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Archive for Sunday, June 30, 2002

Bar association campaign promotes Constitution

June 30, 2002

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— American lawyers have been thrown into the battle against terror by government decisions on custody of suspects, special tribunals and other actions some consider constitutionally suspect.

The American Bar Assn. is commissioning its first paid advertising campaign, starting in major newspapers July 8, to promote the Constitution itself.



"We as a profession have really been in the focus, in the middle of public debate," said Robert Hirshon, president of the American Bar Assn.

Hirshon said the $2.5 million, 13-month effort was meant to get people talking about controversies that arise in a democratic society fighting terror.

"The rule of law and the role of the rule of law has never been more important as we have been balancing our civil liberties with our need to protect ourselves," he said in an interview.

"An integral element of our democracy is debate and dialogue," Hirshon said. "Sept. 11 was a vivid reminder that we must not take our liberty and freedom for granted."

The ads will appear in newspapers in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York, San Francisco and Washington.

The first ad will picture a little girl sleeping under a blanket imprinted with an image of the Constitution on it. The caption: "Security Blanket."

The association will run a second ad inviting Americans to debate electronic surveillance, an issue that gained steam in October when Congress expanded the FBI's authority to eavesdrop on private citizens.

It's an issue important to American Muslims, who came to the Capitol last week to tell members of Congress they worried that the FBI's new surveillance powers would be used to trample their civil liberties.

Differences over freedom and security already divide Americans.

The lawyers' group commissioned a survey that found 45 percent agreed that the country's laws and constitutional principles made it easier to fight terrorism, while 40 percent believe they prevented the United States from fighting effectively.

Hirshon said he was heartened by the survey because it found 57 percent of Americans have talked to their children about democracy or the U.S. Constitution since Sept. 11. Sixty-two percent have talked to their children about how America is different from other countries.

The bar association, which represents 400,000 lawyers, also plans to embark on a public service campaign that will expand on a program initiated by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Kennedy developed the "Dialogue on Freedom" program to promote discussion of American civic values in high-school classrooms.

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