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Using the census process to corrode our rights?

The American Community Survey is being sent out by the U.S. Census Bureau “to a sample of some 3 million U.S. households in addition to the 2010 Census.” “The U.S. Census website for the American Community Survey warns that under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, Section 221, anyone who refuses to answer the 11- page 48-question survey, or who answers the questions with false information will be subject to a possible $5000 fine.” It makes sense that if you voluntarily give up your right to remain silent in order to perjure yourself; you are subject to a penalty. Apparently, however, exercising your right to remain silent is also a punishable offense.

The U.S. Constitution (Amendment IV) provides that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” It goes on to make clear (Amendment V) that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

These days no one denies the fact that information is power. Do people possess this power in any more personal form than their own thoughts? The knowledge of our own thoughts is in fact the archetype of all personal property.

Given the Constitution’s provisions, if the government wants, by compulsion, to take the content of our thoughts for public use, there appear to be two clear prerequisites: a) we must be assured that their content will not be used to bear witness against us in any criminal case; b) we must be offered just compensation.

Since police dramas are the bread and butter of the entertainment industry, the first prerequisite is pretty well known to everyone. Most people have heard dramatic readings of the so-called Miranda warning so many times that they could recite it in their sleep. “You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…” Keep in mind that this warning must be given even to people caught red-handed committing a crime. The government cannot compel them to divulge potentially incriminating personal knowledge about their misdeed. Only with ironclad assurances (a grant of immunity) from the government that the information will not be used against them, can they be compelled to testify.

People innocently going about their business, who are in no way connected with any crime, have at least the same right to withhold their thoughts from government scrutiny as those suspected or accused of involvement in wrongdoing. With this in mind no doubt, the census bureau’s website states that census’ “answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court”. However, that blanket assurance flies in the face of historical, as well as more recent experience. Be that as it may, is the acquisition of information for purposes of ordinary research and administration sufficient grounds for violating the right of the people to be secure in what is perhaps the most intimate aspect of their personal lives? Moreover, since the personal knowledge acquired by government compulsion is being taken for public use, isn’t the government required to provide just compensation, as the Constitution specifies? What could constitute just compensation for this forcible rape of the contents of the mind?

Given its evident inconsistency with the Constitution’s prohibition against violating the people’s right to be secure in their persons, the compulsory nature of the ACS has stirred opposition. One obvious solution, pursued by Representative Ted Poe (R, Texas) is “to make participation in the extended ACS survey voluntary.” With their characteristic contempt for the provisions of the Constitution, the Obama faction’s Congressional lickspittles barred his proposal. Of course, given the present state of things, it’s not clear that labeling participation “voluntary” would keep the government from penalizing people who refused to volunteer. Every year on their income tax return people “voluntarily” share personal information in the belief that they are subject to fines and penalties for not doing so. If their belief is correct, they have already surrendered their right to remain silent. The ACS is just another consequence of that surrender. But if the penalties imposed for refusing the ACS make compliance mandatory, how can using the threat of such penalties be consistent with the supposedly “voluntary” character of the testimony contained in the income tax return? Taking the ACS is no more or less voluntary than submitting the income tax return. In both cases, the threat of penalties constitutes compulsion.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Procedural and substantive adherence to the Constitution is the prerequisite for lawful acts by the U.S. government, including lawful legislative acts. Duty requires that a free people challenge the government’s unlawful acts. The Constitution provides for one avenue of challenge, through the courts. The natural law provides for another, though it leads ultimately to a more sanguinary battlefield. To take either avenue, those who would be free must first stand upon their right, forcing the government action that violates it. That violation provides the ground for their challenge, whether they appeal through the courts to the Constitution or directly to “nature and nature’s God.”

Either appeal is fraught with peril, for individuals and for society as a whole. The failure to take a stand, however, allows and encourages the corrosive destruction of liberty. This is the somber choice the American people are now making, by their action or inaction against this and other abuses. It is the classic choice that bullies offer, and that the Obama faction’s bullies intend to impose on what one of them declared to be “a nation of cowards.” Harsh words; if they prove true, that will have even harder consequences.

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  • Fred Pechin March 18, 2010, 8:36 pm

    Excellent article Mr. Keyes. I have thought about what we will do in the future here with being able to use the Amendments to protect us from the evil doers of complete transformation. Our rights are slowly being eroded.

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