat to our liberty than the Al Qaeda terrorist network ever has, or ever will.

Our government says that we should trust them. Really? In light of the NSA surveillance revelations, the Internal Revenue Service’s massive abuse of power, the Fast and Furious scandal and F.B.I director Robert Mueller’s acknowledgment that some drones have been used for surveillance inside the United States, I think not. Whether it is a flaw in the inherent nature of government, or simply President Obama’s Administration, is irrelevant. The flaw is real, and the threat it poses, is looming before us.I read George Orwell’s 1984 when I was in high school in the mid-1960’s and it truly frightened me. Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA’s excesses have caused me to reflect on Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian future more than I have in many, many years.

I love my country and I would die to defend her.  However, the federal government is not America, it merely governs America with the consent of the governed. So this is my declaration of independence. Speaking as one American citizen, I withdraw my consent. As for me and my house, I say, “Cease and desist!  In the name of God and the United States Constitution, cease and desist!”

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