Friday, November 19, 2010

Airport Screening: A New Low for Civil Liberties

An excuse that an all-powerful State uses to encroach upon the rights of its citizens is that of security. After all, it is the primary reason why the State exists to begin with. The big news this week is that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has implemented new and intrusive screening measures for airline passengers in light of terrorist threats. Frisking to the point of touching private body parts, and using scanners which reveal every last detail of the human anatomy, are the recent “security” measures being employed by TSA agents at airports. For many people, being subject to such treatment was a humiliating and dehumanizing experience.

Pope Leo XIII wrote in the late nineteenth century that if the State is not guided by divine and natural law, then there will be no boundary definitive or sacred enough to prevent it from transgressing human rights. In the previous decade- but especially in these last two years -a good percentage of the private sector has been absorbed into the Federal Government. What is even more disturbing, however, is that the most personal and sacred possession we have- namely, our bodies -is subject to violation in public.

We’ve come a long way since the 1960’s. After several decades of Secular-liberalism being dominant in our public institutions, a low standard of morality among the people was sure to follow. With a decline in morality came an influx of crime on the domestic front and the heightened threat of terrorism internationally. With such uncertain conditions, a general feeling of insecurity became a new reality for Americans.

In the book of Wisdom it says, “A distressed conscience always magnifies misfortunes.” (Wisdom 17:11) When our treasure in heaven- the hope of immortality -is exchanged for the pleasures of the flesh and the goods of this world, then the frailty of life is more deeply felt. The worry over losing our possessions and coveted experiences turns into a quest for security. And if trust in Divine Providence is wanting, then the State is more than happy to fill the spiritual void. It does so by creating the illusion of security the unbeliever or the sub-religious seeks.

In his book, Democracy in America, Tocqueville warned that the side effects or drawbacks of freedom are immediately felt but its long term benefits are not. With the free market, for instance, corporations do fail and the economy does occasionally contract. However, over the long run a free market economy rebounds and grows more than a centrally planned economy ever would. The same can be applied in civic and social affairs. On the flipside, the security proffered by the State has the opposite effect of freedom. Its benefits are immediately felt but its evils or drawbacks only become apparent in the long term.

In short, the blessings of freedom require patience and the ability to see beyond the immediate future; especially when freedom is misused. The security advertised by an all-powerful State is seductive. Keeping it at bay requires discipline, self-governance and foresight among its citizens. Keep in mind, it is the weakness of our fallen human nature to barter for security at the expense of liberty.

This is where the Christian religion comes in. Tocqueville went on to say that the value of Christianity is that it provides diametrically opposed principles to those human tendencies i.e. anxiety, the fear of death and false security, which lead to the slavery of sin and consequently to the servility of the State. In the doxology at Mass, we pray: “Protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” We rarely consider that our faith in Christ, even as it is expressed in the Divine Liturgy, has civic and political ramifications. Indeed, it is the guarantor of human rights and liberty itself.

A return to Christian principles is the most effective remedy against the invasion of privacy by the government, such as the TSA has demonstrated, and the absorption of the private sector into the public sector. Political and economic policies, by themselves, are insufficient because they are but the expression of what already exists inside the human spirit. As Fulton Sheen said, if the soul is not saved, nothing is saved!