Dissent Is Patriotic
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee's e-mail newsletter
February 27, 2004, Vol. 3, No. 2
- Grassroots Movement Gaining Momentum; Needs to Remain Vigilant
- First Amendment Rights at Risk; Victory in California
- Rep. Peter King's (3rd New York District) Disparaging Remarks
- Students and Campus Activists: Join the Bill of Rights Defense Student Network
- In the courts (Jose Padilla's case)
- Using the election year as an opportunity
- Sign American Booksellers' Petition
Grassroots Movement Gaining Momentum; Needs to Remain Vigilant
The grassroots movement to protect the Bill of Rights got major boosts this past month when three of the nation's ten largest cities became 'Civil Liberties Safe Zones': Los Angeles on January 21, New York City on February 4, and Dallas on February 25. Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit, also among the ten largest cities, had passed resolutions earlier. The combined population of the 260 'safe zones' is 45 million.
Even though our movement continues to gain momentum and support, we must remain vigilant. These actions, among others, by the federal government prove this:
- Total Information Awareness and related programs continue: Last fall, in response to public outrage over threats to privacy, Congress de-funded the controversial "Total Information Awareness" data-mining programs. However, rather than completely eliminating the programs, AP reported that Congress simply transferred the notorious programs to different agencies or changed the names of the programs. Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists said, "The whole congressional action looks like a shell game. There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing." This is proof that while members of Congress hear their constituents' outrage and concern, more work and vigilance is needed.
Attorney General's pre-emptive threat against the SAFE Act: Attorney General John Ashcroft sent a letter to Senator Orrin Hatch, Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, warning that if Congress passed the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE Act), which has bipartisan support, the President's senior advisors would recommend a presidential veto. See the ACLU's detailed response to Mr. Ashcroft's threat.
There are ways to resist the violations of our essential rights and liberties. Organizing and educating communities about threats to rights continues to make a difference. The House of Representatives recently showed its support for communities' right to refuse to cooperate with federal antiterrorism laws that they believe go too far. By a vote of 322-102, the House defeated an amendment to a 2004 appropriations bill proposed by Congressman Tom Tancredo that would have withheld federal funding from any community that refused to assist the federal government with its surveillance operations.
Several bills to expand or roll back parts of the Patriot Act have been introduced or are about to be introduced. The Civil Liberties Restoration Act (CLRA) will be introduced by Congress later this spring. It aims to repeal those provisions of the Patriot Act which violate civil liberties, including restoring due process for those jailed by the government; stopping the targeting of immigrants instead of terrorists; and protecting privacy and ensuring limits on secret surveillance. Learn how you can support this important legislation.
First Amendment Rights at Risk; Victory in California
Two university incidents this month should renew concerns that our civil liberties are not necessarily guaranteed if we're not doing anything wrong. The Secretary of Education called the largest teacher's union a 'terrorist organization' due to its opposition to Bush policies. Also, U.S. District Judge's ruling last month in Los Angeles puts to rest the Justice Department's argument that the Patriot Act is constitutional.
Iowa. Within the last month, the FBI and U.S. Army have proven what many suspected all along: that new antiterrorism laws, rule changes, and practices are being misused to target people who exercise their First Amendment rights.
On February 3, a deputy sheriff who works with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force served five grand jury subpoenas ordering Drake University to turn over records of a November National Lawyers Guild conference that had included nonviolence training for people who planned to demonstrate at the Iowa National Guard headquarters the following day. The FBI also placed gag orders on the Drake employees who received subpoenas to ensure their silence.
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, the FBI wanted names of attendees and other information because one participant in the rally to "Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!" had allegedly committed civil disobedience by climbing the fence. (Is civil disobedience now characterized as "domestic terrorism," as defined in Patriot Act Section 802?) As it did during the McCarthy era, the NLG refused to name names, and the subpoenas were withdrawn on February 10.
Texas. On February 9, two U.S. Army Intelligence officers knocked on doors at the University of Texas Law School and asked for the attendees roster and videotape of a February 4 conference called "Islam and the Law: The Question of Sexism," which examined the effects of Islamic law on women. The roster of the event did not exist, and no subpoenas were issued.
Are teachers terrorists? On February 23, in a speech to the Governor's Association, Education Secretary Rod Paige referred to the National Education Association as a "terrorist organization" because of its opposition to President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. Although no one seriously believes that the Administration will use the Patriot Act Section 802 to officially designate the NEA as a domestic terrorist organization, Secretary Paige's gaffe shows the Administration's abuse of the term and its disrespect for those who exercise their First Amendment right to disagree with their policies.
California. On January 23, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins handed down a ruling that declared unconstitutional the Patriot Act's ban on "providing expert and assistance" to groups that the Secretary of State has designated as foreign terrorist organizations. Judge Collins ruled that the ban is too vague and that it violates both the First and Fifth Amendments. Congratulations go to Professor David Cole and Attorney Nancy Chang of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who argued the case, Humanitarian Law Project, et al. v. Ashcroft, et al.
Rep. Peter King's (3rd New York District) Disparaging Remarks
On February 9 Rep. Peter King (3rd NY District) told listeners to a nationally syndicated radio show that the vast majority of American Muslim community leaders are "an enemy living amongst us" and that "no (American) Muslims" have cooperated in the war on terror. He added, "you could say that 80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists. Those who are in control. The average Muslim, no, they are loyal, but they don't work, they don't come forward, they don't tell the police [inaudible]."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations and A Muslim Voice have issued action alerts, urging people to call Rep. King and demand that he retract the statements; and for people to call the Republican National Committee and encourage them to repudiate King's disparaging remarks.
Students and Campus Activists: Join Bill of Rights Defense Student Network
If you are a campus activist who has organized or is interested in organizing on your campus to resist repressive laws and policies enacted after September 11, 2001, in the name of anti-terrorism, please join the listserv of the Bill of Rights Defense Student Network. The listserv was established to facilitate the development of a more organized student movement to address racism, issues related to academic freedom, and privacy on college campuses as a result of these measures passed in the wake of 9-11. For more information, contact Vanessa Bliss, or to join, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the courts (Jose Padilla's case)
On February 20, The U.S. Supreme Court, against the urging of Jose Padilla's defense lawyers, agreed to hear the federal government's appeal of the Second Circuit Court's ruling that a U.S. citizen cannot be held indefinitely and incommunicado because the President designated him an enemy combatant. For more information, see this article. For more on other court cases related to detentions or threats to liberty since 9-11, see our webpage, Anti-Terror Cases with Civil Liberties Implications in the Courts.
Using the election year as an opportunity
Elections provide a great opportunity to engage the candidates on issues that are important to you. Use the campaign season to find out where the national, state, and local candidates stand with regard to protecting the Bill of Rights. See our candidates page for suggestions of questions to ask the candidates.
You can also use the election year to learn about where your political party stands with regard to civil liberties, and push them to take a strong stand to protect the Bill of Rights:
- Democratic Party 2000 Platform
- Republican Party 2000 Platform
- Green Party 2000 Platform
- Libertarian Party 2002 Platform
Some local party committees around the country are passing resolutions in support of civil liberties. For more information, see this article about activists in North Carolina pressuring their County Democratic Committee to formally oppose the USA Patriot Act.
Sign American Booksellers' Petition
The Campaign for Reader Privacy of the American Booksellers' Foundation for Free Expression, is circulating this petition (PDF) urging congressional representatives to amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act to restore privacy of library and bookstore records. Sign it online. Also see BORDC's Freedom to Read page.
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Editor: Nancy Talanian, Director
Managing Editor: Vanessa Bliss
Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Inc.
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
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