The Safety of Many Should Trump the Hurt Feelings of the Few

This week, House Republicans were able to have language added to the Rail and Public Transportation Act of 2007 (HR 1401) that would protect public transportation travelers who report suspicious activities from being sued. Legal action has already been taken against those passengers on US Airways who reported the suspicious behavior of six imams last year, which ultimately got the imams booted off the flight.

Nearly six years after 9/11, one would think that such legislation would be a no-brainer. After all, isn't the safety of millions of Americans who travel by plane and train each year more important than the hurt feelings of a handful of people? Apparently not, since the motion was not passed unanimously. The vote was 304-121, with all dissenting votes being cast by Democrats. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-MS, was among those in disagreement.
"Absolutely they should have the ability to seek redress in a court of law," said Mr. Thompson, who suggested that protecting passengers from a lawsuit would encourage racial profiling."
Should the passengers and flight crew who tackled Richard Reid  have ignored him? After all, there could have been a perfectly innocent reason for him lighting matches, like the embarrassed woman on American Airlines who wanted to cover  the odor of her flatulence. After causing the flight to land and everyone having to be put through security again, the woman (who was not charged) was not allowed back on the flight. There has been no word of her looking to sue American Airlines - nor should she. American Airlines acted with the safety of all its passengers in mind.

And had Reid's fellow passengers not acted, today we'd be asking, "Why weren't they more vigilant?" rather than congratulating them for their swift actions.

The threat of being sued has a chilling effect on people who might normally help their fellow man in a dangerous or threatening situation. The language in HR 1401 can be likened to Good Samaritan laws that exist throughout the United States and in many other countries. Good Samaritan laws give protection to someone who gives aid to another in imminent or serious danger or peril from being sued for negligence, as long as such aid is not given recklessly. (Fine points in Good Samaritan law vary by jurisdiction.)

HR 1401 can also be compared to federal laws protecting whistleblowers
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and a number of other laws protect workers against retaliation for complaining to their employers, unions, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or other government agencies about unsafe or unhealthful conditions in the workplace, environmental problems, certain public safety hazards, and certain violations of federal provisions concerning securities fraud, as well as for engaging in other related protected activities. Whistleblowers may not be transferred, denied a raise, have their hours reduced, or be fired or punished in any other way because they have exercised any right afforded to them under one of the laws that protect whistleblowers.
In fact, corporate whistleblowers are usually the darlings of the press...but not journalistic whistleblowers, a la Bernard Goldberg.

Muslim activists complain that Muslims (especially young men) should not be targeted for extra security checks on public transportation, even if it means that gray-haired old ladies must take off their orthopedic shoes and have a wand run over them before boarding a plane to see the grandkids. This, despite the fact that it was not gray-haired old ladies who hijacked our planes on 9/11, but Middle Eastern Arabs. The US government, ever mindful of PC sensibilities, has complied. Now Muslim activists don't think its fair for Muslims who behave oddly (making anti-US statements before boarding, asking for unnecessary seatbelt extensions and not sitting in their assigned seats onboard, etc.) to be ousted from their flight.

The House did the right thing by adding protection for citizens who dare to keep themselves and their fellow public transportation safe from possible danger. And the Democrats who voted "no"* should be held up to the public as an example legislators who would rather score PC brownie points with special interest groups than create law that benefits the majority of Americans.


*The link initially provided was to the HR 1401 vote, showing that the final "nay" votes were cast by Republicans. The proper link, to the vote on the amendment, now has been added.

Pamela Meister writes about politics and world events at her blog  She can be reached here.