Treason

There’s been a lot of talk lately about people doing things that other people have termed “treason” or “treasonous.”  A certain letter was sent to the leaders of Iran.  Was that treason?  Some people are calling for an armed revolt against the US government.  Is that treason?  Maybe so, maybe not.  I’m not a legal scholar (far from it), but I have a few comments on this topic, based on the definition of the word.

Treason is defined in the dictionary.  But did you know treason is also defined in the US Constitution?  It’s the only crime defined in the Constitution.  Article III, Section 3 [1] defines treason as: “only in levying war against (the United States), or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”  The dictionary also gives the same definition, probably taking its wording directly from the Constitution.  It was defined in that narrow manner to prevent the government from bringing charges against political opponents just because the government officials didn’t like being criticized.  I take that narrow definition to mean that armed insurrection against the US government could be considered treason, or supplying a country we’re at war with could also.  But we seem to throw this word around as though if someone does something we don’t like, it becomes treason.  Did that person who said something you didn’t like really commit treason just because he disagreed with your strongly-held convictions?

Did that letter to Iran really commit treason?  The people who drafted it and those who signed it may have violated federal law, but that’s not the same thing.  Let’s be very clear about definitions here.  We’re talking about legal terms that don’t come up very often and may not be familiar to many of us.  Let’s get the terms right before we go accusing people of treasonous acts.  Don’t accuse someone unless you can back it up.

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