Monday, January 21, 2008

Church, State, and ID

Ogre (in the comment to the last post) nicely spells out the part of the ID-at-GA problem that seems to have pressed the most buttons in folks. In short, the REAL problem with the requirement to show ID to get into the GA neighborhood is not that some people won't be able to get to come to GA, it's that some people won't be able to come to the WORSHIP SERVICES at GA. Worship services, we feel, should by definition, be open to everyone. The specter of a federal official telling some people that they can't come to our (or any other, presumably) worship service seems especially scary. "What if the feds declared the blocks around your church a security zone and only let people through who had proper ID?" Ogre asks.

(Ogre also remarks that us UU's with our backpacks and Birkenstock's can hardly be considered a threat to port security, especially in a port where containers are not well inspected. The container issue is a huge one, and I sure hope somebody is working on it, but I think we all could easily be convinced that a person with ill intent could certainly dress up just like us if they wanted to. The point of asking for an official ID is to save us all, especially those of us who "look" like foreigners, from the indignity of being singled out, profiled, or subjected to prejudicial activity. )

Back to church and state.

A case where Homeland Security cordoned off a church and required ID for entry would certainly be a challenge to separation of church and state and go to the Supreme Court, and I imagine that we'd all be sending our contributions to the ACLU for that one. There is a considerable body of church/state law in place about such conflicts of rights and values, and the church does not always win.

But my friends, GA isn't our church, though we might hold worship there. We're the most temporary of occupants of the Port of Fort Lauderdale. The doctrine of separation of church and state doesn't mean that anybody can do something they call worship anywhere they please and enjoy immunity from government regulations. We can't hold a worship service in public parks, in the middle of the street, or on other people's property. From the perspective of Homeland Security, we UU's have chosen to enter this sensitive piece of property, and we have to follow the rules that make the nation more secure. Consider this analogy. Suppose a church which had a prison ministry insisted that the prison gates must be thrown open so that anybody could attend because the government has no right to regulate attendance at a worship service. We're in the same position at our GA in the Port of Fort Lauderdale. If we protest showing ID at GA for reasons of separation of church and state, the world is going to laugh at us and wonder why they ever thought Unitarian Universalists were bright, well-read people.

We could, of course, be angry with our own GA Planning Committee, who signed us up for a GA in a secure area, on promises that the ID problem would be solved by now. That wouldn't be very productive, but at least it would be reasonable.

Actually all these "reasons" for the hullabaloo about ID at GA strike me as side issues to what is really bothering us. More about that in another post.


Boy in the Bands (Scott Wells) said...

I agree with you up to but not including your comment about foreigners.

1. Despite the contrived fear-mongering of certain elected officials, the U.S. is more than able to produce its own security risks that have nothing to do with foreign interests or Islamicist terror. I suspect the Homeland Security people understand this in their own low-key, professional way.

2. Universal ID checks is a reasonable safeguard against profiling, about which I think we would have a civic obligation to protest.

Christine Robinson said...

Oh, I totally agree. I was responding to the extraordinary thought that "people who look like us" couldn't be dangerous. Not only do I think that dangerous people could dress up like us, I also think that they could be "like us". The question of whether checking ID is ENOUGH security in a sensitive zone is another question.

ogre said...

Egads. If that's what I wrote, I expressed my thought very, very poorly.

It's not that people who look "like us" couldn't be dangerous, nor that people might not dress to look like a presumptively riskless community in order to slip through.... It's that the idea that people with backpacks or briefcases are such a threat as to justify the security measures--when at the SAME TIME, the feds do almost nothing to ensure that the container loads coming into the port are actually safe, and don't present a risk to the port or the nation.

The back loading dock is essentially wide open and unmonitored while they're busy checking everyone coming through the front door of the store. The first step in port security is addressing the potential threat to the port and the country that hundreds of thousands (millions?) of truck sized containers coming in... filled with... well, something... present. The danger from foot traffic is orders of magnitude less.

Heck, they could scan people for weapons and such as they enter without ever asking for ID. What's the issue that demands ID? It's that Bad People might already be in the country and want to come into the port area.

Um. Bad People might also come into airports full of people. We're not checking ID as people enter.

My problem is that port security feels to me like Potemkin village stuff. SEE how SAFE we're making things? Um... no.

Personally, I think it's part of a mentality that embraces the false idea that abandoning liberty will get us security. Papers, please?

ogre said...

Oop. Got distracted having to look at something someone needed to show me and dropped a point I wanted to make.

Bad People are Those On The List (that's why it's an ID check). Any halfwit would seek a good false ID. But more to the point, how many people are ON that list? Is it the No Fly List? Because if it is, then I am on it (no idea why; I worked with a security clearance for years, and my father had one before I was born and without ceasing to carry it... for years AFTER I no longer had one. The feds know more about me that I do, if they check. Where I've been, who I've met.... But although they let me wander loose in facilities full of high explosives and Secret documents for years, they delay me regularly when traveling and the one time I've flown back into the USA since 9-11, I was invited to go stand in an over-packed room for an hour without any explanation and without anyone ever coming to ask a question. I got a feeble load of horseshit the one time I asked a question. Just before our flight was going to leave without us, they let me go.

Bad People on the list? Ah yes. I have so much faith in this government's lists. They're busy harassing people like me, or like my brother (who has security clearances he doesn't talk about and flies on government business constantly--and they screw with him at the airport, nevertheless).

Oh yes. Much trust and faith.

Christine Robinson said...

Ogre, if you look at the description of what goes on in Ft. Lauderdale (id checking by hotel bus drivers) I think you'll have to conclude that there is no "list" involved in this particular id check.

As to whether this is sufficient security for a port..that's a very good question, and I have to say that I have my doubts. However I am not an expert on port security. I'm not sure how I'd even find out about the security measures taken at the Convention Center Docks, although I am sure that that ID's are not checked there because they are checked at the port perimeter.

Robin Edgar said...

The contrived fear-mongering of certain "elected" officiants. . .