Politics & Policy

You Can Leave Any Time You Want

A Ron Paul man gets fenced in.

Steve Bierfeldt, the director of development for Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, had a particularly frustrating day of travel on March 29, 2009, after attending his organization’s regional conference in St. Louis. There, he sold Campaign for Liberty items, such as conference tickets, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and books. Transporting more than $4,700 in cash and checks from merchandise sales, Bierfeldt traveled from downtown St. Louis to Lambert–St. Louis International Airport with the intention of returning to Washington, D.C. The government, however, had another idea.

Transportation Security Administration officials detained Bierfeldt for further screening when they discovered a metal box in his luggage containing a large amount of cash and checks. The TSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and it, according to its website, “protects the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.” Bierfeldt might not agree with that last part. TSA agents interrogated Bierfeldt for over a half hour and would not allow him to continue to his gate until he answered some very directed questions: “Where do you work?” “What are you planning to do with the money?” “Where did you acquire the money?” Although having nothing to hide, Bierfeldt, in an effort to maintain his privacy, refused to answer the questions. The officers retaliated by further detaining him and asking viciously demeaning questions. As far as they were concerned, Bierfeldt could be prevented from moving freely so long as he refused to answer every prying inquiry they might conjure up. To them, if he wished to keep his privacy, then he should have wallowed in the safety of his own home. Bierfeldt never answered their questions, and they eventually let him go in time to catch his flight.

As terrifying as it is to envision a world where authority figures could detain and question us for nearly any reason they chose, consider the further effects of this policy. Bierfeldt, if he valued his privacy above all else and, therefore, stayed huddled in his home, would no longer be in a position to pursue his lawful employment as a director of development for Dr. Paul. Furthermore, he would also no longer be free to express his political views by participating in and advocating for the Campaign for Liberty’s values. Still further, if individuals such as Steve Bierfeldt were forced to stay at home in order to keep their privacy and dignity, then the public would lose all access to these political ideas. Stated simply, the government could eviscerate constitutional rights simply by burdening the ability to travel of those whose ideas it hated or feared.

A companion phenomenon now becoming apparent is the resort by the president to ruling by decree — and the people’s general acceptance of it. I speak of the decision by the Obama administration to purchase from former members of the Bush administration so-called back-scanner X-ray machines for use at airports. These devices, which cannot detect small amounts of plastic explosive on the skin or anything, plastic or metal, hidden in a body cavity, nevertheless give the false impression of enhancing the safety of the flying public because of the lurid, graphic, even pornographic nature of the digital images they produce.

The government, in order to induce the public into a sheep-like, dazed-infused, knee-jerk acceptance of the porn scanners, offered an alternative even more invasive, unconstitutional, and odious: a public zipper-opening, blouse-removing, groping-your-private-parts alternative.

Never mind that you own your own body, never mind that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that the government cannot touch you against your will without probable cause of crime or a warrant from a judge based on probable cause, and never mind that there is no authority in the Constitution for the federal government to protect private property; it has reached its ugly hands and peering eyes and insatiable lust into our trousers as a way to induce us to be submissive.

The Congress did not authorize the porn-or-grope alternative. Indeed, no member of Congress could vote for this and survive politically. And the one who will rule by decree — that would be the president — claims he did not authorize this; the “security professionals” who work for him did so. He is fooling no one. He can stop this with a telephone call. He prefers us to be pliant.

Even in the Bush years, this porn-or-grope choice was unthinkable. Today it is with us. However, worse than this Hobson’s choice is the repellant submissive acceptance of all this by millions of innocent flyers whom the government has duped into thinking it can keep safe. Question: Has the porn-or-grope regime discovered a single dangerous item of contraband at an American airport — a box cutter, a handgun, or an explosive — in or on anyone flying in America? Answer: No. But government propaganda works.

As this discussion shows, the right to travel enables the free exercise of so many of the other rights we most cherish, here the right to pursue lawful employment and freedom of speech. We should not have to check our constitutional rights at the curb simply because we decide to travel. Sadly, it is the right to travel that has been most disparaged throughout human history, our country being no exception. If we are ever to be free, then we must possess an absolute, uninhibited right to travel the world free from interference by government.

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano is a senior judicial analyst for Fox News. This article is adapted from his new book, It Is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom.


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