Slavery or Freedom, the Choice is Yours

Notes and comments by Elliot D. Samuelson, Editor

Two weeks after the most virulent and barbaric attack to our democracy that has ever taken place on American soil, I still find it difficult to comprehend the magnitude of this horrific act, or the fact that it even took place. Anger, remorse, fear, hatred, vengeance, retribution, resolve, courage, are but a few of the words that has crept into our consciousness and onto the tongues of all Americans.

In thinking what positive measures could be taken by the organized bar and by the Matrimonial Bar in particular, I thought it was important for anyone in a position of leadership whether in the government or not to articulate what will be the challenges to all free thinking persons in democratic societies throughout the world and the steps that must be taken in order to combat the evil that has pervaded our normal lives.

The choice is clear to me. Either we accept becoming enslaved by terrorists and terrorism, or we remain as free people. The slavery I speak of is the enslavement of one's mind, one's freedom of movement, and yes the loss of a basic tenet of the Four Freedoms articulated by Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt in a joint address to congress on January 6, 1941, some 60 years ago, the freedom from fear itself. President Roosevelt earlier observed during the depression that "...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".

Winston Churchill in the depths of the London Blitz, rallied the British people declaring that they would remain a free people and would not be overcome by the bombs that had devastated most of the city; that the British people's spirits could not be broken; and that they would fight to the last man, albeit that their only weapons were their fists and stones.

The road ahead will be difficult to traverse. At times it will seem that despite all of our efforts being put forth and despite the loss of lives that surely will occur, our goal to achieve freedom and avoid slavery appears to be out of grasp. Such frustration will undoubtedly become another stark reality that may deter some from continuing the battle. Nonetheless, we must have the resolve to accept casualties, accept the fact that the battle continues to be waged without apparent immediate success, accept the fact that our economy has been damaged and may result in all of us adjusting our financial lives yet always remembering that freedom has its price and this price must never appear to be too dear and whatever steps are necessary to prevail will be taken a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, and perhaps even a decade from now.

Unfortunately throughout the country there has been a predictable backlash against foreigners who are citizens of this country and include Muslims, Arabs and other Near Eastern people. We are at risk of becoming a xenophobic nation. Reports of physical brutal attacks on such persons must be rejected as examples of bigotry, hatred and violative of the rule of law that we so cherish and must now pledge our lives to protect. These reactions are the fabric of hate, the cloth of terrorism. They too must be eradicated.

The question remains. What can matrimonial attorneys do to help in this effort which will take on herculean proportions in order for us to remain free people. The answer seems clear to me. We can counsel our clients to understand the gravity of the war on terrorism and know that unless we all take an active part in positive way to destroy this enemy, we will become enslaved... and the rule of law and justice will forever be lost to a free society.

Everyone can make a difference. We can no longer sit on the side lines or pay lip service to these principles. What better way apart from advocating a pro active response to terrorism can we as attorneys participate to advance legislation that will provide more access to the courts, justice for its litigants, and a resolve that the defects in the courts to process our cases, will not be blinked at nor accepted.

We as matrimonial attorneys have viewed the suffering of many clients who during a divorce litigation have experienced fear, frustration and harbored many of the same emotions that most of us feel today.

Is not a spouse in a matrimonial litigation who refuses to obey the order of the court and wages a war of terror against his spouse, in an effort to achieve his or her goals, no different than a terrorist? Does a parent who seeks to brainwash his child with hatred toward his other parent, act differently than a terrorist? Does an attorney who forgets principals of civility and honesty act differently than a terrorist? Does a judge who seeks to punish, rather than dispense justice, act differently than a terrorist? Does a society that abrogates the rule of law, and fails to provide justice for all, act differently than a terrorist?

September 11th was a national wake up call, one that must never be ignored. If we are to continue to live as free men, in a free society, we all must do our parts...and that can be as simple as obeying a court order, treating one's adversary with civility and respect, and advancing laws that will provide equal justice for all.

The legal profession should stand as a beacon of hope for democracy and freedom and our system of justice, to the end that no litigant will ever feel disadvantaged, and the words from our pledge of allegiance "with liberty and justice for all" will take on new meaning.

Mr. Samuelson is a partner in Samuelson Hause & Samuelson, LLP in Garden City, New York and a past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers - New York Chapter, and is listed in the Best Lawyers in America.

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