Terrorism and Public Health: A Balanced Approach to Strengthening Systems and Protecting People

By Barry S. Levy; Victor W. Sidel | Go to book overview

17
Protecting civil liberties

H. JACK GEIGER

Throughout American history, the civil liberties embedded in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—properly regarded as bedrock structures of the nation's political system, and defined and expanded by decades of subsequent federal and state legislation, as well as volumes of judicial interpretation—have been periodically limited and eroded by perceived threats to national security. These threats have included wars against other nations (both declared and undeclared), “police actions,” and wars fought by international coalitions in which the United States has been the prime military participant (such as in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War). These perceived threats also include situations of intense international ideological conflict with only limited or covert direct military engagement, except through surrogate nations (such as in the 50-year Cold War with the Soviet Union). In each of these situations, there have been domestic consequences that have threatened civil liberties.

Historical examples abound. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1796, aimed at President John Adams' domestic opponents, (a) targeted immigrants; (b) gave the President power to imprison or deport aliens suspected of activities posing a threat to national security; and, most strikingly, (c) broadly banned spoken or written criticism of the government, the Congress, or the President—virtually nullifying freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Dur

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