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Erosion of rights

Publisher’s note: The following editorial is reprinted from the March 16, 2006 edition of The SUN.

A recent study showed an alarming ignorance of our basic rights, as guaranteed by our Constitution. According to the study, only one in five Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Can you?

More than half of those polled, however, could name at least two of the characters in a popular television cartoon series.

Reportedly, only one in a thousand Americans can name all five First Amendment freedoms. Who knows what the picture would be concerning the entire Bill of Rights.

Why does this matter?

Because our rights are now being constantly assailed, at all levels, flying off like ash from the window of a burning house. Beguiled by individuals and groups proposing laws and actions reinforced by unexamined conventional wisdom, many of us, and many of our elected officials, fall into line supporting this erosion of our liberties, following along like sheep.

Our general ignorance of our rights, our growing gullibility and our immunity to facts that counter what seems obvious and the product of common sense, are leading us to sacrifice our rights and responsibilities; leading us to give government and institutions more control over what we do, what we say, what we believe.

It seems we cannot heed the evidence of history.

Lately, the architects of a climate of fear propel this move. Look at the damage done to our rights in light of engineered fears. Look at the consistent erosion of privacy, of freedom of expression — all undertaken under the umbrella of “good intentions” — intentions that satisfy lazy minds, minds willing to accept conventional wisdom rather than test it at every turn.

Rarely do many of us demand verification of claims. Too many of us swallow whole the assertions of those who stand to gain by our acceptance of fear — of terrorism, of drugs, of violence, of crime, of the other, etc. Too many of us accept erosion of our rights as a necessary consequence of a response to a threat, and fail to demand the threat be substantiated, incontrovertibly. They shuffle along with the crowd, toward the cliff.

Further, many of us increasingly accept oversimplifications of situations, eager to digest them quickly and move on to oversimplified solutions. We are bombarded by politicians and avaricious characters with emotionally-loaded terms and moralistic interpretations. And we are the worse for it, because unanalyzed and simplistic solutions to oversimplified problems produce more problems, worse problems.

It seems we cannot heed the evidence of history.

We believe it wise to take caution: there are, no doubt, those among us who would fertilize the culture of fear and attempt to capitalize on it. There are those who would convince us to accept the weakening of our rights, who would have us accept actions taken without probable cause, who would have us believe our problems are simple and that they will melt under the pressure of attractive and simple solutions. We face problems, here in Pagosa Country, for example — roads, development, growth, drugs, crime, change — none of which is simple. We should be wary of those who make them seem so, for if we succumb to their approach, we are likely to suffer a miserable fate.

We live in an atmosphere in which there is growing disrespect for individual rights and much of the action proposed by those who harbor this disrespect is justified with “good reasons.” Beware if those reasons rest on a foundation of fear.

We need, all of us, to read the Bill of Rights. And read it again. And to be careful.

To paraphrase the theologian Bonhoeffer: When everyone else has lost their rights and been taken away, they come for you. Karl Isberg