An American Triumph


After the jubilation of victory in the Persian Gulf war has subsided and the last returning service man and woman has received a well-deserved welcome of appreciation, wouldn't it be wonderful to re-employ the flags, yellow ribbons and brass bands to express our love, pride and gratitude for another great American triumph whose bicentennial we will soon celebrate, the ratification of our Bill of Rights?

Wouldn't it also be appropriate to launch at home and abroad an educational campaign, on the scale of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, to remind those who have forgotten and to teach those who have never known what an earth-shaking declaration the Bill of Rights was and is? What a revolution it was then in America and would be today in the Persian Gulf states and in many other countries throughout the world!

Imagine, in the late 18th century at home, and in the late 20th century abroad, daring to assert that rulers can make no law establishing a religion, prohibiting its free exercise or abridging freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly or to petition to redress grievances.

What chutzpah, then and now, to deny rulers their assumed right to enter houses; to search and seize without warrant whatever they wish to grab; to act as judge, jury and executioner; to quarter soldiers and push people around!

How dared these brash upstarts insist on their rights to vote in free elections, to refuse to be witnesses against themselves, to resist compulsion or to submit to deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process of law -- the time-honored prerogatives of monarchs, potentates, sheikhs and other despots.

As to feeling good about America, what is greater cause for rejoicing than our distinctly American contribution toward human progress, our unique Bill of Rights?

President Bush can save himself the trouble of inventing a New World Order. We already have the Novus Ordo Seclorum (New Order of the Age) created two centuries ago and still proclaimed on every dollar bill. Let us now, beginning with the president, dedicate ourselves more to the practice than the preaching.

A good beginning is the educational program recommended by the American Civil Liberties Union for the development and publication of bicentennial materials. It is producing public-service announcements, videos for use by the four national TV networks and local stations. Every affiliate outlet of // National Public Radio is being asked for two minutes a week for a "Bill of Rights Retrospective," a short discussion of historical aspects and contemporary applications, by national and local civil libertarians.

For printed materials, a logo has been developed for use on Bill of Rights memorabilia -- buttons and bumper stickers.

The ACLU has produced a series of six briefing papers on core civil-liberties issues: free speech, privacy, discrimination, criminal justice and religious liberty. One paper details the ACLU's role in defending the Bill of Rights during the past 70 years (60 years in Maryland since it began in Elizabeth Gilman's home). Another paper, directed to high school-age students, answers questions about application of the Bill of Rights to young people, including student-rights issues. Posters on censorship are being presented to schools and libraries and sold through affiliates like the Maryland ACLU.

The national office has also prepared a bibliography of materials available or in production by other organizations of legal and media groups, and how to obtain the aids. (In Maryland 301-889-8555).

These and other efforts to understand and celebrate the Bill of Rights deserve the support of all American citizens and their president. In this anniversary year, it is hoped that he will not ignore or distort the meaning of the Bill of Rights in order to achieve goals of government-imposed religious values, deny rights to women and minorities, support government secrecy and censorship, cater to the extreme right or appoint judges committed to thwart the laws they are sworn to uphold.

This is the year for all of us to cherish the liberty we take too much for granted, to repeat our vows to love, honor and obey our beautiful Bill of Rights, to beat the drums and wave the flag. It is the year also to remind the world what the flag stands for. It does not stand for oil and strategic interests. It does not stand only for morality and high principles selectively applied, or only for might, or only for the courage and sacrifice of our troops.

Desert Storm and the Bill of Rights were both glorious victories. The winning battle against the evil in Saddam Hussein will be long remembered. Against the evil in ourselves, the 200-year battle is still being waged. It may loom even larger in history.

Jack L. Levin is a Baltimore business man.

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