Leo "Skip" Childs is the kind of person you'd want as your next-door neighbor. Skip puts in many hours every month volunteering as a firefighter in North Truro, Massachusetts. His wife, Marjorie, supports the rescue squad with hot coffee and homemade cakes.
But then, as columnist Maggie Gallagher relates, Skip signed a petition supporting traditional marriage. He was labeled a bigot, and thrown off the Board of Fire Engineers.
What happened to Skip is a frightening example of what can happen when we lose the right to keep our political views private.
Americans cherish our right to political privacy. In particular, we value our right to a secret ballot when we're voting - a right we have had since 1892. Until then, citizens had to publicly announce who they were voting for. The secret ballot meant the end of intimidation by those who didn't like the way others voted.
Today those old intimidation tactics have come roaring back. A group called "Know Thy Neighbor" is gathering the names of those who sign petitions in support of traditional marriage amendments and posting them online.
Know They Neighbor claims it only wants to engage opponents in friendly dialogue. But citizens who signed the petitions don't see it that way.
Florida nurse Lisa Owens told the BOSTON GLOBE that she was "furious" when she found out her name and address had been posted online. "If somebody wanted to do a hate crime, my address was right there," she said. "I felt like my privacy had been invaded." Other petition signers say they feel intimidated, as well.
Well, that's the idea. Know Thy Neighbor leader Gary DeBusk revealed the group's true agenda when he told the GLOBE: "We're trying to say you cannot just take away people's rights without being held accountable for that."
Held accountable? For your political views? For expressing them in public? That's the kind of thing that happens in Communist countries - not democracies.
This isn't the only way Americans are losing their political privacy. At one website, you can find out which politicians your neighbors gave money to. Now, obviously, candidates need to keep track of their donations to prevent corruption. But does every $10 donation really need to be posted online for all the world to see?
Christians of all people understand the temptations that come with power: we're all vulnerable. For instance, if you knew your grocer had signed a petition in favor of something you opposed, would you be tempted to shop elsewhere? How long would it be before companies routinely checked someone's political views online before offering him a job?
It wouldn't be long before we'd all be afraid to get involved in politics at all. After all, who would write checks or sign petitions if they might lose their job over it - as Skip Childs did?
We need to contact our state lawmakers and demand that steps be taken to protect people from this kind of intimidation. Disclosure is a good thing in a free society, but protections need to be built-in. Americans are entitled to express their views and not be punished for the way they vote or what they believe.
From BreakPoint®, July 6, 2006, Copyright 2006, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. BreakPoint® and Prison Fellowship Ministries® are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.