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The State of Civil Liberties

Some commentators have interpreted these survey results as typically American - attempting to "have our cake and eat it." I don't agree. I think the surveys indicate that the American people are sophisticated and nuanced in their approach to liberty and security. In other words, these conflicting concerns point to the fact that people are trying to strike a balance between competing values. Americans understand that terror, by its very nature, is intended not only to destroy, but also to intimidate a people, forcing us to take actions that are not in our best interest.

That's why defending liberty during a time of national crisis is the ultimate act of defiance. It is the ultimate act of patriotism. For if we are intimidated to the point of restricting our freedoms, the terrorists will have won.

President Bush understood this point at the start. In his first address to the nation following 9-11, Mr. Bush said that America was targeted for attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one, he emphasized, "will keep that light from shining."

Safe and Free
At the ACLU we took those words to heart and launched a campaign that we call "Safe and Free in Time of Crisis." Our message is clear - the ACLU supports government actions to keep Americans SAFE from terrorism and FREE to exercise constitutional freedoms. We support actions to increase the effectiveness of LAW ENFORCEMENT and protect INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS. After all, when the war against terrorism is finally won, we want to be able to recognize our country. America must, therefore, be vigilant, and guard against any short-term tradeoffs that would needlessly and dangerously erode fundamental freedoms.

Unfortunately, within days of the President's affirming the need to keep freedom strong, his administration, with the support of Congress, sought and eventually gained an expansive array of new powers that threaten to undermine the system of checks and balances so essential for the protection of civil liberties.