American (In)Justice

As a child, I took it for granted that America considered people innocent until proven guilty, gave everyone the right to a fair trial, and respected life. Now, various cases indicate the contrary. I was appalled when I heard that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of upholding the death sentence against Troy Davis, who was consequently executed, without even examining new evidence and testimonies pointing toward his possible innocence. Putting aside the morality, or immorality of the death penalty as a sentence, it seems an irreversible injustice to execute someone when any doubt pertaining to their guilt has surfaced. If, in the coming years, further evidence proves Troy Davis to have been innocent, it’s too late. The justice system can’t give him back his life. They can’t give him back to his wife and children. They may have made a breach of justice that can’t be remedied.

When Osama Bin Laden was killed in an air strike last May, conflicting reports were released regarding whether the Special Forces that carried out the raid had been given orders to capture Osama bin Laden but ended up killing him out of necessity skirmish, or had been directed from the beginning to go in and kill him. Friday’s drone attack that targeted more Al Qaeda leaders confirmed, however, that the U.S. has indeed been sending its troops on “seek to kill” missions, without giving the suspects any trial or respecting due process. Such incidents violate, as well as international law. These policies are, however, being overlooked by the government(s) which, in these cases, acts as judge, jury and executor, all in one. The nature of these conflicts shows that Americans not only denying, in some cases, the right to a fair trial, but is also denying the right to life so esteemed in the Declaration of Independence.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, changes don’t take place immediately. Over the past decades, the nation has increasingly embraced relativism and lessened its respect for life by endorsing abortion, the death penalty and, in some regions, euthanasia. Recent infringements upon the right to life in the criminal justice system and international dealings are just another step in the same direction.

Also, given the international perspective I have gained through my time outside of the U.S. throughout my life, as well as contact with people from various countries that are affected by U.S. foreign affairs and watch U.S. internal affairs like a hawk, I have realized that U.S. action isn’t always perceived, or received the way the U.S. expects. In fact, recent U.S.military action has decreased the credibility of the U.S. government in the eyes of many foreigners that don’t understand why the U.S. considers its judgment to be above international law, and why it refuses to release more details concerning its international strikes if it has nothing to hide. Granted, the U.S. has its own reasons for its approach, but its actions do sometimes compromise its reputation in the eyes of many. Many foreign nations agree that the U.S., and all countries, have not only the right, but also the responsibility to pursue justice, but their esteem for the U.S. falls short when they question whether it can ever be considered right to pursue justice through unjust means, and whether killing people without any trial or due process is a just retaliation for offences that likewise concern the unjust killing of human beings.

It worries me when government seems to consider itself above the law or, as Bishop William E. Lori, new USCCB chairman for religious freedom explains, when the government plays God, and in so doing, infringes on the rights and freedom of the people; this can have wide-reaching implications in every area of life and creed. I believe strongly in the general goodness of the American people. I believe that America’s prized values of freedom and justice are worth upholding. But I also believe that the United States, from the government as a whole down to each individual, needs to glance inward at the nation and reconsider its current methods of promoting justice and freedom. Is freedom, or justice, “at any cost” justifiable, when that cost implies the renunciation of freedom and justice to others?

Perhaps now is a good time for Americans to go back, and remind themselves of what President Ronald Reagan wrote almost 30 years ago, when analyzing the state of the nation 10 years after abortion had been legalized. He foresaw the path the nation has followed since then, when he stated: “We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life — the unborn — without diminishing the value of all human life,” and explained that the real question “is not when human life begins, but, What is the value of human life?” He further counseled that, “Every legislator, every doctor, and every citizen needs to recognize that the real issue is whether to affirm and protect the sanctity of all human life, or to embrace a social ethic where some human lives are valued and others are not.”

Before turning his address to the broader topics of equality, freedom and justice, Reagan concluded his reflection on the importance of life by saying, “I have no trouble identifying the answer our nation has always given to this basic question, and the answer that I hope and pray it will give in the future.” I wonder, whether Reagan would repeat this statement with as much confidence, were he here today. I hope, and pray, that, in the long run, he won’t be proved  wrong. I hope, and pray, that America will reawaken the “conscience of the nation” Reagan trusted, and will let that conscience lead it back to the fundamental values and rights that it was founded upon and has tried to uphold for over two centuries. I hope, and pray, that the nation, beginning with its government and justice system, will again embrace the universal right to life and uphold its value for the born and the unborn, the young and old, the free and the imprisoned.

To read Ronald Reagan’s complete address “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation,” click here.

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home sweet home.

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