Although he was present both times in 1975 when President Gerald R. Ford dodged assassins' bullets, 20 years later Mr. Ford's chief of staff said, "One thing that is harmful and destructive to the way our system works is the system of security. The Secret Service and attendants have become so numerous and controlling that it is a put-off for the American people."

If Donald Rumsfeld still believes that, he must have remained silent when the White House decided to close this year's Easter Egg Roll to the public, citing "security concerns." The president and Mrs. Bush will receive children only of troops involved in the war on Iraq [news story, April 15].

Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that the White House views unvetted youngsters and their parents as a threat. After all, this administration makes 3-year-olds in airports hand over their jelly shoes for X-rays. But if safety is the issue, why was the event open to the public last year?

True, the egg roll was canceled during the world wars, but that was the result of austerity, not fear. During World War I, Washington's food administrator protested the "enormous waste of nearly 50,000 dozen eggs." With food in such short supply during World War II, Franklin Roosevelt hardly could put his imprimatur on using eggs as toys.

Even after the war ended, Harry Truman discouraged the egg roll as a waste of food. Fortunately, Mr. Truman had to make his unpopular anti-egg-roll stance only once: Renovation of the White House rendered the matter moot until the Eisenhowers revived the festivities.

Bush is the only president to close the event to the public because the people are deemed too threatening. Yet he could allow the people access to "The People's House" that day simply by staying away. His attendance at the egg roll is not de rigueur. Whether by coincidence or design, no president was home on Easter Monday from 1960 until 1976. It matters far less whether the chief executive is around to egg the children on than it matters for them to see democracy demonstrated by an accessible White House.

To be sure, the fate of the republic does not rest on an Easter Egg Roll. But it does depend on rejecting fear as an excuse to diminish liberty. "Freedom and fear are at war," Bush says -- and claims proudly, "freedom is winning." Maybe in Afghanistan. Certainly in Iraq. Sadly, not in the District.

MELANIE SCARBOROUGH

Alexandria