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We must be ever vigilant to protect hard-won freedoms

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of commentaries by members of the Hernando County Bar Association, in celebration of National Law Week.

As lawyers, each year we celebrate and honor "the law" during Law Week. This celebration is not without reflection, and with the knowledge that our laws, in use and application, have not always been fair and just.

Our country was founded by Europeans fleeing to a new land, who in the course of their habitation of this country, dispossessed the rightful occupants of this land. This taking was done through the use of force, the formation of treaties and the breach of treaties.

When the colonies, then under English domination and control, could no longer accept such a form of governance, a Declaration of Independence was declared in 1776. In March 1789, our Constitution was ratified and the Bill of Rights was ratified in September 1789.

This great document, the Constitution, though conceived in the minds of the most noble, scholarly and patriotic men of the time, was flawed in content and application. Although the Constitution declared freedom of speech, liberty and due process, such was not granted to all persons under the then-laws of the country. For instance, our laws condoned the "peculiar institution of slavery" until that practice was abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1865. Our laws also denied women the right to vote until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Such is the history of our country.

This country, our Constitution and our laws have slowly evolved to reflect the ever-changing philosophies and mores of our people. Fundamental changes have occurred since our founding through the decisions of our Federal Courts and of our legislative process. The slow, deliberate change of law has produced a representative democracy founded on a document that is admired by free people and freedom-seeking people worldwide. With this in mind, we need to recognize that threats to our Constitution do exist.

The right to be secure in your own home from unwarranted search and seizure is under general attack. The right of habeas corpus is under constant attack. These threats exist in the minds of people who are willing to sacrifice liberty for temporary security. These threats exist in the minds of people who are willing to sacrifice liberty in the name of law, political expediency or political cause.

As we commemorate Law Week, we need to honor our Constitution and those liberties guaranteed to us through it. We should always be vigilant to attacks on basic liberties. Liberties earned over the passage of time and through the loss of blood should never be freely or carelessly abdicated.

_ William B. Eppley is an attorney in Brooksville. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of St. Petersburg Times.

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