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Persist for Airport Freedom

A “Woman Screams for Help After TSA Molestation,” and the “Texas Pat Down Ban May Be Back.” Those are just two of the headlines breaking around the nation this morning, as summer travel picks up—and so do concerns over excessive airport security.

How much indignity are you willing to endure if told it’s for safety’s sake? Would you let strangers look at images of you naked? Would you allow strangers to touch you in ways that we teach children is inappropriate?

Apparently, if you want to travel by airplane, these indignities must be endured.

Our government has decided that it has the right to assume that all people are potential terrorists simply because they choose to fly. A mockery is made of the Fourth Amendment when flying home to attend a wedding is deemed a probable cause to be publically humiliated. Worse, you risk getting yourself arrested if you decide security procedures have gone too far and refuse to submit yourself, your child, or your grandmother to additional screening.

The crazy thing about all of the screening procedures is that they do not make us safer. None of the screening procedures penetrate the skin. A suicide bomber could easily have enough explosives to take down a plane inside his body. The government is treating us like terrorists for the mere appearance of making us safer.

People will put up with a lot inconvenience for safety. But shampoo and toothpaste are not threats to safety. The Transportation Security Administration’s concern for the bottle of water carried by a non-terrorist does not make flying safer. It serves only to demonstrate the incompetence of the TSA. A competent TSA would be able to identify and direct attention toward likely terrorists rather than focus on benign objects. If the government will violate our freedoms for the appearance of safety, freedom is in trouble. Our freedom will be violated far more if a legitimate safety claim can be made.

Public outcry can make a difference. The TSA is now testing body scanners that display a generic outline of a person rather than individual anatomical details. The disappointing news is that the “enhanced pat-downs” are still part of the TSA’s repertoire. However, the TSA shows no signs of being intelligent about who receives security scrutiny. A state representative from Alaska recently chose to travel by boat rather than air when the TSA requested that she submit to an enhanced pat-down. Has a state representative ever committed an act of terrorism?

As a society we must grapple with how much freedom we are willing to give up for safety. But, guaranteed safety is not to be found in this world. There is no way to legislate an end to evil. The only way to come close to preventing all murders from terrorist attacks would be to have a police state. Yet the history of police states is clear. The Berlin Wall was not there to keep West Berliners from living in the low crime part of town. The wall was there because a life of freedom is superior to a life of safety and people were willing to risk not only their safety but their lives for the benefits of freedom.

Many believe there is nothing that ordinary people can do to stop the loss of freedom. It may sound clichéd but ordinary people who are persistent can change things. Indeed, the political climate for supporters of limited government may have never been brighter. We are witnessing real discussion in Washington and state houses across the country about government spending and the role of government.

Each of us can find ways to promote freedom and limited government. We can write letters to the editor or blog. We can use social networking to be sure our friends know about important information, speeches, and town-hall meetings. We can run for local office or assist those who are. We can thank our politicians when they do the right thing and be sure they know what is right. We will not win every battle, but must not let this be an excuse for pessimism. The loss of freedom we have suffered did not take place over night.

Invasive airport screenings are but one indication of a government forcing its will on the citizens. Persistence for years will be required for victory. Yet victory can be had. This is the time and this is the place to work for freedom.


Dr. Joseph J. Horton is an assistant professor of psychology at Grove City College and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision & Values.
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  • When I lived in Alaska I used to fly once every month or two. I racked up enough frequent flyer miles to get at least one round-trip ticket–sometimes in First Class–each year. These days, I have flown exactly twice in the last seven years, and I don’t plan to fly anywhere anytime soon.

    I’m lucky that my work doesn’t require me to fly, and most of my family lives nearby. If I had to fly, I’m not sure what I’d do. Probably take the body scanner option as often as possible as it is the least obnoxious.

    In my opinion, what we need to do is station an experienced beat cop at each security check point to look for people behaving suspiciously. A veteran police officer can spot unusual behavior and has a gut sense for when something is wrong. It’s my bet that we’d stand a much better chance of catching terrorists this way than with all the invasive methods that are currently being used.

  • Kay Anne Kelly

    Why is it racist to admit that almost every act of terrorism in the past 50-70 years was committed by a Muslim? If the same were true of Catholics you can bet your life that everyone who was Catholic would be targeted for the security screenings and almost no one else….this is ridiculous! One group of people have blown up more people than anyone else and we all tip toe around it because we do not want to offend – terrorists are likely laughing their heads off at us! They take handicapped people, strap bombs to them and send them off to kill – they rape their own women so they are “useless” and can only redeem themselves (because rape, of course, is entirely a woman’s fault) by blowing themselves up with a whole bunch of other people. And nobody wants to offend them? What about the Muslims they are abusing and murdering…do they not deserve our protection? This is mind boggling….one group of people does this but you have to look up the skirts of an elderly nun to be sure she isn’t a terrorist? You have to molest childern to be sure they are not terrorists just so that IF you decide to do the same to a Muslim you can point to the terrified child and say you did the same to her? This is nuts!

  • goral

    What is happening at our airports is an affront to our basic freedoms. Because the gov’t can’t do it’s job at the immigration level, because they refuse to secure the borders, all citizens must be subjected and humiliated so that it appears that something is being done.

    There is a much bigger issue here. The terrorist threat is being overplayed, especially domestically.
    If this really was the level of threat that is being reported then the tactics of our “guardians” of safety would not be directed toward mothers, daughters, and grandmothers.

    No, this is a test run to see how much subjugation and intimidation the citizenry can actually tolerate before they cry, enough. Our protectors are well on their way to being our masters.