Documents of Courage and Cowardice

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CommonDreams.org

Documents of Courage and Cowardice

SALISBURY, England - Even many atheists acknowledge the awe inspiring beauty of the fabled Salisbury Cathedral, the stunning Gothic edifice built in the 1200s topped by the highest church spire in England.

The steeple atop Salisbury Cathedral stretches skyward higher than an American football field is long. The Cathedral sits majestically in a quaint village-like city about a two hour drive west of Britain's capital, London.

However, for Americans during this era of an imperious presidency, an importance of the Salisbury Cathedral is not what sits atop the structure but what lies within.

Salisbury houses the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta, that incredible, ancient document delineating liberties and rights for people of lesser rank than royalty.

The Magna Carta, signed in 1215, put curbs on the absolute authority of the then absolute English monarch, King John.

The rule-of-law proclamations of the Magna Carta represented an absolutely radical action during that absolutely repressive feudal era nearly eight centuries ago.

The Magna Carta is the liberty enshrining model for rights recognizing legal documents like America's Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

The sixty-plus provisions of the Magna Carta ranging from matters of taxation to rights in divorce and criminal trials includes the declaration that: to none will we sell, to none deny or delay, right or justice.

Respect for rights and justice is what most Americans declare makes America such a special place.

The Preamble of the US Constitution declares reasons for its creation as including establishing "Justice" and securing the "Blessings of Liberty..."

Interestingly, when American colonists declared independence from England due to what the Declaration of Independence termed a "long train of abuse and usurpations" by England's King, that despotic monarch carried the name George (George III).

American President George Bush apparently fancies himself a modern day monarch - proclaiming he can do whatever he wants because his interpretation of presidential powers permits him to decide what laws he will follow and which he will flaunt.

Bush, for example, routinely ignores laws passed by Congress by issuing Signing Statements - having issued more than any other American president.

For some Americans, abuses by President Bush arguably mirror the "history of repeated injuries" detailed in America's Declaration against King George III.

Citing the rule-of-law lineage from the Magna Carta to the US Constitution isn't some sterile stroll down history lane.

It relates to recent imbroglios in the US from efforts to impeach Bush to attacks on Free Speech.

Recently, pro-impeachment activists verbally bludgeoned impeachment supporter Congressman John Conyers for failing to push the matter through his Chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee.

This prompted some black supporters of Conyers to blast those predominately white critics for their failures to support issues important to blacks from voting rights to reparations.

Conyers supporters correctly cite slights like America's silence regarding mass disenfranchisement of blacks in Florida during the 2000 presidential election...a subversion of democracy first documented by a London-based journalist.

Conversely, Conyers critics correctly cite his responsibilities on impeachment irrespective of bipartisan hostility to this issue on Capitol Hill that Conyers cites as a reason for not acting.

Holding Bush accountable for his administration's unlawful abuses is not black-vs.-white or even a right-vs.-wrong: it's a rule-of-law.

Revering rule-of-law also means that respecting rights is not a pick-&-choose proposition either in the rights recognized or who can exercise what rights.

The recent sacking of scholar-activist Ward Churchill - essentially for intemperate characterizations in a commentary about 9/11 - assaults and insults Free Speech rights whose protections supposedly apply to both favored and disfavored remarks.

The reality is radio rant specialists like Rush Limbaugh dish more insults daily than Ward Churchill while incessantly raising the First Amendment as their shield.

Citing American flaws does not mean an absence in England.

Irrespective of Magna Carta heritage, a provision in an anti-crime measure passed by Parliament in 2005 specifically sought to shut down the Parliament Square protest that peace activist Brian Haw has maintained since June 2001.

During a public briefing at a Parliament Committee Room recently, raw realities of racism erupted when a Jamaican-born woman tearfully recounted the (alleged) 2005 rape of her son by four London policemen, harassments she's endured from police and refusals of authorities to address this matter.

If history teaches one lesson, it's that the spirit animating documents enshrining justice like the Magna Carta and US Constitution is empty sentiment without action.

Linn Washington, Jr

Linn Washington, Jr is a columnist for the historic Philadelphia Tribune, the nation’s oldest African-American owned newspaper. Washington is also Associate Professor of Journalism at Temple, where he co-directs the Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab that sends J-students into neighborhoods in search of stories the local establishment media ignore. In addition to his Temple degrees, Washington holds a law degree from the Yale University.

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