It felt like a punch to the stomach, though the hurt was in my heart and the damage was to my spirit.
The awesome sweep of the 44 marble steps ascending to the entrance to the majestic United States Supreme Court building take visitors to the entrance to the Grand Hall from which there is access to the legendary court room. Over the entry to the marvelous bronze doors at the entrance to the building appear the words “Equal Justice Under Law”—a statement that conveys the promise of our democracy and system of law. That entrance has been an idyllic metaphor for the American way of life as much as a functional way to get inside the building. For 75 years, scores of people from all walks of life have stepped through that entrance inspirited by the promise of finding equality and justice inside.
No more! As of today “court watchers,” visitors, and “seekers of justice” will be ushered to another entrance to the High Court—over to the side of the historic doorway, off center from the historic and hallowed promise of justice for all.
Why the change? You guessed it—security, better crowd control. The metaphors of democracy have been hit hard since terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and caused the downing of an airliner in Pennsylvania. First Pennsylvania Avenue was closed to traffic in front of the White House. Later access to the United States Capitol building was restricted. Entrance to the center of our government can now be found in an underground visitors’ center. But it never occurred to me that a day would come when the entrance to the Supreme Court would be moved to a side door.
I understand the need for security. I have felt fear in this center of power in the “free world.” I have felt the same kind of fear in Monroe as recently as last weekend while listening to a conversation in which 3 of the people present shifted their conversation about guns to their aspirations to get rid of President Obama by any means necessary. I am aware of the smoking bomb that—Thank God!—did not explode in Times Square. I am not unaware that the presence of terrorists among us demands thoughtful preparation and defense measures. However, when security interests become so powerful as to compromise liberty and alter the values of democracy, hate has triumphed over civility at home, and terrorists have won the day from abroad.
I don’t want to be unreasonable, but I also do not want to lose democracy. Hate mongers have altered the way of life for peace lovers. A loss of the basic symbols of our nation prepares the way for still greater losses.
Today, I am sad. My tears are not for myself, but for my country!