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By Steffan M. Bertsch, Attorney at Law

Steffan Bertsch is an attorney from Lake Stevens, Washington who has been involved in a number of freedom cases. This essay, which originally appeared on the ICE Internet list, is his response to and confirmation of the anonymous posting, "Citizen Soldiers," which you can read here

I am sorry to admit that your writer is correct in that there is little or no law running the "justice" system; American justice has given way to ignorance, cowardice and corruption.

While I do not advocate violence, I truly believe that the time has come for all lovers of liberty to take a gut check to know whether they stand for the principle of liberty. Liberty is expensive, and while Jefferson told us that the tree of liberty needed refreshing with blood from time-to-time, there are other methods available than violence. Henry David Thoreau told us that if a law was immoral, that we as moral people must realize that we will not live long enough to change the immoral law by any democratic process and that we must realize that "if it [a law] is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law." On Civil Disobedience.

This advice is especially true today when Congress and state legislatures pass so many laws that lawyers cannot read the annual output and are forced to resort to reading summaries of statutes and regulations, hence are left vastly ignorant of the laws. American laws are so numerous that "ignorance of the law" should be made a defense if a reasonable person would not know of the law.

Thoreau isn't the only American who stood up to the taxing machine and went to jail fighting for the principle of freedom. (Thoreau was protesting slavery). While there are many who view Martin Luther King, Jr. as someone other than a spokesman for liberty, MLK gave us some wonderful quotes regarding freedom and civil disobedience:

"We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was 'legal' and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was illegal." Letter from Birmingham Jail.

"One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, on has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." Supra.

"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and is willing to accept the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law." Supra.

MLK wanted churches to stand up to the state, even if it risked having the churches burned to the ground by covert or overt government retaliation. We recently witnessed the former at Waco; many of the black churches that have recently been burned have all the markings of the latter. From the following quotes it's easy to assume that MLK would have spoken against 501(c)(3) if he had considered the ramifications of how the tax-exempt status for churches converts them from houses of God into state churches that teach state-accepted doctrines.

"The Church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool." Strength to Love.

"So often the contemporary Church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo." Letter from Birmingham Jail.

MLK was a devotee of Mahatma Gandhi, who was inspired to civil disobedience by Henry David Thoreau's essay On Civil Disobedience. The following are a few wonderful quotes.

"Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, while Gandhi furnished the method." Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.

"For more than twenty years mahatma Gandhi unrelentingly urged British viceroys, governors, generals, prime ministers, and kings to let his people go. like the pharaohs of old, the British leaders turned deaf ears to these agonizing pleas." Strength to Love.

". . . it must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist. if one uses this method because he is afraid or merely because he lacks the instruments of violence, he is not truly nonviolent. This is why Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight." Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.

In the 1960's people protested the draft and the Viet-Nam war by marching, demonstrating, holding sit-ins, burning draft cards, and ultimately, several committed malicious mischief at a defense contractor's place of business and faced felony charges. The defendants represented themselves so they could argue that the Viet-Nam war was immoral, the draft laws were immoral, and since the laws were immoral, the jury should exercise its right to jury nullification and send a message to the government that juries would not enforce immoral laws. Unfortunately, the court refused to let pro se defendants argue for jury nullification, but the dissenting opinion by Justice Bazelon should be required reading for anyone who loves freedom and desires a return of the fully informed juries to America. U.S. v. Dougherty, 473 F.2d 1113 (1972).

If we want freedom in America, we need to at least have the courage shown by draft resisters, by nuclear-energy protesters, by animal-rights activists, by eco-nazis, by any number of dissident groups. There was a million-man march in Washington, D.C. for Muslims. How many million Christians would have the courage to march for liberty? How many churches will burn their 501(c)(3)'s? How many people will pay the price of liberty? How many people think that they will live long enough to see an end to depotism come through the democratic process?

It is time to consider the words of Thoreau, of King, and of Gandhi. There was a reason that John Hancock, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison, George Washington, and &c. risked their all and fought the "status quo" and oppressors from the Parliament and the Crown. They sought liberty for them and us and gave us the three greatest lights of American Freedom.

One day in the future, our great roads that all lead to Washington, D.C. will crumble as surely as did Rome's, our fine towers that were built so we could reach the gods will topple as did the Tower of Babble, but, out of the ruins of America will be those bright beacons of hope: THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENCE; THE BILL OF RIGHTS; and THE CONSTITUTION FOR THESE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The principles our Founding Fathers placed into those three magnificent documents are what separates America from all other nations in history. It is the honor for those principles that should give ordinary citizens the courage to halt a government gone amuck.

When the draft protesters were active in the 1960's a cry was often heard from many Americans to the Viet-Nam War resisters, "America, love it or leave it." That cry was far too "state" oriented for me. The cry should be: "Stand for Liberty or fall to Tyranny."

While it is true that those who stand up to the status quo may be broken financially or even imprisoned or killed. That has been the lot of every man who fought for liberty throughout history. In America, it is no different. Comfort may be had in considering the words of Confucius:

"If a state is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are subjects of shame; if a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches and honors are the subjects of shame."

(c) 1998 Steffan M. Bertsch

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21 March, 1998