Free speech is alive and well in the United States, but other civil liberties are suffering in the government’s war against terrorism. That was the consensus of panelists at a Dec. 1 public forum titled “Free Speech and the Constitution in an Age of Terrorism” at Fordham University School of Law.
“In the area of pure speech, the United States continues to be fabulously free. The government neither censors nor punishes political speech based on newsworthy accurate facts,” said Adam Liptak, national legal correspondent for the New York Times. “Criticism and debate are robust.”
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y., LAW ’78) said, “From an American historical perspective, we are light years ahead of where we were 100 or 50 years ago with regard to free speech.”
Still, the panel, which also included University of Chicago Professor Geoffrey Stone, J.D., and Fordham Law Professor Thomas Lee, J.D., expressed concern that policies enacted during wartime favor sacrificing civil liberties to strengthen national security.
The Patriot Act was enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It significantly broadened the ability of the government and intelligence agencies to monitor, search and detain citizens. Opponents argue that the sweeping discretion given to the government could lead to serious civil rights violations, and that the act insulates the government from judicial and congressional oversight.
Panelists also discussed the heightened level of government secrecy that has developed in the deportation of immigrants and detainment of persons designated as enemy combatants.
“There are many things that the United States could have done after 9/11 to have made the country as safe as it is today without having to enact the Patriot Act,” said Stone. “One of the dangers from the kind of thinking that goes on during wartime is that the restriction of civil liberties is a cheap, politically expedient way of appearing to do something that has historically proven to be rarely effective.”
The panel was moderated by Thane Rosenbaum, J.D., professor of human rights, legal humanities, and law and literature, at Fordham Law School.