Does Security Trump Civil Liberties?

12/31/2015 - 9:30am
Teens respond to Donald Trump’s call to deny Muslims entry into the United States.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigning in December in Grand Rapids, Mich. Getty Images

We are blessed to live in the United States in the 21st century. Our Founding Fathers fought a Revolutionary War to secure our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness — inalienable rights afforded to us by our Bill of Rights.

One of these rights is freedom of religion, a freedom which has shaped America from its inception when the pilgrims fled religious persecution and arrived 400 years ago.

When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made seemingly anti-Muslim comments in early December he naturally caused immense controversy. In a statement posted December 7, 2015 on his campaign website, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States… until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses.”

Trump is essentially calling into question one of the principles of the First Amendment — freedom of religion — by citing a person’s religious beliefs as reason for denying their entry into the United States. Such comments have similar controversial effects as proposing gun restrictions, which could violate the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, according to gun rights advocates.

Jewish high school students responded to the negative implications of Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims. “What started as a risky, say-what-no-one-else-will candidacy has morphed into one dispelling dangerous, fascistic rhetoric throughout this country,” said Izy Muller, a junior at Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton, Fla.

Vita Fellig, a senior in Yeshiva High School, voiced her concern that Trump’s comments will bolster ISIS. “[Trump’s comments] allow ISIS to get more recruits because it just reaffirms [ISIS’] hate against the West,” said Fellig. 

Criticisms of Trump’s comments bear a common theme: barring Muslims from entering the United States is dangerous because it is antithetical to America’s freedom of religion and casts the will of the American people in a negative light, especially since Trump is the leading Republican candidate. According to his critics, not only is Trump violating an amendment, he is also risking America’s reputation as a country that promotes freedom and condemns discrimination.

“Trump's remarks remind us of the dark periods of our [American] history: our intolerance to races, ethnicities and other groups of people,” said a high school senior who preferred to remain anonymous. “Even contemplating Trump’s comments as a possible solution to terrorism is an abomination toward the progress of Civil Rights, LGBT and other social movements that have made America the great, free country it is today.”

Yet Trump does have a method to his madness. What some would call discriminatory policies others would call necessary measures to ensure national security. In light of the current wave of terrorism caused by extremists which has led to the rise of ISIS and tragedies such as the San Bernardino massacre, Trump is reacting to the fears of the American people.

He is addressing an issue larger than America’s response to terrorism. The crux of the controversy lies in the heart of an age-old argument: when does national security override the freedom of an individual? 

To understand the implications of this debate, let’s briefly examine the significance of individual rights throughout history. It has roots in the Enlightenment when philosophers John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau debated the importance of individual rights over the common good. During American colonial times, the Alien and Sedition Acts limited rights for immigrants in a time of conflict. Today, civil liberties are at the center of discussions regarding the National Security Administration’s right to invade citizens’ privacy for security purposes.

Trump’s comments should not be disparaged as discriminatory and antithetical to American values, but should be regarded within their broad historical context.

Like the United States in 1798 that banned immigrants in response to the French foreign threat, like the U.S. post-Pearl Harbor response to Japanese immigrants and the heightened security against Soviet espionage during the Cold War, the United States of today has the responsibility to protect citizens against terrorism. When there is a foreign threat, personal liberties should be restricted because the advantages of more security offset the costs of diminished liberty.

Donald Trump is promoting the concept that in desperate times, security trumps civil liberties.

author's bio: 
Bailey Frohlich is a senior at Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton, Fla.