FIRST-PERSON: Those who say 'it takes a village' broke down doors to take this child

WASHINGTON (BP)--This was a weekend we will not soon forget. The pictures of Elian Gonzalez facing helmeted marshals wielding assault rifles will remain etched in our memory -- and the world's -- as a day I believe will live in infamy.

Frankly, I'm still in shock. I never thought I would see something like this in America.

Outside the house in Little Havana, people had been peacefully praying, preparing for Easter. Suddenly, without warning, a SWAT team authorized by the attorney general and the president burst through the door. They grabbed the 6-year-old, smashed furniture and fired tear gas into the crowd.

Mind you, the Feds were not attacking a terrorist stronghold. Rather, unarmed Americans in the sanctity of their homes. Anyone seeing the photos pictured around the world could only think of Nazi Germany, where any home could be invaded at will.

Janet Reno claims she was carrying out the law. Well, I question that. The Eleventh Circuit Court sustained a decision that stated that any individual at any age can apply for asylum, and Elian did that when he entered the country. Telephone records show that his father had called his family in Miami, asking them to take care of the boy.

It's especially grievous that the government would resort to such heavy-handed tactics on Easter weekend. In December 1998 the White House avoided bombing Iraq during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan. But four months later they bombed Belgrade on Easter weekend, and now they've targeted Little Havana, a Catholic community. What is it about Easter that causes this administration to want to bomb people?

This is not the rule of law. It's flak-jacketed marshals invading homes in the middle of the night. How can this administration and those who defend it -- the liberal establishment pledged to defend civil liberties -- condone something like this?

The answer is that there's a great temptation for those in high office to believe that they ARE the law. When Janet Reno says she's upholding the law, she is simply upholding her own decrees. She may even believe her word IS law. But this is a dangerous mistake, as I learned in the Watergate years.

In child-custody disputes, remember, the law says a family court must decide the matter. No court has ordered Elian into his father's hands. And whether there was proper authority to break into the home has still not been made clear. So in the end, Janet Reno is merely enforcing her own decrees.

It seems as if the people who think it takes a village to raise a child are so certain that they're right -- that they know what's best for this 6-year-old -- that they'll break down doors to force their will upon him. We saw the same phenomenon at Ruby Ridge, at Waco, and now in Miami. It brings to mind C.S. Lewis's trenchant quote that "of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive."

I am deeply saddened that something like this could happen in America. If there is no outcry at this kind of action, and if we're complacent when jackbooted marshals burst into private homes, then we no longer can claim to be the land of the free.

As one middle-aged Cuban told reporters, "Something in America is broken." He's right -- and we'd better fix it.

Colson is founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and a Southern Baptist church member. Reprinted from Colson's BreakPoint radio commentary April 25.

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