ABA PRESIDENT REMINDS AMERICANS
DEBATE IS ESSENTIAL TO DEMOCRACY
By Robert E. Hirshon,
President, American Bar Association
This Independence Day will be unlike those carefree holidays
of our past. The events of September 11 changed forever any
sense of complacency Americans felt about safety and national
From the classroom to the boardroom, Americans are grappling
with questions about national security and changing attitudes
toward freedom. A recent Harris Interactivesm
survey conducted for the American Bar Association showed that
45 percent of those polled believe that our laws and constitutional
principles make us better able to fight the war against terrorism,
yet 40 percent believe they interfere with that fight. And a
Gallup Poll conducted in April and May showed that nearly 78
percent of those polled were willing to give up certain personal
freedoms in the interest of national security. But we still
have to weigh and determine what freedoms we might sacrifice.
As we move through this difficult period, we, as citizens,
can and should participate in the debate about how to best preserve
our freedom while providing for our national defense and ensuring
As we consider these issues, and the long-term effects
our decisions will have, it’s instructive to consider the other
great debates we’ve faced together as a nation. Over the past
50 years, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and Watergate
tested the resiliency of our nation. Those were times that –
in their own way – were just as uncertain, turbulent and frightening
as what we face now. But we emerged on the other side of each
of those experiences and debates a stronger and better country.
I trust that we will look forward again to a day when we
feel secure from the threat of terrorists, and secure in our
rights as citizens. But that day will come only if we have a
free and open debate, as we did during the earliest days of
our nation when we were crafting the principles that would define
us as a republic.
To underscore the importance of reasoned debate, the American
Bar Association will undertake a paid advertising campaign,
in a "pro-con" format, to air issues of national import.
The first in this series addresses electronic surveillance and
asks readers to consider: "Violation of privacy or tool
of law enforcement." We hope these advertisements will
be a catalyst for individual discussion. By raising this issue
and others we hope to spark a spirited and thoughtful debate.
Just as we’ve watched several major cities encourage their residents
to build community spirit and foster common discussion, the
ABA hopes to engage this nation to debate issues that will have
a lasting effect on our way of life.
Our Constitution protects every citizen’s right to participate
in debates. Freedom of the press ensures access to information.
Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly enable us both to
openly discuss issues and to publicly disagree with our government.
These are freedoms Americans have both a right and an obligation
We have important decisions to make about how we define
and defend our national security and personal freedoms. And
we won’t always agree on what we need to do to achieve those
goals. But we know that we have the solid foundation of our
Constitution and our unique national values that honor and protect
diversity, tolerance and active participation in the political
process. These values will forever sustain us.
On this first celebration of our nation’s independence
since the tragedy of September 11, we ask our fellow Americans
to participate in defending and preserving this free country
by sharing their views in a meaningful dialogue that will shape
America’s future. Abraham Lincoln, in eulogizing Henry Clay,
said that Clay was a patriot who "loved his country partly
because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a
free country." It is our duty to ourselves and to the future
to ensure that our country remains free.