Rights not exercised may become rights lost

By Denny Wilkins

I am a citizen of the United States of America. In this country, I can criticize my government as intelligently, as profanely, or as stupidly as I wish. I can call the president of the nation an unintelligent, uninspiring, and incompetent leader — which I have done. I can call my representative in Congress a buffoonish party hack — which I have done — and urge his removal from office by the voters. I can attack the policies enacted by government at all levels as often as I wish.

I can assemble with others to complain about the government. I can petition the government for redress of grievances. I can practice a religion free of government interference. Most importantly, I have the right to speak my mind. I can say whatever I want about the government short of advocating violence against it. I am free to speak or write critically about the actions or inactions of my government.

I can be a critic of my government because for hundreds of years, hundreds of thousands of Americans before me fought and died for my right to do that.

In this young century, however, Americans have suffered increased assaults on their rights — especially privacy — by their own government, all in the name of the proclaimed need for “national security.” Because of fear, government continues to attempt to foreclose on constitutional protections.

Government may erode constitutional guarantees in the absence of the watchful eye of the governed. Rights not exercised may become rights lost. It is an obligation of citizenship for Americans that they continually critique and comment on the actions of their government. That is how we shape our government. Failure to do so allows government to shape us and our rights instead.

At the moment, America has a slew of problems confronting it — a divided citizenry, an economy that’s not fair to all, a major land war in Europe, a two-party system run amok, climate change issues, and an enormous fiscal deficit, just to name a few.

Let’s keep in mind the rights and riches we do have, the historical cost of attaining them, and the future risk of losing them if we fail to speak up when government displeases us.

Denny Wilkins is a professor in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University.

Categories: Jandoli Institute, Media, Politics

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