You currently do not have JavaScript enabled in your web browser.
The ABA website relies on JavaScript for display purposes.
To fully experience the ABA site, please enable javascript.
News Releases - Division of Media Relations and Communication Services - American Bar Association - Law - Legal

American Bar Association - News Release


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 security.

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 public safety.

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 to exercise.

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.