Capitol access and democracy

To much of the world a beacon of American democracy is the freedom that citizens have to visit the US Capitol and other buildings in which their government operates. This image of free access, one of many special American freedoms, is in striking contrast with the oppressive restrictions in totalitarian nations. It is an image that Congress rightly seeks to preserve.

Yet at the same time, as last week's explosion inside the Capitol illustrates , prudent security steps must be taken to protect government officials from extremists. Congress now has tightened security, but it, too, wants its doors open to constituents.

Americans take seriously the phrase ''We, the People of the United States,'' which begins the preamble of their Constitution: By the millions every year they visit Washington, D.C., to visit their government and their buildings. During summers and school vacations they crowd the hallways, rotundas, and chambers of the Capitol; children and adults alike get a firsthand look at democracy in action.

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Such access is a freedom unique to a democracy and meaningful to an American. It is an asset in the struggle for support in the developing world. It is important that security steps be taken in the Capitol and all government buildings to protect officials without destroying this special image of access.

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