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Thu Dec 12, 2019, 07:58 PM

The Whistleblower Joins the Long Line of Dissenters That Have Defined America

From TIME magazine
Really worth reading the entire article, which provides an important and timely history lesson. But, as a start, here are some excerpts:

Americans were gripped when news broke in September that an anonymous intelligence officer had reported concerns to Congress that President Donald Trump seemed to be trying to use the power of his presidency to exchange investigations into his political rivals for U.S. support of Ukraine. The consequences of the whistleblower’s actions have dominated headlines for months, but in many ways, the complaint, which may lead to Trump’s impeachment by the House this month, was a historical moment that was centuries in the making.The United States was forged by individuals who believed their leaders were acting inappropriately. They took action to rectify that, and founded a new nation. Since then, efforts to curtail, accommodate and advance the practice of speaking out against one’s government have fluctuated since the Colonial era. The digital age has brought fresh challenges to the tradition. But one fundamental truth about American dissent remains regardless of the laws that have been used to safeguard or keep it quiet: American democracy as we know it would not exist without it.

Four hundred years ago and 3,000 miles away, Christians across the pond began to test out public dissent. They believed the Church of England, with its ornate vestments and elaborate ceremonies, too closely resembled the Roman Catholic church and should instead be “purified” to mirror the simplicity of the Bible’s New Testament. The church rejected the so-called Puritans’ suggestions, and threatened them with “extirpation from the earth.” One bold Puritan who criticized Anglican Bishops as “knobs, wens and bunchy popish flesh,” was even sentenced to life in prison, had his nose slit, his ear cut off, and his forehead branded with “S.S.” — short for “sower of sedition.” After King Charles I took the throne and married a Roman Catholic, proving too much for Puritans to bear, some set sail in the early 1630s for America in pursuit of religious freedom. Over the course of the next decade, approximately 20,000 risked disease and death to make the trek. They joined Pilgrims, who had left England 25 years earlier in much smaller numbers, and who were more radical in that they wanted to separate entirely from the Church of England, rather than reform it. Since church and state were synonymous at the time, this was potentially treasonous. By leaving England, the Pilgrims sought to avoid the fate of other separatists like John Penry, Henry Barrow and John Greenwood, who were all hanged for their religious beliefs in the 1590s.

The underlying hope of the two groups was that their new country and its leaders would not be as oppressive towards the citizens who disagreed with their government’s practices. America faced this test early: Just seven months after the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the newly established Continental Congress had to decide how to handle Americans who reported government misconduct. Ten American sailors and marines had accused the Continental Navy’s most powerful man, Commodore Esek Hopkins, of torturing British prisoners of war. Hopkins retaliated by suing them for libel. But instead of siding with Hopkins, the Continental Congress backed the whistleblowers and passed a resolution on July 30, 1778, that said it is “the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.” The resolution was a critical moment in American history. “It establishes that, at least in this country, the idea of confronting law breakers is something that everyone is encouraged to do, no matter what your station,” says John Kostyack, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center. “And at the time, that’s a fairly radical notion.”

. . . .

But despite these layers of legal protections, unveiling potential corruption is neither safe nor easy—especially when the person you’re blowing the whistle on is the most powerful political figure in the world. “This is a real test for our entire system of whistleblower protection,” argues Kostyack, from the National Whistleblower Center. “The president and his allies are not just attacking these individual whistleblowers, but also implicitly challenging the notion of an ability to file a confidential disclosure.” . . . In their fight, Trump and his supporters risk dismantling whistleblower protections that Navy and Marine members risked their livelihoods for in 1777, when they reported Commodore Esek Hopkins. “We really have to have that internal dissent channel vibrant and alive,” says Allison Stanger, a professor of international politics and author of a recent book on whistleblowers. “Or else we just have to say that the truth is whatever our leaders say it is.”

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