Free Speech Vs. Security Freedom of Speech Essay

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Free Speech vs. Security

Freedom of Speech and Homeland Security

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin, 1775

Freedom of speech is one of the essential cornerstones of democratic societies. Absent the right to free speech, democracy cannot function -- one might even say there is no democracy without freedom of speech. While most citizens and members of the governing body of democratic countries firmly subscribe to this conviction, at the time of wars and emergencies some voices begin to question the appropriateness of granting the citizens all civil liberties inherent in democracies. As a temporary war-time measure, often members of the governing body place restrictions on citizens' civil liberties, including their right to free speech. There have been many moments in history when the government of the United States temporarily suspended elements of democratic institutions, the most recent being the passing of the PATRIOT Act and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security by the Bush Administration in response to September 11 terrorist attacks. From the perspective of homeland security, freedom of speech may be viewed as a point of vulnerability that can be exploited by America's enemies. This recent example and the history of the United States, however, suggest that the curtailment of the right to free speech is a far greater danger to the nation than the perceived danger of free speech during war times.

When the United States came under attack in 2001, the public demanded that the government take swift measures to ensure America's safety.
The Bush Administration responded by passing several laws that granted greater power to law enforcement agencies and placed restrictions on American citizens' civil liberties. Many Americans were willing to give up some of their liberties for the sake of security. According to Baker (2003), these developments led to greater centralization of power by the Oval Office and the "securitization of the public sphere" by the Bush Administration. The government argued that some civil liberties, including the right to free speech, were weaknesses the terrorists could exploit. "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this," the Attorney General John Ashcroft stated. "Your tactics only aid terrorists -- for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve . . ." (pp. 547-548).

But there were serious questions about the efficacy of measures advocated by Ashcroft. Unlike previous wars, the "war on terror" pursued by the Bush Administration was a new kind of war, "bound neither by time, geography, nor specific adversaries" (Baker, 2003, p. 548). It was not clear when or if the war would ever end, and likewise it was not clear whether restrictions on civil liberties would be ever lifted. New measures also increased domestic suspicion, instilling fear and distrust among Americans. But most importantly, the government secrecy and decreased tolerance for dissenting views and opinions endangered democracy. Dissenting views and healthy debates are essential for the proper functioning of democracies, and the Bush Administration's obsession with secrecy and unwillingness to listen to dissenting views led to a disastrous and costly war in.....

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