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Care for Some Tea?

Lady Liberty

Many people have clever quotes displayed in their homes and offices. These sayings can be as simple and traditional as a cross-stitched "Home Sweet Home," or as modern as motivational posters bearing admonitions from super-achievers and role models like Lance Armstrong. Me? I have bumper stickers taped to the side of a cabinet. They include such politically charged gems as "Ted Kennedy's Car Has Killed More People Than My Gun" and "Apes Evolved from Creationists," and those with personal meaning or entertainment value for me like "Even Chaos Has A Pattern" and "The Two Most Common Elements in the Universe are Hydrogen and Stupidity." But of all the bumper stickers I display, one is daily becoming more and more my favorite. That's the bumper sticker that says, "It's Time for Another Tea Party."

229 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was written, wrangled over, and signed. On July 4, 1776, it was printed; on July 5, a Philadelphia newspaper announced its adoption. On July 8, it was read aloud at the State House in Philadelphia. That evening it was read again, this time to members of the militia gathered on the Commons. Over the course of the month of July, 1776, newspapers published the content of the document, and people celebrated with "loud shouts, huzzas, firings of muskets, and the tearing down of the British emblems." (This, and much more information as to the history surrounding the Fourth of July, is available in the online Fourth of July Celebrations Database, courtesy of James R. Heintze.)

The Declaration of Independence wasn't by any stretch of the imagination the beginning of the troubles the Colonists had with the British Crown. It was, instead, the final resort of men who had done everything that they could to avoid a war and a separation from their mother country. Appeals had been made to King George III in letters and via representatives from the Colonies; protests, including the infamous Boston Tea Party of 1773, were mounted. But neither reason nor civil disobedience made much of an impression on the Crown, and when the Colonists at long last realized that the King was immovable, they took a last and drastic step.

Although there were many reasons that the Colonists were unhappy with British rule, a synopsis of the most provocative of those reasons can be seen by simply reading the Bill of Rights (some of the rights enumerated are duplicates of rights theoretically enjoyed under British rule since the signing of the Magna Carta; that King George III ignored them only increased the antipathy Americans felt toward him). It's thus more than a little ironic that Americans, who are currently under the rule of another man named George, should find the very rights they fought to restore and retain once again in substantial jeopardy. (To be fair, the loss of civil liberties in America has stretched out over a timeframe that's much longer than those relatively few years George W. Bush has been in office, though the losses have accelerated on his watch).

The First Amendment promises freedom of speech, including (in fact, especially) political speech. It also says Americans have the right to freely assemble and to petition the government for redress. Yet protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Boston were relegated to a prison-like fenced area a block away from the convention site; at the Republican National Convention in New York City, more than 1,800 protesters were arrested — many of them subsequently "held incommunicado for 48 hours and longer under filthy and abusive conditions" — but only a few failed to see all charges dismissed or be acquitted. The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform legislation, which effectively muzzles political speech by advocacy groups, is yet another curb on political speech, and one which lies squarely at the feet of a president named George who promised he wouldn't sign it, but then did.

The First Amendment ensures that the government won't establish an official religion or interfere with the freedom of Americans to worship as they see fit. But the Bush administration's so-called "faith-based initiative" does a little of both. In a column written about the program in 2003, columnist Tom DeWeese points out that government funding equated to government control, and that some religious groups were already being told they had to hire employees without discrimination based on religion — which, DeWeese went on to say, made the group just another charity rather than a Catholic charity, for example. Other groups receiving federal funding are using the expanded services they can now offer to serve as an opportunity to evangelize, thus interfering yet again with the freedom to worship as the individual sees fit. The money itself, of course, is an effective "donation" of federal money to promote a specific religion. (Ooops, George W. Bush is almost entirely responsible again!)

The Second Amendment says that the right of "the people" to keep and bear arms "shall not be infringed." That's a right that's been steadily eroded since the 1930's, and even in the supposedly pro-gun Bush administration, isn't really gaining ground. Gun sales records which are supposed to be destroyed when the applicant passes a background check are being held; various databases sought and promoted by government officials will prove to be gun registration whether they're called that or not. Whatever the mandate, the fact is that purchase records apparently aren't being destroyed (in 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft defended the early destruction of such records, and then schizophrenically refused the FBI permission to look through the database to see if the 9/11 terrorists had purchased guns — records which couldn't exist had they been destroyed).

In fact, a database of those who've purchased guns has probably existed for quite some time; even without such records, point-of-sale paperwork must be held for twenty years (when saying the FBI couldn't look through NICS records, John Ashcroft helpfully pointed out that even if database records were destroyed, dealer records would still remain and "government agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms could still track down illegal gun purchases through those records.")

Meanwhile, some states don't allow you to carry a firearm at all, while those who do (with the notable exceptions of Alaska and Vermont) require you to jump through a variety of paperwork hoops before you can do so. The regulations are even worse in some places, such as New York City, Chicago, and our nation's capital where it's next to impossible to have a gun at all. It may be that more of us would do well to take note that the "shot heard 'round the world" was fired on April 19, 1775 when King George's men were sent to confiscate firearms from the Colonials.

In the Fourth Amendment, Americans are protected from unwarranted searches. King George's soldiers were wont to simply barge in and check things out in Colonial America, and the Founders were in no mood to let their new government take similar advantage. Unfortunately, for reasons of expediency and because it was permitted to do so by a complacent public, exceptions were made to various aspects of the Fourth Amendment in the name of the War on Drugs. Outside of consent, there are now any number of exceptions to the need for a warrant in a search, some of which stem from the War on Drugs but others of which exist because "they're for your own good" or "for your safety" or, worst of all, "for the children."

The Supreme Court has ruled more than once that drunk driving checkpoints and subsequent searches are okay, as are many other types of vehicle searches; in Louisiana, permission to search was given to police by a person not even a resident of the premises, and a Circuit Court upheld the results of the search. Forfeitures have become an attractive way for law enforcement agencies to make money, never mind whether or not the goods or money being taken have anything to do with the commission of a crime (it takes a strong stomach to spend much time at the FEAR — Forfeiture Endangers American Rights — web site).

The Fifth Amendment right to silence (a person cannot be forced to incriminate himself) was effectively taken from us with the Supreme Court's 2004 decision in the case of Hiibel v. Nevada; the right to private property was eviscerated by the June 23, 2005 Supreme Court ruling that determined eminent domain could be used to take property from one private entity to give to another richer private entity.

There were people at the time the Constitution was written who were worried that there was no Bill of Rights. Others were concerned that writing a Bill of Rights might cause officials to someday determine that the only rights the people had were those that were written down. The latter is the short explanation for the existence of the Ninth Amendment which says that, just because it's not written here, doesn't mean the people don't still have certain rights. Yet how many arguments have many of us heard from the mouths of our friends, neighbors, lawyers, and even politicians that include the words, "It's not in the Constitution that you can..." The Ninth Amendment, at least for the purposes of actually protecting any rights, is almost certainly at least as damaged and gone as are several of the others.

The Tenth Amendment, of course, makes the condition of the Ninth look healthy. Under the clause of the Constitution that says Congress has the authority to regulate interstate commerce, judges and Congressmen alike have usurped virtually unlimited powers. The recent Supreme Court decision that said federal laws supercede state laws in the matter of medical marijuana was just the latest nail in the coffin of the Tenth Amendment.

Finally, it's impossible in any discussion of civil liberties to avoid mention of the misnamed USA PATRIOT Act and its proposed expansions. With its negative impact on First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights, this single piece of legislation has circumvented more of the Bill of Rights — and more thoroughly — than the collective unconstitutionalities of the last several decades. This one, too, bears the fingerprints of George W. Bush, especially when you consider not only his own support of the law but his appointment of one of the PATRIOT Act authors to the position of Attorney General.

Though we can blame George Bush for some things, merely because the current George-in-charge will be gone in three years doesn't mean that the next president — whether he be Tom, Dick, or Hillary — will do anything but continue on the course that the last hundred or so years worth of presidents have set us on. We can't afford to pretend that merely seeing George Bush leave the White House will restore our freedom unless we're as set as the politicians seem to be on losing it entirely.

So here we are, 229 years after the Declaration of Independence. Most of us have written letters to Washington with little effect; some of us have even visited Washington and received just about the same result. We've signed petitions protesting this regulation or that proposed action, and seen the rules adopted and the actions undertaken. We've protested, and found ourselves forcibly shuttled aside or arrested for our troubles. It could be that the time for armchair discussion is over, and the time for concrete action is here.

Joseph Banister knew that, and his exoneration on federal charges is proof positive that an individual can take a great risk and make great gains accordingly. The property owners in New London, Connecticut knew that and, with their loss, they've won a very real battle to inspire hundreds of thousands of property owners across the country to stand up and defend their rights. Those in the Free State Project, Free State Wyoming, and Free West Alliance know that, and are determined to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to restore freedom one small part of the country at a time.

This July, let's remember the month long celebrations of our forefathers by considering not merely what they did, but why. They saw grievous injuries to their rights and liberties, and they ended up winning freedom for their posterity even though they had to risk their property and their lives to do so. In the face of the grievous injuries to liberty we see once again today, will we have the commitment and the courage to risk some hard work and perhaps some hardship to stand up and win it back? In the words of a certain bumper sticker, methinks it's time for another tea party...

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