Courtrooms in the Clouds:

From Under Silent Skies, America on Lockdown

By J. D. Obenberger, Attorney at Law

© MMI J. D. Obenberger

There are now three days of horror that all people of my age will carry seared within their memories forever. None of us will forget where we were when President Kennedy was shot, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, and the events of the day when massive terror descended from the skies over New York and Arlington.

It is about the collateral effects to freedom that we may inflict upon ourselves that I am most concerned.

Liberty is not a dirty word. It is the core value of American society, a word stamped on every coin, and its representation in New York Harbor is the very symbol of our nation and its essence to billions of persons around the world. The Statue of Liberty has inspired the best and highest hopes of those living in repression under government control in every land since it was erected, perhaps most eloquently by students in Tianamin Square, in a land, and in the midst of a more hopeful time for China that now seems very far away. That statute depicts liberty with broken chains at her feet and the head of an axe that set her free; She is adorned as queen of America with a seven-rayed crown. John Kennedy, the hero of PT 109 said in his inauguration speech on a cold January morning forty years ago that we Americans would pay any price, carry any burden, and endure any hardship to preserve that Liberty. The question now before the nation is whether we have the will and the strength to protect those liberties in a time of collective fear and danger.

During the course of my lifetime, there has been a steady, constant erosion of the liberties and freedoms we Americans all enjoyed. Many of the readers of this article cannot remember an America without stop and frisk, without TV cameras planted in apartments by judicial order, without a mandatory scan by a metal detector on the way into any courthouse or school. Without periodic checkpoints. There is a seeminlgy endless list of freedoms that have disappeared from the American landscape, one by one, because of one claim of public necessity or another.

But we haven't seen anything yet. The enemies of freedom are ever vigilant for an opening, and the present crisis presents them an unsurpassed opportunity to move America closer to their goal of a police state. We face a future of national ID numbers, national ID cards, the inspection of every piece of baggage moving in interstate commerce without probable cause, arrests as a "material witness" without probable cause, checkpoints, roving search warrants attached to people without probable cause as to whether the place to be searched or the phone to be tapped is likely to contain the fruits, evidence, or instrumentalities of crime.

Let's not forget that we are setting precedent in whatever we do, precedent, like all others in all ages, that will have effects far beyond the present crisis. What is at stake is the freedom and liberty of our children in uncounted generations to come. People don't come to America because it has a low crime rate. They come here for freedom and opportunity.

The terrorists did not aim for the Statue of Liberty and they did not hit it, though it was only a few miles from the attack on the World Trade Center. Let us assure that we do not strike at it ourselves and destroy what it stands for, as collateral damage in the present crisis. There is in every age a reason given as compelling why government needs more control over us and why the public safety necessitates a destruction of Liberty. We Americans have made the decision to be free, no matter the cost. It is precisely that value that elevates us in the world above other countries, and it is our Liberty that causes people every day to risk their lives to come here, the hope of freedom for themselves and their families. If I am wrong, then it is time to remove the torch from Lady Liberty's hand and replace it with a police baton and to equip her with a badge, a gunbelt, and a pair of cuffs, to rename her "The Statue of Security", and to replace the word "Liberty" on our coins with "Security". I was heartened by the brave and courageous words of Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard on September 11th, eloquently and emotionally defending the importance of constitutional Liberty on that day of great terror, emotion, and provocation. His soul shows him to be a worthy man to lead law enforcement here.

As we mourn the deaths of a plane load of probable heroes and patriots in the skies over Pennsylvania, military members going about their duty of defending freedom in the Pentagon, the thousands living the American life of opportunity in Liberty in the World Trade Center, the heroic firemen and policemen and EMT's and all the others, we would give them little fitting tribute if their deaths become a pretext for the destruction of the kind of society they enjoyed. If to obtain vengeance for the deaths of five thousand of our citizens we destroy the Liberty that millions of American service members have died defending, we trivialize the lives, sacrifices, and deaths of those young men and women who died in defense of that American Liberty.

Arlington National Cemetery and its Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is just a few thousand feet away from where one of the terrorists steered a plane into the Pentagon. Heroes the likes of General Jonathon Wainright and John Kennedy stand in a sea of crosses and stars that pay tribute to hundreds of thousands of soldiers buried there, many only seventeen, eighteen, nineteen and twenty when they paid the ultimate price of freedom for all of us. It is a place that evokes a stillness and memory never to be forgotten.

If we cannot hold on to American values of justice and freedom as we close in on the murderers and punish them, then those soldiers, sailors, and marines lying in honored glory in Arlington and in other such shrines will indeed have died in vain. It is with their blood that they have dedicated and consecrated this nation and its values. The values for which they gave their young lives must ever be protected and never be abandoned, not for this or any other crisis. Against the prospect of that that nightmare I will fight, persevere, and never surrender.

This article is written to generally inform the public and does not provide legal advice nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. If you have a legal issue or question, contact a lawyer. If you are arrested, make no statement and contact a lawyer immediately.

Joe Obenberger is a Chicago Loop lawyer concentrating in the law of free expression and liberty under the United States Constitution, and his firm has represented many owners, employees, and customers of adult-oriented businesses, both online and in the real world. He can be reached in the office at 312 558-6420 or paged in any emergency at 312 250-4118. His e-mail address is

Back to Articles

XXXLaw Home