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December 16, 2002

Preserving the Bill of Rights

Al Duke

The Bill of Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) are all about individual rights and government action. The Bill of Rights seems to note, in a straightforward manner, which rights belong to individuals and which to the states. But in practice, when individuals, governments, and events come together, the interpretation of these rights can be complex indeed.

The ACLU was founded in 1920, in an era when various civil liberties were under attack. People were being jailed for distributing anti-war literature, foreigners were being deported without due process … wait a minute, this is familiar stuff! Today, even as I type, people opposed to an Iraq war are distributing anti-war material across the street from the White House. But the friction over deportations is not resolved as there are still issues being discussed about illegal aliens and illegal combatants.

Over time, many began to think that the ACLU, though non-partisan, was tilting consistently in the liberal direction. Thus, in 1990, the ACLJ was formed. Its purpose is to defend individual civil liberties with an emphasis on religious freedom, pro-family, and pro-life issues. The organization views these issues through Judeo-Christian values.

These organizations consistently work diligently to achieve their ends. The Ten Commandments monument in Frederick is but one issue where they have met in opposition. While some say that the monument should be defended and others say it should be removed and others just want the issue to be closed and to go away, the real thing to take away from this is that the American Constitution is alive and working here in downtown Frederick.

This is exciting stuff! The Constitution plays such a role in our lives that we regularly pay no attention to it except for the big issues. In 1974, when President Nixon was on the ropes, there was a lot of media-instigated talk about whether he would try to parlay his popularity among the military to organize a coup. My opinion then and now was that military personnel take an oath to support the Constitution, not any particular president. This was a hyped Constitutional issue that was a non-starter.

But in the most recent presidential election in which one presidential candidate either stole or tried to steal the election from the other (depending on your point of view), numerous Constitutional issues arose. Would Florida’s legislature get involved? Would it go to the House of Representatives? Would President Clinton stay on until it was resolved? Well, no, strike the last. There is a Constitutional process to resolve that problem until the election can be completed.

However, there are things happening every day that do not make the local or national horizon for news. There are bills in Congress and in various state legislatures to expand DNA collection for the purpose of criminal identification. The FBI and each state has DNA databases today, but the trend is to expand them to include not just people who have committed violent crimes, but all criminals; not just adults, but juveniles; and not just those who have been convicted but those who have been arrested. A civil liberties friction point is developing on this issue.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) supports this expansion. It makes some good points regarding the use of expanded and connected DNA databases in the solution of violent crimes, especially against women. However, the ACLU is concerned that a database of this nature could be used to identify and detain persons with specific genetic traits. Furthermore, DNA describes not only the particular individual but also gives insight into family members. This is a burgeoning civil liberties issue.

So, whether we do or do not like the outcome of the Ten Commandments case, it is but one of many continuing efforts by the ACLU and the ACLJ that daily redefines the living American Constitution to American life. Whether it is the war memorial cross in the Mojave National Preserve, or a student religion-based club meeting on school property, or the review of the Miranda warning, these organizations, and others like them, perform a significant role at the friction point between government action and abuse, and individual rights.

Even if we disagree with their position on the issue at hand, we should welcome their participation because they are helping to preserve the Bill of Rights.

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