Safeguarding our personal liberties one of the most important features of a democratic society was in the news cycle last week.

Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of the Tea Party, one of the major grass-roots groups whose members believe that the federal government has become too large and powerful. Supporters are strongly dedicated to the Constitution, free-market policies, and reducing the national debt and federal budget deficit by reducing U.S. government spending and taxes.

Tea party support has declined some since 2010, when the health care law was the the focus of opposition. An Associated Press-GfK poll found that just before the 2010 elections, 30 percent of adults considered themselves supporters of the movement. That figure dipped to 17 percent last October but rebounded to 27 percent by January.

While the tea party is credited with wresting control of the House from Democrats, some Republicans blame the tea party for losses in winnable races in 2010 and 2012 that many believe cost the GOP a Senate majority.

Tea party is not without funding. After it raised $1.2 million in a 10 day stretch, Keli Carender, national grass-roots coordinator, said the message it sent to the established political class, is "we don't need their millions, we've got our own."

One of last week's speakers at the tea party gathering, Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho, won applause by stating, "I didn't come to Washington to make friends. I came here to save this republic and to save this nation."

The second story making headlines last week involved Robert Van Tuinen, a veteran and college student who prevailed in his lawsuit against Modesto Junior College administration. The school had prohibited him from passing out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day except in designated "free speech zones.

Van Tuinen said that being told he couldn't do something as basic as handing out the Constitution was frustrating. That episode caught the attention of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which, together with a Washington law firm, took his case to federal court in the Eastern District of California.

The $50,000 settlement means students will now be permitted to exercise their constitutional rights to distribute copies of the Constitution anywhere on campus.

Seeing young Americans like Van Tuinen stand up for their basic rights and freedoms is encouraging.

By Jim Zbick

editor@tnonline.com