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From the Editor’s Desk

Rights Versus “Authority”

Gail Armstong
Gail Armstrong
Executive Editor

he guarantees of fundamental human rights and freedoms which give substance to our U.S. Constitution make it one of the most significant documents in history. Unless subverted, it will remain the cornerstone of human rights for centuries to come.

History and current affairs tell us that the most likely source of subversion will not be an invading force, but our own failure to understand and apply both the letter and the spirit of its principles.

It was thus disconcerting to see the results of tests of American students on our government and civic affairs, released at the end of 1999 by the U.S. Department of Education. One-third of some 22,000 students in grades 4, 8 and 12 scored “below basic” in their grasp of rights, responsibilities and protections for citizens.

Speculation about what the scores mean for the future is best answered in terms of the past and the present.

Demolition truck

A below-basic grasp of rights, responsibilities and protections has resulted in some of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history. Slavery, official license to kill Mormons, and numerous other assaults on minorities come to mind, some of which continue to this day. In that regard, there are few more tragic and enduring examples than the treatment of America’s indigenous populations, as vividly depicted in the sparsely populated region of northeastern Arizona known as Big Mountain. There, as we describe in a feature story, hundreds of traditional Navajo, mostly elderly, face what is to them tantamount to personal and spiritual annihilation: forcible eviction from the land upon which they and their ancestors have lived for five centuries, if not longer.

As times and people change, however, so do the ways in which their rights can be abrogated. One reads more today of hate speech on the Internet than cross burnings on lawns; one hears now of discrimination against the disabled when the issue was scarcely raised several decades ago.

And while examples of rights violations in contemporary society are unfortunately still all too easy to cite, few are more alarming than the plight of families torn apart under a child protective services system that is often anything but protective, as revealed in our cover investigative report.

Many children are placed in worse danger in the system — with powerful drugs, restraints and other severe, and at times deadly, “treatment” — than they would face from perceived or real problems at home. Freedom came to know decent, law-abiding parents who were stripped of their rights and their children because they refused to allow their children to be drugged.

As Freedom was the first to report in depth 13 years ago, millions of American schoolchildren have been casually administered powerful, mind-altering drugs. Today, the situation has worsened. It is not uncommon now for parents to be coerced into putting a child on drugs under threat that the child will be refused further admission to school. And children, including those as young as two years old, are the last to be consulted. Thus, most are robbed of their rights before they even know they have them — including the right to be drug-free.

Rights violations can proliferate when they are obscured and justified by complexities and disinformation — whether it be the assignment of scientific-sounding “learning disorders” and “conduct disorders” for children who can’t get along in school, leaving parents baffled or cowed by psychiatric authority, or the bureaucratic red tape and tomes of complex laws that enable some citizens to be ridden roughshod over with painfully slow (and often expensive) recourse.

But such is the formula by which rights can be eroded in a free society: they are undermined by “authority” in the presence of citizens who are relatively uneducated about their fundamental rights and thus unable to act effectively.

The guarantees of basic human rights and freedoms we have as Americans were not intended to be onerous, or realized only by a privileged few at the expense of others. They are for the vast majority of Americans who believe in decency, who strive to live honest lives and who work to create a better society for the generations to come. They need only know their rights and exercise them in numbers sufficient to make a difference.
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