October 22, 2003

Debating Civil Liberties

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The American Studies Department held its annual Daniel W. Kops ’39 Freedom of the Press Fellowship Program yesterday afternoon presenting Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union. After an introduction by Prof. R.L. Moore, American Studies, Strossen delivered a speech entitled “Our Imperiled Freedoms: The Collateral Damage of 9/11,” to a large, diverse audience of students, professors and concerned Ithaca citizens in Goldwin Smith’s Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium.

This was not Strossen’s first time at Cornell — she debated Pat Buchanan last year on the same issue. “I don’t want to gloat, but I won by a big margin,” Strossen joked in her opening comments, referring to the “open door” voting that allowed her to see who was and was not swayed by her debate.

Strossen, who is also a law professor at New York Law School, delivers over 200 public presentations per year to over 500 collegiate campuses both in this country and abroad.

While the Kops lecture is often devoted to speeches concerning mainly freedom of the press, as it was last year when Gail Collins, the New York Times editorial page editor, came to speak, Strossen expanded on this theme to discuss the infringement on American civil liberties since the enactment of the PATRIOT Act over two years ago. The act was passed by the Senate six weeks after Sept. 11 to increase homeland security.

Strossen criticized the PATRIOT Act, calling it an “invasion of privacy” and an “attack on the civil liberties” Americans are guaranteed by the Constitution. Further, Strossen explained that the Act has not in fact helped to beef up security as it was intended to do. Instead, it has added false leads and secret arrests that complicate the apprehension of those who threaten American security. Strossen emphasized that airport security is not entirely fool-proof, even with the increased number of checkpoints. “I don’t mean to be obsessed with flying just because I fly 300,000 miles a year … [but] the government has been doing too much [to protect loss of revenue] and two little to protect loss of liberties, or loss of life,” Strossen said. “In our great nation we should be both safe and free,” she added, alluding to the ACLU’s Safe and Free Campaign.

In her speech, Strossen noted that many Americans are alarmed by the PATRIOT Act’s restriction of civil liberties. “In addition to positive efforts in Congress, an unprecedented grassroots movement has begun at the local level,” Strossen said. She applauded Ithacans and the Common Council for passing a resolution last year denouncing the PATRIOT Act.

In the question and answer period allotted to her after the speech, Strossen suggested that in order to help improve the situation, individuals should organize at the local level, talk to local representatives and access the ACLU website for daily updated information. “This is precisely why members of the public and of the press must be eternally vigilant,” she said.

Audience memebers had varying reasons for attending the lecture.

“I wanted to attend the lecture because I was really interested in seeing what she had to say as the president of the ACLU, and because I think its an important topic,” said Laura Schectner ’06. “I was impressed and I enjoyed it a lot. She was very well spoken and made her point clear.”

Strossen commended college students for getting involved, thanking representatives from the Cornell Civil Liberties Union for attending the lecture. “Students can have an enormous influence on public policy simply by getting active on campus and organizing to defend their rights,” Strossen said. “There is a lot at stake — students records are no longer private, students from overseas are subject to special registration; its becoming much harder for foreign students to come to this country which I think is depriving our own students from educational opportunities.”

Those in attendance seemed to enjoy the speech, laughing when Strossen cited the numerous cartoons and jokes that have been floating around the media about the Act, even producing a special gift she received from a colleague, a thong with the PATRIOT Act logo on it.

Though the benefactors of the program, Daniel and Nancy Kops were not in attendance, the speech was taped for their benefit. As Moore mentioned in his introduction, Daniel Kops, a former Sun editor, founded the program as a forum for free speech and freedom of the press, inviting one speaker each year.

Moore was pleased with the lecture. “This was the perfect lecture. It was substantiate, provocative and accessible. I was very pleased.”

Archived article by Logan Bromer