Don’t mention that! Remember to edit out those words! Don’t discuss that event!
Under authoritative governments, citizens are forced to censor not only their emails, but their daily conversations, for fear of government action against them.
Unfortunately, for students at 15 northeastern universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, they are dealing with the same treatment, based on one thing: their religion. During the past few years, the New York Police Department has been conducting a surveillance program targeting Muslim college students, particularly those who participate in Muslim student activities, despite the fact that there was not any criminal activity found.
This surveillance program implemented by the NYPD is an infringement of Americans’ rights, as granted by the Constitution. While it is within the rights granted under the USA Patriot Act, the act itself should be considered unconstitutional.
The Bill of Rights protects the “unalienable” human rights of American citizens. The First Amendment promises freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, freedom to petition the government, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This amendment has long served as a symbol of American democracy and freedom. When the NYPD selects certain students for surveillance based on their religion, they are violating this basic right of the people.
Despite the fact that the investigations are an infringement on these rights, they are legal. Under the USA Patriot Act, which stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism,” measures were taken to strengthen policies against all aspects of terrorism. The act, created in response to the 9/11 attacks, allows for more leeway in investigating individuals. This illustrates while an act may be legal, it is not always ethical, or constitutional.
While the Patriot Act itself, or the actions of the NYPD, may come as a surprise to some individuals, the country has participated in segregated surveillance for almost the entirety of its history. One of the most prominent examples is the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. During this shameful time, Japanese Americans along the Pacific Coast were subject to search and seizure, unending questioning and eventual internment until the end of the war in segregated centers. Later, the government apologized for the internment, and deemed its actions extreme and unacceptable.
While this case may seem far from what the NYPD is doing, it may not be so. Once one human right is violated, it is increasingly easy to justify violating other basic rights.
Would citizens object to detaining all Muslim Americans in “relocation centers” until terrorism by Muslims is completely destroyed? A line must be drawn. It is how civil rights are protected during a country’s most shaky times that reveal its true nature.
There are emotional arguments, which hail the surveillance of Muslim Americans as the greater good in protecting national security and programs similar to the NYPD’s as our best defense to terrorism because the government does not have the resources to monitor all citizens. Supporters argue that we must do everything possible to protect our country. They say that protection against even the possibility of terrorism is more important than civil rights.
While this argument may convince some authoritarians, I cannot agree. I am not suggesting that we should not protect our country against terrorism. What I am suggesting is that innocent college students should not be monitored because of their race or religion. We must revert back to the beautiful principles that America was founded on.
Emily DiCicco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.