Our Eroding Freedoms
By Gary Jenson
Former Pastor of Campbell SDA Church
September 11, 2001, was a defining moment in U.S. history. Prior to 9-11, America was enjoying a time of peace, prosperity, freedom and safety. The day after everything changed, and we were plunged into a world of fear. How could such a thing happen? We wondered. Will it happen again in other locations? Seeking to calm our fears, our government invaded Afghanistan, hoping to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, the person responsible for planning the attacks on September 11, but the mission proved to be a failure, and to this day din Laden continues to stir up hatred against the United States. Continuing the “War on Terrorism,” the U.S. executed a swift and daring invasion of Iraq on the premise of possession of weapons of mass destruction, but these, too, were never found. Seven years later, we are still fighting the war on terrorism, with no end in sight.
Only five weeks after the tragedy of September 11 (October 26), Congress passed, nearly unanimously, the United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, or more simply, the USA Patriot Act. This was intended to protect the citizens of America from another terrorism attack, but in the process, it has greatly infringed on civil liberties.
According to former Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA), the Patriot Act allows the government to collect information on people not suspected of a crime, thus eliminating the protections of the 14th Amendment.1 Furthermore, native-born Americans, immigrants and aliens are now subject to:
1. Indefinite incarceration if the President deems them an “enemy combatant
2. Courts whose power to restrain police abuse is limited
3. Secret searches of their property
4. Government access to their medical, financial, library and educational records
5. Surveillance of religious services, internet chat rooms, political demonstrations and other public meetings
6. Secret immigration hearings, and
7. Restricted speech due to overboard definitions of “terrorism.” 2
The Patriot Act has thus effectively erased the protections of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.
In 5T pg 451, the servant of the Lord warned that the time would come when “Our country shall repudiate (reject) every principle of its Constitution.” And then she added: “Then we may know that the time has come for the marvelous working of Satan and that the end is near.” Beloved, that time is now here!
It appears that the majority of Americans are either oblivious to the loss of their liberties or welcome it for the sake of safety.
Exactly one week after 9-11, The Dallas Morning News released the results of a statewide poll that found that 37% said they would forgo “a lot” of their personal freedoms, 41% would curb “some” of their freedoms, and about 14% would give up “a little” freedom to boost their safety.3 But as Benjamin Franklin stated: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” 4
Liberty and safety do not have to be mutually incompatible. However, governments typically remove liberties on the pretext that the measure is essential for national survival in times of peril, and unthinking citizens frequently accept these measures. Many Germans, for example, when their prosperity was ruined in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, accepted Adolph Hitler’s abrogation of many liberties in return for his promise of prosperity and national greatness. As a consequence, a massive war ensued; millions lost their lives, and German cities were reduced to ashes.
One of the signs that we are nearing the end, Jesus said in Luke 21:26 is that people would live in fear as they anticipated what could happen in our world. That is one reason why many people have been willing to exchange freedom for safety. But another reason may be that the majority of people whose civil liberties are being violated are not “typical” Americans but immigrants, aliens, Muslims, and Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian men. Thomas Jefferson said: “It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.” 5
The British settlers who come to America four centuries ago had a rudimentary version of a right that has become a bedrock of U.S. civil liberties. Anyone arrested and jailed by the government has to satisfy a judge that there’s a good cause for the arrest. That right - known as ‘habeus corpus,’ - became the law of the land across the British empire in 1670 and had its origin in the Magna Carta of 1215.
After 9-11, the Bush administration essentially voided haveus for anyone the government declared an “enemy combatant,” no matter how arbitrarily. Since then, hundreds have been held, most notoriously, in the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, without formal charges or a right to challenge their detention. Even though the people in this prison camp are not American Citizens, they still have rights that are being taken away.
We must remember that our Constitution protects ‘persons,’ not just citizens. The 5th Amendment states that “no person” will be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The 6th Amendment secures our right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, to be informed of the charges brought against us and access to a lawyer.
A government with the power to whisk people away and declare that’s the end of the matter is exactly the king of government the United States has always claimed to oppose and has sometimes fought. For the United States itself to become that kind of government is particularly scary. And yet the Bible predicted that such a change would occur. In Revelation 13 the United States, which is portrayed as a “lamb-like beast” when it first arose, has a change of nature and is transformed into a “dragon,” suggesting a spirit of intolerance and persecution. The dragon is said to “speak,” and the “speaking” of a nation is don through its legislative and judicial bodies.
After the Supreme Court ruled that the current administration had gone too far, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006. According to the New York Times, this act creates an undefined category of “enemy combatants” who can be subjected “to arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal.” 6 And while in prison, the detainee may not invoke the Geneva Convention which, among other things, outlaws torture.
“The president can now, with the approval of Congress, indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials then can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions.” 7 What does that remind you of? The unfair and unlawful trials, imprisonment and death of Jesus and the apostle Paul.
In Luke 21 Jesus said that His followers should not be surprised if they are persecuted and imprisoned, and Revelation 13 predicts that our beloved country will pass legislation demanding the death penalty for those who are regarded as a threat to the well-being of America because of their refusal to submit to oppressive government laws that curtail a person’s religious freedom.
As one news writer put it, “The Military Commissions Act isn’t about locking up terrorists. We’ve always done that. It’s about locking up innocent people. People who can’t be convicted of a crime because there’s no evidence they committed a crime. This is the only new class of people who will be detained under this new law - people who were never, not would they likely ever be, convicted of a crime. This is a bill about locking up innocent people . . . And holding the threat of disappearance and torture over our heads.” 8
I hope you are beginning to see that our civil liberties are quickly being taken away, and that these are a precursor of what will soon happen to our religious liberties - in face, they have already started eroding.
I wish to quickly mention two other examples of our eroding freedoms before I finish. One has to do with warrant less wiretapping and the other with a national ID card.
In December 2005, the New York Times reported the National Security Agency was tapping into telephone calls of American citizens without a warrant, in violation of federal statutes and the Constitution. Furthermore, the agency had also gained direct access to the telecommunications infrastructure through some of America’s largest companies. The program was confirmed by President Bush and other officials, who boldly insisted, in the face of all precedent and common understanding of the law, that the program was legal.9 The Administration argued that it could do whatever it wanted to do in order to endure the safety of Americans (in other words, the end justifies the means), and was not beholden to any law on the topic.
Under pressure from the president, Congress agreed to give Bush many of the broadened eavesdropping powers he sought and on August 5 of last year, President Bush signed into law a bill appropriately entitled “Police America Act” which expands the governments’s authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants. This terrible law is scheduled to sunset on February 1, but Bush is seeking to make the broadened eavesdropping permanent and provide immunity to the telecommunications industry from the lawsuits filed by citizens.
Finally, on May 11, 2005, President Bush signed into law the REAL IC Act that requires people entering federal buildings, boarding airplanes or opening bank accounts to present identification that has met certain security and authentifications standards. Bearers of non-compliant documents would have their travel restricted and be denied financial or banking services. This sound very symbolic to the statement in Revelation 13:17 that people will be denied the right to ‘buy or sell’ if they do not have the identifying mark, name and number.
The thinking behind Real ID is that since the 9-11 hijackers were allowed through airport security with legitimate state-issued driver’s licenses or ID cards, the standards that states use to grant the cards must be tightened. Those standards require, in addition to the holder’s name, gender, date of birth, social security number and residential address, a digital photograph, “physical security features” to prevent fraud, and the ability to be accessed by “machine readable technology.” This law was scheduled to take effect on May 11 of this year, but the enforcement of the act was extended on January 11 until the year 2011.
In addition to creating a national identification card, the Real ID act increases the threat of identity theft, would enable the routine tracking of individuals because it would allow computers to note and record people’s whereabouts each time they are identified, and it would propel us toward a surveillance society. Furthermore, the standardized bar code would make it a snap for business to create databases on the people passing through their doors, for when information is digitized, it’s so much easier to collect, store and share. What’s worse, a supposedly authenticated identification card would almost certainly become the foundation for others to build databases around. The ID cards could quickly be used to identify its owner for a host of other purposes, such as club membership, employment, library usage, even health and credit information.
Security expert, Bruce Schneier, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last year: “A reliance on ID cards is based on a dangerous security myth, the idea that if only we knew who everyone was, we could pick the bad guys out of the crowd.”10 Even if you could be absolutely sure that the ID card correctly identified the person carrying it, that’s no guarantee that said person hasn’t been recruited to a new life of terrorism or crime. Schreier then pointed to Timothy McVeigh and the subway bombers in London as examples of those whose records would not have betrayed their intentions.
Truly “we are living, we are dwelling, in a grand and awful time.” We used to think it would take a long time for everything to be in place for the enforcement of a national Sunday law, yet how long did it take America to react to the spectacular terrorist attack. In one year’s time dramatic changes occurred and since then our freedoms have continued to erode. The result is that we are now operating under a system of government where anything goes and everyone is suspect.
In 5T pg 452 we read: “God has revealed what is to take place in the last days, that His people may be prepared to stand against the tempest of opposition and wrath. Those who have been warned of the events before them are not to sit in calm expectation of the coming storm, comforting themselves that the Lord will shelter His faithful ones in the day of trouble. We are to be as men waiting for their Lord, not in idle expectation, but in earnest work, and unwavering faith. It is no time now to allow our minds to be engrossed with things of minor importance. While men are sleeping, Satan is actively arranging matters so that the Lord’s people may not have mercy or justice.” And then God’s messenger says: “It is our duty to do all in our power to avert the threatened danger.” How can we do this? One way is by letting our government officials know how we feel about the curtailment of our freedoms, and a good way to do this is to send them Liberty, a magazine dedicated to the preservation of religious freedom. We must make this journal available to every thought leader in the United States, and your donations will help make this possible.