Sunday, July 17, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Michael Roberts

An American displaying his "patriotism" 

The TSA's security screening procedures made their way into the mainstream news five years ago when a video was posted on YouTube of a 6-year old girl being forced to submit to a pat-down search. According to the girl's father, that pat-down left her confused and crying because she thought she'd done something wrong. After the release of that video, others came forward with their own stories of underage children being groped. 

I haven't flown on a commercial air-flight in over ten years, and I will not (at least through US airports). I would never suggest that others do the same.  That was my choice, a personal choice.  And it's not one I could have made during most of my professional career, especially working for the US Department of Defense.  It was a personal choice and it is one most people cannot or will not make. I understand that; I accept that. But I also believe there should be a point at which one's moral revulsion to acts like these should outweigh a person's willingness to submit to authority. For me, that point was reached a long time ago. But no one should ever believe that individual conscience and dignity are always superseded by the demands of authority. At some point; a person of character must draw a line. Fair warning: if you do; you may have to stand alone. 

On October 15, 2010, a 35-year-old ExpressJet pilot (and father of six) from Memphis Tennessee named Michael S. Roberts put his job and career squarely on the line when he refused to submit to a TSA full body scan, invoking constitutional grounds for that refusal.  Michael Roberts wouldn't submit to the indignity and humiliation of a full body scan, and refused to remain passive and silent in obedience to a government authority that required it. One man among tens of millions. He stood alone. 

Michael Roberts' very individual stand would never have been noticed by the general public had he not appeared on ABC's Good Morning America on October 22, 2010: 

Michael Roberts did nothing more than any one of us should be willing to do. He exhibited courage, in a time of almost universal weakness and cowardice. In a time in which violations of liberty that would once have been considered unreasonable or outright absurd were meekly accepted by nearly everyone for the sake of convenience and comfort. The price of security? How much is too much? 

I am not trying to encourage any other person to take these same actions; it was easy enough for me, my job didn't hang in the balance.  In Michael Roberts' case, it could have cost him his job; his livelihood; his career.  He put a lot on the line.  

It was affirming for me to know that I'm not the only American who is absolutely disgusted by the complacency of American citizens toward unprecedented and unwarranted intrusions on civil liberties in the wake of a single terrorist attack on one American city, which occurred nearly fifteen years ago.

Michael Roberts later formed an organization called We Won't Fly; which stated this as their founding principle:
Citizens of a free society must not tolerate attempts by government security agents to see beneath their clothing or lay hands upon them without probable cause. Such acts are inconsistent with the undergirding principles of a free and virtuous society. Federal sanction does not and cannot negate the criminal nature and design of such acts. These despotic overtures violate Natural Law and are expressly prohibited by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
How could any American disagree with that? 

Before I read his opinion piece, I had never before run across the Latin expression Michael Roberts quoted in that essay: "Malo periculosam libertatem quam quietum servitium." It is translated as "Better freedom with danger than peace with slavery." That says it succinctly. 

This is not a political issue; it is one of the conscience. How much government control are you willing to live with? How much obedience to authority are you capable of?  How much do you cherish your liberty? Most Americans, if they were honest with themselves, would have to admit "not very much; not when I'm frightened." 

Michael S. Roberts answered those questions differently.

Update: I chatted briefly with Michael Roberts on New Year's Day 2014. He confirmed that he was still employed with ExpressJet. He added that they wanted to fire him at the time, but he explained to them that he never refused to do his job, but that he was PREVENTED from going to work by the TSA. "Besides," he added, "ExpressJet was never in control of the situation."