Sadly, many good, decent, well-meaning lovers of liberty have become a bit unbalanced by the events of last week in Watertown, Massachusetts. The massive law enforcement response to the bombings at the Boston Marathon, to the murder of an MIT police officer, to the explosive, bloody confrontation between police and the two bombers on the streets of Watertown, is being characterized in some quarters as illegal and unconstitutional. Most particularly, the searches which were conducted while the police were looking for the surviving terrorist seem to be troubling many.
But, in fact, those searches were well within established constitutional parameters concerning what is and isn't a "reasonable" search
. The authorities seem to have faithfully followed accepted legal practices and procedures
First and foremost, those operations were designed to protect innocent human life, because that overriding concern must always precede concerns about privacy or property or lawyers. If impinged upon or destroyed, privacy or property can quickly be restored. But a life, once taken, is gone forever.
The God-given right to life is the supreme right, and it is unalienable. Constitutionally, apart from just war and justifiable homicide, the only way your life can be legitimately taken from you is if you are found guilty of a capital crime by a jury of your peers.
The right to liberty is also unalienable, but it is not without natural limits, limits that are prescribed by the natural rights of other individuals, and by the rights and security needs of the whole body of the people. When you enter into society, any society, but especially one that governs itself by the rule of law and constitutions, you have agreed to accept the limitations on your liberties that are inherent in balancing your rights and liberties against the rights and liberties of others. As the old saying goes, "your right to swing your fist ends at my nose."
We might also say that "your right to swing your door ends at my nose." Your important, absolutely legitimate, God-given right to the privacy of your home does not outweigh the rights of other individuals, of your neighbors, or of the whole community, to be secure in their lives, liberty, and property.
Your legitimate right to the privacy of your home also does not outweigh the right of law enforcement officers to be sure that they are not shot in the back as they pursue a dangerous terrorist. Cops are people too, and they bleed just like the rest of us. They also have rights, starting with the right to live.
The primary purpose of government is to protect the lives of the people. And that's exactly what law enforcement personnel did in Watertown. They fulfilled their purpose. The searches that were carried out were not only legal, as even the ACLU has admitted
, they were absolutely necessary to protect the people in their homes, to protect other lives throughout the community, and perhaps even to protect other communities from further attacks. As important as the right to privacy is, it does NOT trump the right to life. (By the way, this is equally true if you're talking about heartless terrorists roaming the streets or heartless killers in the abortion clinics.)
Chances are extremely high that if a terrorist was running around the neighborhoods of the critics they would respond pretty much the same way that the people of Watertown responded. If the tranquility of their community were to be shattered, they would likely be working with police to bring about the speediest, safest resolution possible. They would also likely be giving voice to a heart of deep gratitude toward those who helped restore peace to their town, just as the people of Watertown and Boston have done.
Thank God for those who put themselves in harm's way to protect the innocent. Appreciate them, don't denigrate them.
The founders of this republic were also willing to put their lives on the line to protect the lives and the liberty of their families and fellow countrymen. And they did. But I see no evidence that they thought that the rights to privacy and property trumped the right to life or the overall security needs of the entire community and nation. They had a balanced understanding of the concept of rights. They had a sense of proportion.
In May of 1781, during the American Revolution, when British troops commandeered her house for use as a military outpost, Rebecca Motte, whose husband had died early in the war, was living there with her children. Colonel Light Horse Henry Lee described the Motte estate as being “situated on a high and commanding hill...surrounded with a deep trench, along the interior margin of which was raised a strong and lofty parapet.” When the Americans finally surrounded the house, Mrs. Motte is said to have told Lee and General Francis Marion, “If it were a palace, it should go.” She presented a set of combustible arrows to him that were then used to set the roof on fire. The British promptly surrendered.
When the enemy attacked, Rebecca Motte put the lives of her fellow Americans and the needs of her country ahead of her own rights and material possessions. She kept her balance. She kept a sense of proportion. She understood what was truly important. May we follow her sterling example of reasonable, balanced patriotism and selflessness.