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Home » Resources » Religious Liberty Sermons » The Patriot Act - Part I

Power begets power. Powerlessness begets zilch, nada, nothing, oblivion

The Patriot Act is possibly one of the most controversial and misunderstood laws congress has ever enacted. For many Americans it represents an unjustifiable invasion of the Bill of Rights affecting not only surveillance and clandestine physical searches, but “religious liberty, freedom of association, freedom of the press, and freedom of inquiry.”

The Monthly Review observes this:

“The function of criminal law has been altered within the context of the anti-terror struggle. Normally, criminal law treats prosecuted persons as individuals. The criminalization of terrorist organizations and the criminalization of participation in or support for such organizations create offenses of collective responsibility. . . it is no longer just the act of committing a crime or even the intention of doing so that is prosecuted. Merely belonging to a group that is considered terrorist by the government is sufficient for punishment. . . . It legitimizes a change in the political system, granting to the executive power the prerogative of the judiciary. To achieve this objective, the Patriot Act undertakes a twofold erasure of the boundaries between police functions and intelligence work by means of measures that authorize surveillance and the seizure of information that were originally established for counter-espionage activities by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.”

However, In the light of 9-11 the Patriot Act makes some citizens feel more secure. Following 9-11 a large percentage of Americans were willing to abandon their “rights” in exchange for the guarantee of security. According to a Gallup poll in 2003 “the vast majority of Americans do not think the Patriot Act is trampling constitutional rights in the process of fighting terrorism.”

There is however, one issue upon which “We the People” will mostly all agree it is this; we have vested enormous authority in the Federal government. However, as the years have passed there is rising popular concern that this shift of power and authority calls for more transparency and a system of checks and balances. The war on terrorism which we are currently involved in should not diminish the importance of accountability which is best monitored by checks and balances. Security at home and in the developing global atmosphere is best enhanced by building confidence, accountability, transparency and checks and balances both at home and in the marketplace.

Power, Corruption and Terrorism

Lord Acton (1834-1902) wrote: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. . . .” Daniel Webster was even more precise, he stated: “Human beings will generally exercise power when they can get it, and they will exercise it most undoubtedly in popular government under the pretense of public safety.” Before proceeding to more particulars of the Patriot Act we need to emotionally come to grips with the power of “unlimited” power. History teaches us how corrupt “unlimited” power often becomes. It also teaches us how equally corrupt reactions against “unlimited” power often pan out.

But we must do more than review history we must remember that human nature does not change and that power in the hands of even the well meaning powerful often becomes coercive and tyrannical. We must also add to the equation that without power there is nothing, nada, zilch. This is why checks and balances, accountability and responsible transparency must constitute the underpinnings of freedom.

A history lesson from the past will serve to illustrate how power begets “unlimited” power. It will demonstrate that human nature does not change and in the long run that power often ends up corrupt, tyrannical and coercive regardless of its initial motives.

Following the death of Alexander the Great, Antiochus III defeated the Egyptians and annexed Judaea to his empire. He began a systematic program of Hellenization by removing Monotheism and substituting Greek paganism which threatened both Jewish culture and their religion. After his father’s death, Antiochus IV inherited the throne in 176 BCE. He began a coercive, hard core, tyrannical and unlimited power program of Hellenization to force the Jews into cultural submission. He defied the central teachings of Judaism by outlawing the Sabbath, feast days and circumcision. It is reported that he even required the eating of pork. Children who were circumcised were slain and hung around their mother’s neck. Antiochus even went so far as to erect an Altar in the Jewish temple to the pagan deity, Olympian Zeus. The Jews referred to this as the “abomination of desolation.”

“But Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, members of the priestly Hasmonian family, led the nation to arms.”

Now Judas didn’t just wage war - he also waged guerilla warfare. First he and his brothers silently and secretly destroyed the pagan altars. Next he circumcised the children to re- establish Jewish cultural and religious identity. He routed a larger Seleucid army due to his better choice of a battlefield. He eluded the forces of Gorgias and while Gorgias searched for him in the mountains Judas made a surprise attack upon the Seleucid camp and defeated Seleucid. He followed military strategies similar to those invented by Sun Tzu in 544 BCE. These strategies reflect those currently utilized by the Taliban and Al Queida. They are taught in most military academies but surprisingly also in the business world. More astounding is the fact that they form the basic strategy on how to operate the government in an atmosphere of crisis.

We saw this in the recent famous statement “Never let a crisis pass.” This signals that governments understands that citizens are the most vulnerable to change in the midst of a crisis. Governments utilize crisis to manipulate power in their favor.

Naturally, Jewish joy was great with the routing of Seleucid and eventually Judas drove out the Jewish foes from Jerusalem. There was great jubilation and a re-consecration of the temple at Jerusalem. In honor of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, the Jews instituted the Feast of Lights (Hanukkah). It is not difficult to connect the dots of how or why Judas and his brothers gained control of the office of High Priest which was known as the Hasmonean Dynasty. They were not only members of the priestly family but men of power and military strategy. But right here is where the story turns. “The Hasmoneans proved to be almost as tyrannical as many of their pagan masters had been.”

Human nature had reasserted itself not in politics but in politics united with religion! Beware America; recall the recent marriage of Neo Conservatism to politics and morality. Bill Moyers told an audience at Harvard Medical School: “One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington.”

We live in an age of a swinging political pendulum from Neo Conservatism to Democratic Socialism; power is not zilch or nada it is “unlimited” on both sides of the isle. Remember this; the Patriot Act has limited the power of “we the people” regardless of which party reigns.

In Defense of the Patriot Act

While there are numerous things to be said against the Patriot Act there are many to be said for it. There was an urgent need for reform among the agencies responsible for defending this nation. Communication between federal agencies was in disarray. Speed is essential in a world of computers utilizing satellite transmission; technology was in urgent need of updating. However, 9-11 did not occur because of a “lack of surveillance, authority or even a failure to pick up the telltale facts, rather, it was the failure to understand the information already gathered, a failure that was, in part, the product of the FBI’s and CIA’s unwillingness to share leads within and between their agencies. . . . agents did receive highly revealing information but failed to pass it along to others who would have been in a position to connect the dots.”

A serious problem existed between interagency communications. It was a case of guarding one’s own chicken coup. Surveillance powers are necessary in a world of terrorism but there needs to be equal privacy protections for citizens and The Patriot Act is significantly weak in that area. Here are some of its requirements:

• Indefinite incarceration if the President deems you are an “enemy combatant;”

• courts whose power to restrain police abuse is limited;

• secret searches of your property;

• government access to your medical, financial, library, and educational records;

• surveillance of religious services, internet chat rooms, political demonstrations and other public meetings;

• secret immigration hearings; and

• restricted speech due to overbroad definitions of “terrorism.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 was useful in 2001 but it was overlooked by the Bush administration and information gathering of both foreign and American citizens was instituted without a court order. A “Sunset Clause” was added to the bill to be met by December 31, 2005. The “sunset clause” was to permit the possible restoration of lost basic freedoms.

In Part II we will discover what the sun went down on in Patriot Act II in 2005. We will also discover what the sun set on in March of 2010 - or are we in a permanent state of emergency on which the sun may never set?

Endnotes

Schulhoffer, Stephen J. Rethinking the Patriot Act, A Century Foundation Report (The Century Foundation Press, 2005), 60

Payne, Jean-Claude. "A Permanent State of Emergency." monthlyreview.org/. N.p., Vol. 58, N 6 11/2006. Web. 30 Mar 2010. <http://www.monthlyreview.org/1106paye.htm>.

Brownfield, Peter. “Patriot Act Opponents Say Law Endangers Rights.” Fox News Website. FoxNews.com/politics. Fox news Network, LLC. (FOX)., 09/11/2003. Web. 30 Mar 2010. <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,97003,00.html>

Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg. "Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 1887." The Quotations Page. (c) 1994-2007 QuotationsPage.com and Michael Moncur, n.d. Web. 30 Mar 2010. <http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/27321.html>.

Webster, Daniel. "On Power: The Independent Institute." OnPower.org. The Independent Institute, n.d. Web. 30 Mar 2010. <http://www.onpower.org/quotes/w.html#websterd>.

Bruce, F. F. The Spreading Flame. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958. 28. Print.

Bruce, 28.

Phillips, Kevin. American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. New York, New York. Viking Penquin Group, 2006. xv. Print.

Schulhoffer, 18.

HR. 3171, introduced September 24, 2003.