Liberty versus Security Under the U.S. Constitution
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither
liberty nor safety.” - Benjamin Franklin
Our founding fathers’ wariness of government power derived from the colonial
experienced they faced with the British Imperial rule. Even after the Bill of Rights was enacted,
the United States already has had a history of infringing upon the constitutional rights of citizens
in order to ensure their security. Examples include the persistence of “Black Codes” in the South
after the Civil War; the coerced displacement of Native Americans in the early 1800s; the
forbiddance of Irish people joining the police force in the 1850s; FDR’s Executive Order;
executive orders following recent terrorist attacks i.e. 9/11.
Still, not all of these actions of the government are perfectly justified. Certainly our
founding fathers would not consent to these actions. Thomas Jefferson would affirm that every
person is entitled to liberty, despite what laws might say. In the quote I prefaced the essay with,
Benjamin Franklin references the idea of an “essential liberty”. I interpret that expression as one
of inalienable rights, like that of the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, privacy, due process
of law, and equality before the law.
However, the government perceives some liberties as more essential than others. In
regard to freedom of speech, court judges have the power to issue gag orders in particular trials.
Gag orders restrict what journalists can report about the given trial. I personally believe that the
cost versus benefit of this specific action establishes its justification.