Thursday, October 21, 2004

Court makes wise call in decision on liberty


Since 1990, thousands of protesters have staged an annual demonstration at a U.S. training academy for Latin American soldiers in Georgia.

Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the protesters have had to pass through metal detectors on their way to the demonstration.

One could be forgiven for wondering what connection 9/11 has with an annual event in Georgia. Because there is no connection.

Now a federal appeals court has upheld the rights of the protesters, ruling that authorities have no right to screen them before they can make their views heard outside the academy.

It was a stinging rebuke, a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. The court is generally among the more conservative of the federal appeals courts. But it strongly stood with liberty in its decision last Friday.

Wrote Judge Gerald Tjoflat: "We cannot simply suspend or restrict civil liberties until the War on Terror is over, because the War on Terror is unlikely ever to be truly over.

"Sept. 11, 2001, already a day of immeasurable tragedy, cannot be the day liberty perished in this country."

We applaud the wise and sound decision, and hope that it heralds a long-overdue turning point in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, debate. Far too many authorities have been far too quick to use 9/11 as a kind of shorthand to explain away new and unnecessarily intrusive security procedures. And far too many people have willingly gone along without making a sound.

When someone says he's got to search your bag because of 9/11 - and you are not about to board a plane or enter a government building - there's a fair chance that the authorities hadn't really thought their actions all the way through.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects the citizens of this land "against unreasonable searches and seizures." As much as some would have us believe otherwise, that amendment did not become inoperative on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

The people who have been demonstrating each year at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation - formerly the School of the Americas - know that well. Thankfully, the 11th Circuit Court does, too.



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