Debating the Costs of Securing Liberty

As the United States enters its second decade in the “war on terror,” an entire generation of young people are coming of age with little or no direct recollection of life prior to 9/11. For many of today’s students, the state of war is the norm, not the exception.

To some degree today’s students can assess the costs of this war for themselves. There is no question that the cost in human lives is high. The financial toll of the war also contributes to our growing debt problem. It is today’s high school students who will be paying for the war for decades to come.

Weighing the costs of the war in terms of civil liberties, however, will be more difficult for younger generations. They do not know what the United States was like before passage of the USA Patriot Act, the opening of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and the government’s increased surveillance of ordinary citizens and profiling of ethnic and religious minorities. It is vital that students have the opportunity to critically engage the question of whether and to what extent limiting civil liberties is a just or even effective response to the threat of terrorism.

For this reason, the Open Society Youth Initiative sponsored “Securing Liberty,” a program being implemented by its grantees, the International Debate Education Association (IDEA) and the National Forensic League. Earlier this summer, IDEA offered every high school in the United States 50 free copies of its newest publication, Securing Liberty: Debating Issues of Terrorism and Democratic Values in the Post 9-11 United States. To date, over 1,200 high schools have responded to this offer and 55,000 books have been mailed out. And today, the National Forensic League announced that its September Public Forum Debate topic is on the theme of securing liberty. Throughout the next month, high school students around the country will be debating a wide array of civil liberties issues discussed in the book. And in the fall in New York City, the Interfaith Center of New York and IDEA will be supporting discussions and debates in community centers. Events around the country are open to the public. You can learn more about them by visiting debate calendars hosted by joyoftournaments.com and Tabroom.com.

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