Why are legal rights important?
The rights afforded to every American citizen are extremely important. While the drafters of the United States Constitution drew upon influences from ancient Greece and medieval British history in setting forth the rights that would be granted to every American, they went well-beyond those earlier historical periods in drawing from their own first-hand experiences and observations of British colonial rule and the constraints on individual freedom that were integral to the British Crown. While many contemporary historians have taken pains to illuminate the relatively minor impositions from Britain that were part of living in the American colonies, the founders of the United States nevertheless performed an invaluable service for all of mankind in demonstrating that revolution can be used to substitute a genuinely democratic political system for the autocratic one it replaced. That so few revolutionary movements before or after the American revolution exploited the opportunity for the betterment of all only served to highlight the truly unique contribution to world history that is the U.S. Constitution.
The reason for the that little bit of history is simple: the legal rights guaranteed in the Constitution ensure that the tyranny that resulted from most revolutions throughout history did not and, presumably, will not happen here. The rights to free speech, to practice the religion of one's choosing, to be protected against unwarranted searches and seizures of one's property, to peacefully assemble in protest of government policies, and to be represented in government through free elections are all the foundation of a true democracy. While U.S. history has been replete with instances of governmental policies and activities seemingly at variance with these constitutional rights, for example, the warrantless eavesdropping that has become apparently common over the past decade, the United States has to date survived as a democracy, with legal rights largely intact.
Debates regarding the constitutionality of government policies since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have left some Americans concerned about an erosion in their constitutional rights. They are right to be concerned, because civil liberties can be sacrificed in times of exteme duress, such as during a war, in the interest of "national security." As Americans' legal rights are very precious to them, any perception of an erosion in those rights will be met with resistance, both peaceful and violent. The rights afforded Americans in the Constitution were hard won, and have been protected at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives. Those rights are important because they define who we are as a nation. The United States has historically stood for freedom. Failure to defend the rights that guarantee freedom will surely see them slip away.