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News Releases - Division of Media Relations and Communication Services - American Bar Association - Law - Legal

American Bar Association - News Release


September 11 – One Man’s Response

By Alfred P. Carlton Jr.
President, American Bar Association

This past year Americans embarked on a journey we neither foresaw nor intended to take. The journey began with the horrific attacks on September 11 – attacks not simply on important financial and defense buildings serving our nation, but attacks as well on our way of life, our values, and our sense of security. We were incredulous and horrified, but, as is our way, we were not stunned into inaction. We wanted to act, and act in ways that would create understanding of who we really are as a people.

Like all Americans, lawyers were anxious to do something, to help in some way. Articles appearing in the newspapers underscored that students everywhere were trying to understand what had happened and why. They were asking hard questions about why our democratic form of government and the underlying ideas that nurture our government and way of life were under attack. One man felt the need to act. He saw that it was a perfect match – who better than those trained in the rule of law to go into classrooms and talk about the fundamental values of our democratic society with the future leaders of our nation? – and set out to make a difference.

Armed with this idea, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy designed "Dialogue on Freedom," to encourage judges and lawyers to talk to high school students not only about the ideals of a democratic society and how it fits into today's world, but also about our continuing struggle to perfect our democracy, constantly vigilant to new challenges, changing circumstances and realistic evaluations of what we are doing right, and what we are doing wrong.

Justice Kennedy not only proposed the program, he personally participated in a half dozen dialogues in schools from Washington, D.C., to California. The American Bar Association worked with Justice Kennedy to implement the program, and lawyers and judges throughout the country are now taking part in dialogues. The San Diego Bar Association, for example, is sending lawyers into some 175 classes to hold dialogues on September 11, as part of the students’ remembrance of the events of 2001. Similar events are taking place all around the nation.

What have we learned through this effort? We learned that the flame of America’s passion for freedom continues to burn in the hearts of our young people, and burns with an intensity that demands freedom for all oppressed people, not only in our nation but also in our world.

We learned that our young people are extraordinarily sophisticated about the interdependencies of nations. We learned that idealism continues to thrive in our youth and that underlying it are strong moral and ethical convictions that bear a striking resemblance to what we know were the convictions of our founders.

We learned, not surprisingly, that those students whose family histories include personal oppression or loss of freedom are most categorically opposed to any wrongdoing by any group of people against the innocent.

We learned that it is our people who keep our democracy alive and relevant. It is the obligation of one generation to not take freedom for granted, but to share the responsibilities of freedom with the rising generation.

We were not surprised by the fact that even in the blur and frenzy of the months that followed the terrorist attacks, there was great clarity in the minds of the students that our nation and our freedoms, most especially freedom from oppression, must be preserved at all costs. Though some may have wondered at times whether the price of freedom was too dear a price to pay at a time when our attackers were difficult to identify and fatally committed to our nation’s destruction, our young people have full conviction that the importance of freedom is not in question. Their conviction renewed our own.

And as we took Justice Kennedy’s dialogues into more and more schools, I learned anew the impact that one person’s vision can have. It took courage and foresight to take on this challenge. Judges so rarely step out in public arenas, but September 11 called for us to put away the sign that read "business as usual" and find the courage to be bold in our beliefs.

This past year Americans embarked on a journey we neither foresaw nor intended to take. When lawyers look at all that we learned during our own journey into America’s classrooms, we learned that there is a need for our journey to continue.