Fear vs. Freedom

 Contents: UU World January/February 2003
January/February 2003

Living by Our Faith

by Tom Stites

These are scary times. In less than two years, we have encountered a steady stream of new things to fear: terrorism, a sputtering economy, war in the Middle East, criminal plunder by executives, a political lurch to the right, suburban snipers, an accelerating erosion of civil liberties.

New Threats to Civil Liberties

Fear of Freedom
by Wendy Kaminer
A Victory for the Heretics
by Kimberly French
Our Calling: Civic Courage
by William G. Sinkford
What You Can Do
by Jane Greer

Congregations commit to civil liberties issues, by Donald E. Skinner, UU World XVI:6 (November/December 2002)

Study/Action Issue Resource Guide by the UUA Commission on Social Witness
Vision and Values in a Post-9/11 World curriculum by the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy

Fear has the power to overwhelm rationality and drown out the still, small voice of conscience, so this flood of fear is in itself a serious danger. Our souls reverberate with uncertainty: What can we do to reduce the threat of terrorism? Or, what can we do if our own government, in trying to prevent terror, undermines the precious liberty that is our nation's foundation? And what can we do about long-running threats such as racism, global warming, and the growing gap between rich and poor? How can I cope with all this at once? How do I find the courage not to simply throw up my hands? In these scary times, we face a profound religious challenge as individuals and a profound civic challenge as a nation.

As Unitarian Universalists, we can turn to our congregations for courage and to our consciences for inspiration. We can turn to many sources of wisdom. And we can take action. The Rev. Richard D. Leonard, minister emeritus of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City, counsels reflecting on the array of threats and picking the one that you conclude presents the greatest danger, then focusing your action there.

General Assembly delegates, meeting in June in Québec City, picked threats to civil liberties. Concerned that American freedoms were being compromised by the U.S. government's response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, they voted to designate civil liberties as this year's Study/Action Issue. The goal: better-informed and more engaged Unitarian Universalists. The resolution asks congregations to study the issue; the UUA's Washington Office for Advocacy has created a Civil Liberties Study Guide and mailed it to each congregation to provide suggestions and resources. (Click here for tips on getting your congregation involved.)

In September Beacon Press, the UUA's trade book publishing house, published Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today by Wendy Kaminer, a noted civil libertarian, and UU World commissioned Kaminer to write the cover article for this issue. In October the UUA and Arlington Street Church in Boston cosponsored a celebration of historic Unitarian Universalist actions in defense of civil liberties (see "Our Calling"). As the new year brings us a new Congress poised to fill dozens of federal court vacancies with judges who take a narrow view of civil liberties, this convergence of Unitarian Universalist efforts seems especially timely.

Kaminer's article examines what happens to liberty in a time of fear. As the enemy of rationality and conscience, fear is also the enemy of liberty. Fear can become so powerful in times of war that conscience has been known to yield to such fear-driven decisions as rounding up Japanese Americans and sending them to camps during World War II.

Americans again find ourselves in a time of war. So may the still, small voice of conscience gain volume and may we gain courage to turn back the flood of fear. In the words of a benediction that the Rev. Gary Kowalski often uses in services at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, Vermont, "Be guided by your faith and not your fear. Go lightly on your path. Walk in a sacred manner."

Tom Stites is the editor of UU World.

 Contents: UU World January/February 2003
UU World XVII:1 (January/February 2003): 20

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