Expert Author Jacqueline E Crosby

As American citizens, we have always been told that the United States of America is the home of the free. But, is it really?

The United States Constitution is, of course, the basis of our entire governmental structure. The Bill of Rights collectively refers to the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, which was intended to protect the natural rights of life, liberty and property. These amendments limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings.

The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable government searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects, without probable cause and a search warrant.

The 5th Amendment to our Constitution states that the government cannot deprive a person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law. Fundamental to procedural due process is adequate notice and the opportunity to be heard in order to defend oneself in court.

Unfortunately, our constitutional rights are being eroded by federal laws which violate the Constitution. Consider the most recent legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act. On December 31, 2011, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act. The 2012 version of this Act contained a controversial section, presumably intended to deal with terrorists, which now gives the President authority to detain a person indefinitely without trial, if suspected of terrorism. Many believe this provision to be unconstitutional.

President Obama did release a "signing statement" when he signed the bill into law, stating he would not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. However, the definition of "covered persons" in the Act does not specifically exclude American citizens, which has created quite a bit of debate.

A pattern of unconstitutional federal legislation began in earnest with the PATRIOT Act, which was passed October 26, 2001, a month a half after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The PATRIOT Act has essentially eroded constitutional rights by creating a broad definition of domestic terrorism, defining it as acts committed in the United States that appear to be intended to influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion or to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. This means many groups that engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, the Occupy Wall Street protestors for example, could possibly find themselves labeled as terrorists.

Additionally, the PATRIOT Act violates the due process clause of the 5th Amendment by allowing non-citizens to be detained without charge and held indefinitely once charged. The Act also infringes on the 4th Amendment right of the people to be free from unreasonable government searches and seizures by allowing federal agents to write their own search warrants if they suspect someone to be a terrorist. They can monitor a person's library and bookstore records, conduct searches of property and computers, twiretap and monitor a person's email, and get access to a person's financial and educational records, all without notice.

The way the PATRIOT Act was passed is also disturbing. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft told the house and senate judiciary committees that the Patriot Act was so important that they didn't have time to read the statute before they could vote on it. Most congressmen didn't even read it, and the ones who did had fifteen minutes to read three-hundred and fifteen pages. So with no debate on the floor, the PATRIOT Act was passed with two dissents.

Since then, the TSA has been violating people's privacy rights against unreasonable searches and seizures at airports. New naked body scanners are installed at many United States Airports. Not only can these scanners see through clothing, but no one really knows the potential health risks of the radiation that people are being exposed to. Anyone who doesn't consent to the body scanning is subject to a full body pat down, that many people experience as the equivalent of being molested. There have been many complaints and lawsuits against the TSA.

Some people may think that if this is what it takes to be safe and protected from danger, they are willing to accept these government intrusions. But we need to remember, our Constitution was written for a reason, to protect our rights from being violated. Once we lose respect for our Constitution, how long is it going to take before we become another Cuba or Nazi Germany? That is not the kind of place where most of us would want to live.

We all want to feel safe, but maybe we as American citizens are so accustomed to having the privilege of living in a free country, that we have started taking our freedoms for granted. We assume we will always have our freedom and that it will never be taken away from us. But that just might in fact happen if we don't start respecting our Constitution, the rights that it explicitly protects, and demand that they not be violated.



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