With the Iowa Caucus now behind us, the election cycle is in full swing. The economy, specifically “jobs,” will probably continue to dominate the news cycle and the debates. The ethical implications of corporate greed, high unemployment rates, lending practices, etc. are all very real and very timely. However, this year we decided that the questions we will tackle as a group are the ones that have to do with civil liberties and national security.
Civil liberties are the liberties (freedoms) that citizens are explicitly granted within a Nation, State, or other commonwealth. In the United States the Bill of Rights guarantees certain liberties, and other liberties are considered to be fundamental, the most famous of which come in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Simply claiming freedom for oneself or one’s fellow citizens, though, is not enough. There are necessary conditions for these liberties to exist. The next sentence in the Declaration of Independence reads: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” Governments are instituted to protect the rights of their citizens; the questions revolve around what sorts of tradeoffs are necessary for the protection of liberties. That is, in the quest for “national security,” we will have to suspend certain rights of certain people at certain times to guarantee the ongoing rights of the general citizenry. This is a tricky tradeoff, though. The most obvious current example of these debates can be seen in your recent holiday travels. Most of you left campus and some flew home or to other places. The heightened security measures at airport checkpoints after 2001 are a suspension of certain rights to privacy, but are a tradeoff for larger security concerns—or at least that is the way it can be argued.
For the rest of the year, you will hear political conversations about the economy, wars in foreign countries, the task of securing the United States border, and many other issues. For the rest of the school year, we intend to raise critical awareness about the way these and other national security concerns interact with civil liberties. I encourage you to pay close attention to the debates with the same critical awareness of what is at stake for you and for others regarding the protection of your liberties—and your responsibilities protecting them.