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Harper: Freedom from government

Published June 22, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Much is being said today about whether the federal government should be able to access and store all of our phone calls and emails. As a member of two different groups that have suffered governmental extermination orders, I possess a unique perspective on this question.

I am a Native American (although I prefer "American Indian" because I'm first and foremost an American) and for nearly 200 years my ancestors regularly found themselves on the wrong side of government militaries and militias.

I'm also a member of the LDS Church. In 1838, Missouri Executive Order 44 made it legal to kill Mormons on sight within the borders of the state. (Fortunately, the order was rescinded in 1976.) I do not write these things seeking pity, but to remind people that government may not always have our best interests at heart.

These are not the only injustices committed by governments that believed they were working toward the greater good. We're all familiar with the Holocaust, but closer to home, and courtesy of our own government, we have the Cherokee Trail of Tears, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the WWII internment of Japanese Americans. In short, governments sometimes do bad things.

Today, we are not being relocated, exterminated or experimented upon. Instead, we are being asked to abandon our privacy and, more frightening, our freedom of speech. Who will dare to speak or write something in opposition to popularly held beliefs if there is a risk that their personal views might be called "extreme" and possibly one day used against them?

Some argue that this is a good thing, that holding people responsible for all their thoughts and words will, over time, free us from bigotry, intolerance and racism. However, we must remember it was not too long ago that advocating for abolition of slavery and the granting of women's rights. Both were considered extreme and dangerous ideas. And without freedom of privacy and thought, we, as a people, will not be able to candidly discuss societal problems or any potential solutions.

Proponents of government intrusion often claim that law-abiding citizens need not worry. Their argument is "if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear." They forget that none of us is an angel. Who has never spoken a word in passion, driven their car a little too fast, or voiced an opinion contrary to popular belief?

Who here would like every thought and word not only stored, but be readily available to a government that disregards the privacy of its citizens? This is a particularly important question in that today's Americans ages 18 to 30 are more open than ever with posting personal information in social media.

Liberties once lost are not easily regained without violence and bloodshed. Fortunately, I do not believe that we are on this inevitable course. With free elections and faithful adherence to the principles in our founding documents, we can still step back from the abyss. Even now, Americans of every political stripe are rallying, and if we can keep up the pressure, our voices will be heard.

My ancestors believed that, upon leaving this life, the most important question the Creator will ask is, "What did you leave behind to help those who come after you to live their lives correctly?" The idea is that we have an obligation to teach truth to the young. With this in mind I encourage all to ponder what we are leaving for future generations.

Will we bequeath our children a ubiquitous government that controls and regulates their every word and action, or one that leaves them alone to make their own choices and to pursue their own happiness?

Walker Harper is a registered member of the Mik'maq Tribe in New England, a graduate of Columbia University School of Law and an educator. He lives in Orem.