Since the atrocity of Sept. 11 some have argued that it is necessary to restrict freedom in order to protect ourselves from terrorism while others have argued that to give up freedom for security is to destroy the thing we are fighting to defend.
This is false dilemma. Individual liberty is not a threat to our security. It is or ought to be an integral part of our security system. To illustrate this point look at the bill of rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The first amendment which protects free speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion adds to our security in two ways.
First, it largely protects us from internal religious conflict. Because the state is forbidden to interfere in private religious matters, religious groups are not in constant conflict to impose their beliefs on each other. Thus we have been mostly spared from having home grown religious terrorists.
Second, by protecting freedom of the press the first amendment increases the probability that our nation will have a winning strategy in the war on terrorism. In any country the number of people in the defense and foreign policy bureaucracy is limited. Moreover many intelligent people interested in defense and foreign policy will not join the government agencies because of the bureaucratic regimentation. In the absence of freedom of the press, only the thinking of members of these bureaucracies could shape our foreign policy. With freedom of the press the ideas of thinkers outside the bureaucracies are available for consideration by the decision makers. Thus the total brain power brought to bare on security questions is vastly increased and the probability of our adopting a winning security strategy is increased. The second amendment which protects the right of individuals to own guns is potentially one of the most potent weapons in the war on terrorism. The fact is that the government can not be everywhere; It can not protect us at all times. Under the second amendment American citizens have the right to own and carry the means of personal defense. Unfortunately this right is often violated for our alleged safety. The private ownership of arms could have prevented the tragedy of Sept. 11. When citizens act spontaneously together to repel an armed attack against out nation as the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 did on Sept. 11 they are acting as a militia.
Part of the tragedy of 9/11 is that the citizens on the four flights were disarmed and thus less able to fight back against their murderers. Imagine for a moment what would have happened if every passenger on the four flights had been armed with a good knife. Would the terrorists have succeeded or would they have ended up stabbed to death? If the passengers had guns the terrorists would not have ended up killing thousands of people, they would have died in a hail of bullets. As Flight 93 and a number of incidents since then have shown the courage of the average American is the primary line of defense against terrorism. The second amendment has the potential to magnify the effectiveness of this weapon in the war against terrorism.
The third, fourth and fifth amendments protect among other things the right to property. The right to property is also important to our security. Because the United States is one of the more capitalist nations in the world it is a rich nation. That wealth allows the U.S. to pay for sophisticated weapons and other tools in the war on terrorism.
Amendments four through eight which protect against wrongful arrest, the use of secret witnesses, extorted confessions, and guarantee trial by jury are often thought of as hindrance in the war on terrorism, but are actually a powerful security measure. We want to put those guilty of acts of terrorism behind bars so they can no longer attack us. Wrongly convicting an innocent person basically gives the guilty person a get out jail free card. By forbidding the use of secret witnesses or extorted confessions and by requiring the government to have a strong enough case to convince a jury of citizens it is less likely that a innocent man will go to jail and less likely the guilty one will be free to continue his terrorist depredations.
What happens if a person guilty of terrorism is wrongly acquitted because of the rights protected under the constitution? The FBI can keep watching him until he does something else illegal like planning a terrorist attack, then they can arrest him again. If the authorities have done their job properly, this time he will be found guilty. Thus amendments four through eight not only protect individual rights but act as a sort of quality control for law enforcement.
The idea that individual rights are a threat to our security is wrong. From free speech to freedom from wrongful imprisonment, a free society is not just the moral way to live together it is the practical way.