Why We Don’t Trust The Land Of The Free

Our Federal Government has grown dramatically in power, especially the past decade. As the saying goes, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Our government has done this through its constituent’s compromise for the promise of security from outside threats. I have often feared our own government more than any threats outside our borders. While we should be proud of our military and the job they do, one has to question the cost and power of not only the military, but our government and ask if we have not swung too far the other way at the sacrifice of liberty.

When you come from a culture that has a history of mistreatment from the government, you tend to look at the world differently. The government doesn’t just get a pass. As is the case with many people of Mormon faith and background, we have a great reverence for the Constitution. Joseph Smith, the founder and first Prophet of Mormonism taught that the Constitution is a sacred and even an inspired document. Indeed it seems that the right men came together at the right time in history to organize a Constitutional Republic that was profound in its time, and remains relevant today. However, polygamists also have learned how fragile that paper is in guaranteeing us our freedoms.

In the 1820’s the Mormons were not only kicked out of Missouri, but given an extermination order whereby any Mormon in that state could be killed.  The Prophet went to President Martin Van Buren and asked for redress. The President said, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you; if I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri.” Keep in mind this is the same President who oversaw the Trail of Tears and the expulsion of the Cherokee from the east.

Afterwards Joseph Smith said, “I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground.

The constitution provides that all men shall enjoy religious freedom, yet it does not provide the manner by which that freedom can be preserved, nor for the punishment of Government officers who refuse to protect the people in their religious rights, or punish those mobs, states, or communities who interfere with the rights of the people on account of their religion. Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. It has but this one fault. Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury.

The Constitution should contain a provision that every officer of the Government who should neglect or refuse to extend the protection guaranteed in the Constitution should be subject to capital punishment; and then the president of the United States would not say, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.”  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith

We are quick to judge other countries as lacking freedom, and yet remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include America; this at a time when our own laws and practices should call that idea into question.  Since Sept. 11, 2001, our country in the name of security has expansively reduced civil liberties.  The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. When does a political enemy get declared a terrorist and have their rights suspended? As we erode these rights, how does that change how we define ourselves?

The National Defense Authorization Act, like the Patriot Act before it and other principle eroding laws do not happen in a broad sweep. It happens as it were, isolated from a broader discussion. A small compromise here and there, that  when enacted is seen as controversial but not so prohibitive. However, when put together under the broad sweeping powers of our government, it can be argued that we have become authoritarian.

It turns out if you look at the list of powers we have given up, our government has become more like the regimes we deem authoritarian than we would like to admit. Some countries may purport to guarantee freedoms, but have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues to get redress. Like Joseph Smith nearly 200 years ago, we have no way of enforcing our guaranteed freedoms when the government continues to acquire more powers.

The following are a list of powers acquired by the U.S. government according to George Washington Law Professor Jonathon Turley since 9/11 as published in the Washington Post.

Assassination of U.S. citizens

President Obama has claimed, as President George W. Bush did before him, the right to order the killing of any citizen considered a terrorist or an abettor of terrorism. Last year, he approved the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi and another citizen under this claimed inherent authority. Last month, administration officials affirmed that power, stating that the president can order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists. (Nations such as Nigeria, Iran and Syria have been routinely criticized for extrajudicial killings of enemies of the state.)

Indefinite detention

Under the law signed last month, terrorism suspects are to be held by the military; the president also has the authority to indefinitely detain citizens accused of terrorism. While Sen Carl Levin, insisted the bill followed existing law “whatever the law is,” the Senate specifically rejected an amendment that would exempt citizens and the Administration has opposed efforts to challenge such authority in federal court. The Administration continues to claim the right to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion. (China recently codified a more limited detention law for its citizens, while countries such as Cambodia have been singled out by the United States for “prolonged detention.”)

Arbitrary justice

The president now decides whether a person will receive a trial in the federal courts or in a military tribunal, a system that has been ridiculed around the world for lacking basic due process protections. Bush claimed this authority in 2001, and Obama has continued the practice. (Egypt and China have been denounced for maintaining separate military justice systems for selected defendants, including civilians.)

Warrantless searches

The president may now order warrantless surveillance, including a new capability to force companies and organizations to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations. Bush acquired this sweeping power under the Patriot Act in 2001, and in 2011, Obama extended the power, including searches of everything from business documents to library records. The government can use “national security letters” to demand, without probable cause, that organizations turn over information on citizens — and order them not to reveal the disclosure to the affected party. (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan operate under laws that allow the government to engage in widespread discretionary surveillance.)

Secret evidence

The government now routinely uses secret evidence to detain individuals and employs secret evidence in federal and military courts. It also forces the dismissal of cases against the United States by simply filing declarations that the cases would make the government reveal classified information that would harm national security — a claim made in a variety of privacy lawsuits and largely accepted by federal judges without question. Even legal opinions, cited as the basis for the government’s actions under the Bush and Obama administrations, have been classified. This allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence. In addition, some cases never make it to court at all. The federal courts routinely deny constitutional challenges to policies and programs under a narrow definition of standing to bring a case.

War crimes

The world clamored for prosecutions of those responsible for waterboarding terrorism suspects during the Bush administration, but the Obama administration said in 2009 that it would not allow CIA employees to be investigated or prosecuted for such actions. This gutted not just treaty obligations but the Nuremberg principles of international law. When courts in countries such as Spain moved to investigate Bush officials for war crimes, the Obama administration reportedly urged foreign officials not to allow such cases to proceed, despite the fact that the United States has long claimed the same authority with regard to alleged war criminals in other countries. (Various nations have resisted investigations of officials accused of war crimes and torture. Some, such as Serbia and Chile, eventually relented to comply with international law; countries that have denied independent investigations include Iran, Syria and China.)

Secret court

The government has increased its use of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has expanded its secret warrants to include individuals deemed to be aiding or abetting hostile foreign governments or organizations. In 2011, Obama renewed these powers, including allowing secret searches of individuals who are not part of an identifiable terrorist group. The administration has asserted the right to ignore congressional limits on such surveillance. (Pakistan places national security surveillance under the unchecked powers of the military or intelligence services.)

Immunity from judicial review

Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has successfully pushed for immunity for companies that assist in warrantless surveillance of citizens, blocking the ability of citizens to challenge the violation of privacy. (Similarly, China has maintained sweeping immunity claims both inside and outside the country and routinely blocks lawsuits against private companies.)

Continual monitoring of citizens

The Obama administration has successfully defended its claim that it can use GPS devices to monitor every move of targeted citizens without securing any court order or review. It is not defending the power before the Supreme Court. (Saudi Arabia has installed massive public surveillance systems, while Cuba is notorious for active monitoring of selected citizens.)

Extraordinary renditions

The government now has the ability to transfer both citizens and noncitizens to another country under a system known as extraordinary rendition, which has been denounced as using other countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, to torture suspects. The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers — including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.

These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy.

Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”

Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”

And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.

An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.

The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Since 9/11, we have created the very government the framers feared: a government with sweeping and largely unchecked powers resting on the hope that they will be used wisely.

The indefinite-detention provision in the defense authorization bill seemed to many civil libertarians like a betrayal by Obama. While the president had promised to veto the law over that provision, Levin, a sponsor of the bill, disclosed on the Senate floor that it was in fact the White House that approved the removal of any exception for citizens from indefinite detention.

Dishonesty from politicians is nothing new for Americans. The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free.

This is also why we are diligent in seeking our liberties with plural marriage. How we do anything, is how we do everything. When we let the least among us suffer their rights to be compromised, we have compromised all of us. We implore you to continue to support us in seeking our civil liberties everywhere, for they are for all of us.

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15 Responses to Why We Don’t Trust The Land Of The Free

  1. Amy says:

    Do you consider yourselves to be libertarian?

    • Joe says:

      While we think labels can be misleading and sometimes unproductive, we certainly align ourselves more with libertarian principles than anything else.

  2. Amy says:

    I agree. Thank you for answering. :)

  3. Karen says:

    Thank you for your thoughful sharing of information. Thank you for being awake and aware. For standing for what you believe. Stating it boldly and without apparent fear. While our country is being run by conspiring men and women, and no longer feels like the Constitutional, “In God We Trust” America…I know that there are strong men and women like you rising up, put in place by a loving and just Father. I believe you were born for this time. Thank you for using your voice powerfully.

    • Joe says:

      Thank you for your kind words. You feel like a kindred spirit. I think in these times we need to focus on the ways we are more alike than the ways of those who seek to divide us and prey upon our fears. Thank you for not silencing yourself and for expressing love.

      • Karen says:

        Yes, exactly. :) And, you’re welcome. My husband feels exactly as you do in your article, and it provided great conversation for us this evening. As for the ways we are more alike than different…as one raised on milk and discovering for herself the meat…it is good to see a family to look up to, rather than all the media (and ironically my religious upbringing) presents to look down on. It makes my family history easier to understand and feel pride in. It makes me feel less sorry for my great-grandmother, and prouder of my great-grandfather. I am pleased to share my heritage with you, and honored that you are living this principle so gracefully and with an honesty that many wish not to acknowledge…at least within the mainstream of the LDS faith.
        P.S. Tell Alina that she isn’t the only one who felt extra special being born in 69. We ARE extra special! ;)

  4. Chris Nystrom says:

    I am with you 100%. I am very concerned. Not listed was the President thinking that just because he is the Commander in Chief he can just go bomb anyone he wants to (Libya). As an ex-member of the military I am waiting for the day when someone inside the military says sorry. I can not bomb this country. Congress has not declared war on them. We are in a lot more danger than people realize.

  5. Kat says:

    This is pretty great. Thank you. I didn’t expect to agree on anything with you politically but I do- I guess I just realized that I’m not always as open-minded as I would like to be.

  6. Kathy Guyer says:

    I’m married to a 100 per cent disabled vet. He has been since his early forties. We just happen to be watching sister wives when Joe and the Dargers were introduced and we were very impressed with Joe. I asked my husband could he be a military man? Joe is exactly like my husband. So together and orderly with his lists, lol. I’m not surprised that we also very much agree with all you had to say about the government. Very well thought out and very spot on. We are the ones who must rise up and defend our freedoms and stop the wastes that is the huge government machine. It has become corrupt and we have to fight for our kids future.

  7. Cindy Le Fevre says:

    I am in wholehearted agreement with your non-partisan opinions on not trusting our corrupt government. I would like to recommend two small corrections to your historical statements as 100% accuracy always invokes greater respect for one’s opinions. 1) Martin van Buren was Secretary of State under President Andrew Jackson during the Trail of Tears episode(s). 2) Missouri Gov. Boggs issued his expulsion/ extermination of Mormons order in 1838 (van Buren was indeed the president by that time). Joseph et al. were still in upstate NY in the 1820s as the church was first formed in 1830.

    I very much applaud your “coming out.” I was raised Mormon, I am an RM, and married my husband in the SL temple. I have since distanced myself from both the theology and the organization. Nevertheless, I am very interested to see if and how the old men in suits in the tall office building in downtown SLC will react to stories like yours and the Browns’ becoming so public.

    Carry on! May the Lord Bless your lives with love and peace.

    • Joe says:

      Thank you Cindy for the clarification that perhaps I left in my post. Van Buren was indeed Secretary of State and executed the Trail of Tears and I did not mean to say he was President during the time. It was Gov. Boggs who issued the order and when the Mormons went to him for redress he refused help, my point being that it is no surprise as he came from the idea of popular democracy rather than staying rooted in the freedoms of the Republic. Our country has a history of accepting non-white, non-protestant people. (see http://lovetimesthree.com/why-liberty-and-religious-freedom-has-not-applied-to-polygamy/)

      I think the Church is uncomfortable with any change in the laws. However, it should not be a threat for we are simply living their same teachings to the best of our own faith and ability.

  8. Melissa says:

    Very well put. As a Christian in this country, I am frightened when I see just how much our religious freedoms are taken for granted and are being taken away little by little. I remember 9/11 and the fury that followed and how went to war to defend freedom (or so we thought), only for it to be taken away. Thank you for speaking out for freedom in an age of entitlement! We will need more people with a backbone in the years ahead.

  9. Paweł Szulik says:

    The very similar thing is happening here in Europe. The European Union constantly issues laws which decrease our freedom. I think that it’s the problem with goverments around the world – they’re becoming disturbingly powerful, too powerful I’d say. They interfere with more and more areas of their citizens lives and they want to have power over those areas. People are becoming slaves of their own governments.

    What is even more disturbing is the fact that people vote for parties that tend to decrease freedom and refuse to vote for those that are libertarian. I think it’s because people are constantly becoming like children, they want someone else to tell them what to do, they don’t want to make decisions for themselves, becasue they are afraid of consequences. People become less responsible.

    Government having too much power becomes authoritarian. And the common misunderstanding is you don’t need one person with too much power – the goverment consisted of many people can as well become a dictator.

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