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As I See It

Hal Sundin

Most Americans are aware of the doctrine of Separation of Church and State, which was so important to the framers of our Constitution that it was incorporated into the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which are known as the “Bill of Rights.” The first of these amendments guarantees the American people freedom of religion, free speech, and freedom of the press. In the more than 200 years since the First Amendment was adopted, it has served us well in preserving our freedoms.

But what happens when the State itself takes on the role of a religion – when edicts of the State assume the nature of religious doctrine? Three societies in this century offer us extreme examples – Japan, in which the emperor was worshiped as divine, and consequently the actions of his government were above question; Nazi Germany, in which the vast majority worshiped Adolph Hitler as their Messiah with a fanatical religious fervor; and China, where if you did not subscribe to “Mao-think” with sufficient enthusiasm, you died. In these examples dissent was not tolerated, and dissenters were eradicated.

In our own history we have examples – far less extreme, but nevertheless reason for concern – warnings that freedom is a fragile treasure that we must always be vigilant to protect. Right from the beginning, in 1798 the Federalist-dominated Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts, designed to silence political opposition to its policies. In the 1950s, we had the blacklisting of people in the entertainment industry and the antics of Senator Joseph McCarthy (labeled the “archpriest of the cult of one-eyed patriotism”). Those organized witch-hunts were designed to destroy the reputations and careers of anyone who did not subscribe to the brand of patriotism being preached by those who had taken it upon themselves to dictate what was acceptable and what was not. Fortunately these forays into thought control were later terminated by an enlightened Congress.

But the same sort of religious belief in “I am right and you are wrong” that is blind to reason, and has led to so many crimes against humanity, is showing itself in the foreign policy and domestic agenda of the current administration. This attitude of “You are either with us, or you are against us” leaves no room for countries who, though in no way our enemies, do not share our fervor in our “war against terrorism,” in many cases because they may not agree with the way in which we are going about it. Nations, like people, seldom become converts as a result of an ultimatum, but may be pushed into open opposition not to our goals, but to our methods.

Here at home, “Patriotism” is being given the aura of a religion in which you must accept the preachings of the leader unquestioningly, or you are a heretic. If you do not fully buy into the political agenda, you are “unpatriotic” and anti-American” and are accused of “giving comfort to the enemy.”

In a free society, questions should be asked about the path our leaders are taking us down. It may or may not be the right one, and to blindly line up and follow is not necessarily in the best interest of the country we love. Historically, in time of war or other crises the country has united behind its leadership, as rightly it should. But that does not mean that we should refrain from discussing and questioning the policy and decisions of our leaders. If the country had been more critical of the decisions being made regarding Vietnam early on, a great deal of bloodshed could have been avoided. But the American people were not being told the truth, and were fed the religion that there was no other way to keep Communism from taking over all of southeast Asia, even including Australia.

At the present time we need to be very careful that policies being adopted by the Department of Justice do not chip away at our personal freedoms, particularly in regard to informing on others, arrest, and detention and trial procedures. We have an Attorney-General imbued with a messianic zeal that may take away some of our freedoms if we are not prudent.

The President has put forth a plan to create a massive new Department of Homeland Security. Congress has fallen into line behind the idea, probably largely because they are afraid of being branded “antipatriotic.” But how many people really believe that a new overarching bureaucracy covering a multitude of already existing agencies will be any more effective in uncovering and thwarting terrorist activities than merely tightening up communications among those agencies and establishing a protocol for taking countermeasures? Granted, the present system, which failed us so dismally last year, needs major improvement, but a huge new bureaucracy could end up costing us billions of dollars without doing a better job than a less costly streamlining of what is already in place. It begins to smell like a grand-standing play for political advantage more than for homeland security.

So don’t be afraid to question: Don’t be afraid to be a true patriot.

Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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