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The Philadelphia Inquirer

Hope for a Constitution Under Siege

Nancy Hopkins

Americans celebrate Constitution Day today. Although it's not an occasion marked by a day off work or self-induced food comas, it quite literally defines us as Americans.

On Sept. 17, 1787, statesmen such as George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin signed the document that forms the basis of our government. But Constitution Day is not about those men or that day. It is about the rights and freedoms we enjoy every day we go to work, play with our kids, or complain about the government.

Most Americans know about the steaming hot summer of 1787 in Philadelphia and about the raging debates among the statesmen assembled there. But this is where memory fades and the story ends for most Americans.

The founders, however, recognized that the Constitution did not represent an end. To them, that summer in Philadelphia symbolized a beginning.

Over the last two centuries, activism, dissent and dedication have gradually but inexorably expanded the scope and depth of our liberty. We are without a doubt more free than our forebears.

But for the last seven years, the principles this day celebrates and the freedoms our Constitution enshrines and protects have been under siege. The government has grown more powerful, secretive and threatening.

During the course of his time in office, President Bush has, among other things:

Spied on American citizens without the approval of Congress or the courts.

Allowed the CIA to torture and abuse hundreds of people, including Americans, in secret prisons throughout the world.

Insisted that he, and he alone, has the power to declare people to be "enemy combatants" and hold them indefinitely, without charges.

Added millions of Americans to the "no-fly" list without an explanation or a meaningful opportunity to appeal.

Prevented doctors from offering patients comprehensive and accurate information about their reproductive health.

Constitution Day, unlike other holidays, looks to the future - to what our country can be. It challenges us to continually push forward the limits of liberty and freedom.

With a new presidential administration beginning just four short months from now, we have an opportunity to undo the sustained damage inflicted upon our Constitution by the current one.

And this week, 221 years after Washington, Madison and Franklin did, we have an obligation to look to the future and envision what the United States of America should be.


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Nancy Hopkins heads the Pennsylvania ACLU

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