Yet, deeper issues about political duties and religious liberties appear neglected in the current conversations. Two recent disclosures describing intrusion on civil liberties of religious groups raise further questions regarding the justification of the domestic spying program. In one example, reports indicate that the government infiltrated the Truth Project, a group that met in a Quaker House to discuss nonviolent ways of countering military recruiting in high schools. The formal religious character of the project is not the primary concern; what is at issue is the Truth Project's contrarian perspective, which challenges the status quo through nonviolent means -- thus resonating with the prophetic religious critiques of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Paul Tillich, two thinkers monitored by government agencies. Moreover, reports reveal that the federal government identified the Los Angeles Catholic Worker as a group subject to surveillance— an unsurprising fact, given that the FBI meticulously tracked Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day.
The exercise of religious freedom to interrogate, gainsay, and counter government policies has been compromised by political mechanisms such as spying and the Patriot Act, which afford federal and local agencies various measures to investigate citizens. These means include planting agents in mosques, churches, and political action groups, and create the conditions for substantial abuses. Do such means contradict the Fourth Amendment, which ensures "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures"?...
The claims about national security, as advanced by the Bush administration, are no doubt serious, but they take on an ad hominem character. The mantra of security seems impenetrable, even implacable; it expresses a certainty (all future attacks must be prevented) in the face of uncertainty (how and when these attacks will occur). In essence, the administration presupposes that individual liberties, religious and otherwise, can and must be suspended to protect the common good of society.
This presupposition, however, fails to appreciate that it is in and through the exercise of these liberties and their relational dimensions that individuals construct and affirm the common good. The common good depends on the delicate balance of rights and duties, freedom and authority, and means and ends that cannot impugn basic expressions and experiences of the human journey—such as the exercise of religious freedom and critique.