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Title: Be Not Afraid

Author: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

Source: American Enterprise Institute

Date: Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Re: Speech delivered upon receiving the Francis Boyer Award from the American Enterprise Institute.

Copryight: Copyright 2001, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. All rights reserved. To be published in the April/May issue of The American Enterprise.

Permission for excerpts reprint: 02/13/2001


Be Not Afraid

- by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Tuesday, February 13, 2001

"We shouldn't lose our principles to a warped view of civility."

The following article are excerpts from the speech Justice Clarence Thomas delivered Tuesday, February 13, 2001, in Washington when receiving the Francis Boyer Award from the American Enterprise Institute.

It is very tempting to confine my talk tonight to the subject that I am most familiar with: the law and my years at the Court. But, even though straying from that narrow ground may be hazardous, I am going to speak more broadly tonight as a citizen who believes in a civil society, and who is concerned because too many show timidity today precisely when courage is demanded.

My beliefs about personal fortitude and the importance of defending timeless principles of justice grew out of the wonderful years I spent with my grandparents; the years I have spent here in Washington; and my interest in world history, especially the history of countries in which the rule of law was surrendered to the rule of fear, such as during the rise of Nazism in what was one of the most educated and cultured countries in Europe at the time...

...I have now been in Washington D.C. for more than two decades. When I first arrived here in 1979, I thought that there would be great debates about principles and policies in this city. I worked as a legislative assistant for Senator John C. Danforth. I expected these great debates to occur in the Senate. Like so many of you, I was surprised to see soliloquies spoken in almost empty chambers, and unspoken statements included in the Congressional Record as though spoken.

For some reason that now eludes me, I expected citizens to feel passionately about what was happening in our country, to candidly and passionately debate the policies that had been implemented, and suggest new ones. I was disabused of this heretical notion in December of 1980, when I was unwittingly candid with a young Washington Post reporter.

He fairly and thoroughly displayed my naive openness in his op-ed about our discussion, in which I had raised what I thought were legitimate objections to a number of sacred policies, such as affirmative action, welfare, school busingpolicies that I felt were not well serving their intended beneficiaries. In my innocence, I was shocked at the public reaction. I had never been called such names in my entire life.

Why were these policies beyond question? What or who placed them off limits? Would it not be useful for those who felt strongly about these matters, and who wanted to solve the same problems, to have a point of view and to be heard? Sadly, in most forums of public dialogue in this country, the answer is no...

...If you trim your sails, you appease those who lack the honesty and decency to disagree on the merits, but prefer to engage in personal attacks. A good argument diluted to avoid criticism is not nearly as good as the undiluted argument, because we best arrive at truth through a process of honest and vigorous debate. Arguments should not sneak around in disguise, as if dissent were somehow sinister. One should not cowed by criticism.

In my humble opinion, those who come to engage in debates of consequence, and who challenge accepted wisdom, should expect to be treated badly. Nonetheless, they must stand undaunted. That is required. And, that should be expected. For, it is bravery that is required to secure freedom...

...It takes no education and no great intellect to know that it is best for children to be raised in two parent families. Yet, those who dare say this are often accused of trying to impose their values on others. This condemnation does not rest on some great body of counterevidence; it is purely and simply an in-your-face response. It is, in short, intimidation. For brutes, the most effective tactic is to intimidate an opponent into the silence of self-censorship...

...What makes it all worthwhile? What makes it worthwhile is something greater than all of us. There are those things that at one time we all accepted as more important than our comfort or discomfort if not our very lives: Duty, honor, country! There was a time when all was to be set aside for these. The plow was left idle, the hearth without fire, the homestead, abandoned...

...I do believe that we are required to wade into those things that matter to our country and our culture, no matter what the disincentives are, and no matter the personal cost. There is not one among us who wants to be set upon, or obligated to do and say difficult things. Yet, there is not one of us who could in good conscience stand by and watch a loved one or a defenseless personor a vital national principleperish alone, undefended, when our intervention could make all the difference. This may well be too dramatic an example. But nevertheless, put most simply: if we think that something is dreadfully wrong, then someone has to do something...

...The Founders warned us that freedom requires constant vigilance, and repeated action. It is said that, when asked what sort of government the Founders had created, Benjamin Franklin replied that they had given us "A Republic, if you can keep it." Today, as in the past, we will need a brave " civic virtue," not a timid civility, to keep our republic. So, this evening, I leave you with the simple exhortation: "Be not afraid."

End Article
Read the entire speech as delivered by Judge Thomas at the Frank Boyer Award ceremony sponsered by the American Enterprise Institute.

End Article

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