Friday, December 5, 2003
Must domestic security come at the expense of civil rights?
Good question. The more I hear and read about the USA Patriot Act, which Congress passed to strengthen our national counterterrorism capability, the less I know the answer.
On one hand, I strongly support the intent of the Patriot Act, as I believe we need to strengthen our arsenal against terrorism. The Act updates old laws and enhances the powers of our law enforcement and counterterrorism organizations, and this makes good sense. Old wiretap laws need to be revised to include today's electronic and cell-phone communications. Many of the provisions of the Act are not really new. The government already has the right to conduct searches and subpoena records if they believe they are relevant to a criminal investigation. Under the Patriot Act a federal judge must authorize electronic surveillance, record searches, etc., but only "in pursuit of an on-going [terrorism] investigation." The wording is admittedly very broad and offers few protections, but that's why we have judges to sort out whether there is probable cause. Not every suspect is guilty, so, of necessity, many innocent people get investigated in both criminal and terrorism cases. That has always been so.
I am even willing to accept some loss of privacy — but not other rights — as a trade-off for increased security. How much privacy do we have today? Our privacy has been eroding steadily as technology has progressed. We are already being videotaped at toll booths, in stores, banks, airports, and on city streets. In fact, I am much more concerned about marketers' surveillance of my purchasing habits than by the thought that a government agency might quietly peek at what I read in the library. As a law-abiding citizen, I do not feel excessively threatened by this antiterrorism law, any more than I feel threatened by criminal laws.
On the other hand, I wonder if I would feel as safe and trusting if I were a Muslim or a person of Arab descent. Reports in the national press of the detention of Middle Easterners in the U.S. for days and weeks without charges are troubling. Our laws are rarely so precisely worded that there is no chance of misinterpretation. While our leaders and law enforcers are never perfect, we must have confidence that they will act within the spirit of the law and with full respect for protected rights. Do I trust John Ashcroft? If we find that the law, as applied, is used to violate our rights, then the protections in the law will need to be strengthened more explicitly.
Our civil liberties are the foundation of our freedom and must be protected. While I sometimes disagree with their arguments, and frequently with their rhetoric, I feel more secure that the ACLU and other watchdog organizations are scrutinizing the landscape for abuses and abusers of our Bill of Rights.
Thanks to the LWV for sponsoring a forum on the Patriot Act, with speakers on both sides. (See story page 6.) Hopefully they will continue to study the Act and its application, as well as the pros and cons of coming new legislation, and include the community in this process.
Back to School
I went back to school this past September. You're probably thinking she's getting her Master's Degree or maybe her Doctorate. Wrong. I actually went back to second grade as a special education aide in the Carlisle Public School.
This job allows me to do many things, including taking part in second-grade routines. In addition to learning math, reading, and writing, the children go to many "specials" such as library, art, and music. We have get-togethers with other second-grade classes. We've had special snacks and even a couple of feasts. These kids are on the move, and they all keep up.
Especially since my own children are older, it's fun to relive some of the things that excite seven- and eight-year-old boys and girls. Some of these things are Legos, bugs, jokes, stories and singing. Second graders love to sing. Now, carrying a tune is not one of my strengths, but I find myself quietly joining in on such classroom favorites as "Chocolate Chip Cookies" and "It's a Small World." (Plus the teacher insists on 100% participation.) We have the words to several songs neatly printed on a large brightly colored poster-board flip chart, and the teacher points to the words as we sing. We also have song notebooks to which we are always adding new songs. I was told that singing is a way to reinforce reading skills. It makes me smile when I watch the 18 happy faces not only singing, but also reading and learning.
Children learn many subjects in second grade. We've had several discussions about peace, and have also learned some songs with peace as the theme. One of their favorites has this for a refrain:
We then learn words for "peace" in different languages, and the children substitute those words for the word "peace" in the above song.
I often think that, with all of the places our children are going, all of the lessons, activities, clubs, and sports teams, it's nice to know that in school, they are learning skills that will help them live in the world but are also building opinions on the way the world should be. Second graders are savvy. They think hard and they want the world to be a nice place. I think it's a great attitude to instill in them.
Having raised three Carlisle Public School graduates, it is comforting to be a part of something that was a significant piece of their lives many years ago. I recognize the children's enthusiasm and willingness to follow routines. They practice polite behavior. They are learning to share and to listen. They talk about problems they are having and everyone's ideas are heard.
Your children are working hard; they are happy and safe. But I do end each busy day with one question. Where could we possibly incorporate nap time?
© 2003 The