'Liberty Is a Fragile Thing'

McCarthyism Can Rise Again

Moreover, only 53 percent strongly agree that "newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of a story," and only 57 percent agree that "newspapers should be allowed to criticize public officials."

The late Justice William Brennan—who became a dissenter for liberty when the Burger and Rehnquist courts put him in the minority—was an optimist about the future of freedom here. He believed, he told me, that eventually the Supreme Court would regenerate the Bill of Rights.

Yet he had his moments of fear for what could happen. In one of our last conversations, he said to me, "Look, pal, we've always known—the framers knew—that liberty is a fragile thing."

And William O. Douglas once reminded a group of young lawyers that the guarantees of the Bill of Rights are "not self-executing." We have to continually make them work. "As nightfall does not come all at once," Douglas added, "neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air—however slight—lest we become unwitting victims of darkness."

Already, Arab Americans among us are being demonized and reviled—not by the government but by fellow citizens on the streets of New York. Their liberty has become fragile.

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