Americans want those responsible for the WTC tragedy caught and punished. However, that doesn’t mean that Americans should also be punished by suspending our constitutional rights. To the contrary, any infringement on America’s Bill of Rights not only violates our heritage of freedom, it violates our Constitution and diminishes the brave American patriots who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

Waving the flag and singing patriotic songs seems to be the rage these days, but let’s not forget that America’s Constitution and Bill of Rights must always come first. As Thomas Jefferson so wisely advised his fellow Americans: “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.”

Back in 1778, Thomas Paine warned Americans about false patriots who wave the flag on sunny days, but fail to uphold liberty in stormy weather: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

The real tragedy of Sept. 11 is that the public’s fear of terrorism is being used to fraudulently barter away rights that are supposed to be guaranteed, without exceptions, to all Americans. Cowed by public hysteria, Congress has turned its back on the Constitution and passed anti-terrorism bills that authorize completely unconstitutional activities such as the “delayed notice” provision, section 213, allowing the government to conduct covert searches. This means that law enforcement agencies can enter a person’s home or office, search through the person’s possessions, in some cases seize physical objects or electronic information, without the person knowing that law enforcement agents were there.

America, once admired for its freedom and democratic ideals, suddenly finds itself in a secret war, with secret courts, sealed warrants and secret searches. Now the FBI is even talking about using torture to gain confessions from suspects, signaling an even greater attack on our most fundamental civil liberties. Like deer caught in the headlights, we are too paralyzed by fear and denial to take proper evasive actions to end this grab for power or to demand that our rights be upheld.

As a result, the Bush administration has taken unprecedented control of the military and law enforcement. And most of the mainstream news and information organizations are accommodating him. Waving flags and promoting false patriotism, this new and highly secretive oligarchy is shamelessly using our fear of terrorism to suspend our rights and the media’s access to the truth. Even the Freedom of Information Act is under attack with Attorney General John Ashcroft issuing a new statement of policy that encourages federal agencies to “resist Freedom of Information Act requests, whenever they have legal grounds to do so.”

Speaking of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots, how is it that the Congress abrogated its responsibility to exert checks and balances on this power grab by the Bush administration?

The congressional oath is to uphold the Constitution, and the rights guaranteed by that document, against all enemies foreign and domestic. There is nothing there about selling out our constitutional rights because of a war or “national security.” No, each member of Congress took an oath to defend our rights. Now Congress has betrayed its oath, sold out our rights and is guilty of aiding and abetting a slow-motion coup d’etat.

Showing solidarity with the president may seem patriotic, but no one has the right to barter away our inalienable rights, especially the Congress, since their oath requires them to defend the Constitution and the rights it guarantees. Yes, it’s terrible that 5,000 innocent people were so brutally slaughtered on Sept. 11, but we must remember that hundreds of thousands of brave American patriots also paid the ultimate price to preserve our heritage of freedom.

Patriotism is more than waving a flag or supporting the government. Real patriotism demands an unwavering commitment to upholding and defending all of our rights, regardless of any argument of necessity or “national security.”

Steve Kubby is the founder of The American Medical Marijuana Association and played a key role in the passage of California’s Prop. 215, the statewide initiative legalizing medical use of cannabis.

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