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Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



George Orwell’s novel 1984 paints a disturbing and chilling scenario where one can be accused of a crime, arrested and prosecuted merely for thoughts in the mind.

“The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed”¦ the essential crime that contained all others in itself.  Thoughtcrime they called it”¦ sooner or later they were bound to get you.”


The Orwell scenario comes to mind when digesting this week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that upholds a federal law allowing indefinite civil commitment of federal prisoners who have completed their sentences, but are deemed “sexually dangerous.”Â  The mere thought that you might commit a crime.

Now if you think the only dissenters expressing concerns over such a draconian ruling were bleeding heart liberals, add to that number the likes of Rush Limbaugh, and the two most conservative members of the court, Justices Scalia and Thomas. The majority of the court cited that congress could pass such laws because it has “enumerated powers,” then conveniently fail to list any such power or constitutional authority.  Hogwash, said Justice Thomas.  He pointed out that offences allowing indefinite jail time need not even be a sex crime.  Someone serving time for mail fraud or tax evasion could be declared “sexually dangerous”Â Â  if a prosecutor feels you might have a “tendency” to commit sex crimes, which need not include a prior criminal conviction.

Sex crimes, violent crimes, property crimes, drug crimes ““ whatever the circumstances of the offense, one would think that when the sentence is done, it’s done. If there is a terrible crime involved, then the courts should hand out longer sentences.    It should be noted that three of the five defendants appealing their sentences to the Supreme Court were convicted of possessing pornography, not endangering any child.

Still, people who deal in this type of smut are vile and loathsome in our society, and I share that view. But once a criminal sentence is completed, under our constitution, the accused is supposed to be “square with the house” again.  When the “Thought Police” then move in to  start assuming the “what if” scenario, we begin a slippery slope that begins with child predators, then accused terrorists, then anyone accused of murder, and a whole litany of other crimes until the protections and liberties of the country become faded memories.

This disturbing decision that undermines an individual’s supposed constitutional protections, actually is not all that surprising, considering the trend we have witnessed over the past decade of the pervasive way our individual freedoms have been undermined.  Americans have been losing the protection of law for years.  The loss of many constitutional protections accelerated under the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” where we were told that the job of the President is to keep us safe. Bush legal adviser John Yoo espoused   a similar philosophy some months ago in a Wall Street Journal Op Ed article.  Simply put, he argued that the president, in the name of public safety, could cut down all laws written for the express purpose of restraining the President, because all Americans expect is to be kept safe.  Under that logic, we revert to the Nixon philosophy that the president can do no wrong.  And as Jack Bauer, star of the Fox series “24” would argue, the end always justifies the means.

We live in a brave new world today.  Surveillance cameras monitor most areas of our lives. When the government chooses, it can listen in on our telephone calls and read our e-mails.  And government intelligence agencies have the sophisticated computer technology that is capable of sweeping the internet and our website activity to determine what we are thinking and saying.  The President can label anyone, including American citizens, “enemy combatants” and hold them indefinitely without access to family or an attorney.

As Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead recently wrote:  “The lesson is this:  once a free people allows the government inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny.  Nor does it seem to matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm anymore, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government.”

Philosopher C.S. Lewis lectured at Cambridge in England when I was a student there in the mid 1960s.  His collection of essays and speeches titled God in the Dock second guesses the notion that government is only working for our good.  He writes:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.  It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.  The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

We’ve been hearing for years that a large segment of the masses are “mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore.”Â  Not much came from this populist anger.  But maybe there is a different wind in the air. A number of elections this past Tuesday resulted in several successful candidates turning their backs on the two established parties.  They ran campaigns on a premise that precepts of our constitution were birthed by the rabble of all walks of life that got fed up and did risky things because, as writer Naomi Wolf observed, ” they were captivated by the breath of liberty, and not consumed by government protect at all costs.”  Maybe there is a bit of desire to rein in  those who stifle liberty and freedom in the name of national security.  We all need to hope so.


Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south.  To read past columns going back to 2002, go to www.jimbrownla.com.


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