MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations
When did it become unpatriotic to speak your mind, to freely assemble, to keep your life private from government intrusion? Answer: September 12, 2001. While no one denies how tragic the events of September 11th were, we cannot cower in our homes, sealing all the windows and doors with plastic wrap and duct tape. We cannot deny our right to feel free and safe in our homes. But in this post-9/11 America, we are doing just that. We are allowing the Bill of Rights to become just a piece of paper with words written on it.
September 11th sparked fear and spurred a need for security. However, stifling our civil liberties does not make our lives any safer. The United in Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT Act of 2001) is systematically eroding away the Bill of Rights. Libraries and bookstores must be prepared to give customer data the Department of Homeland Security if asked, and you, the customer, will never know it. We have government agents conducting "sneak-and-peeks," the quiet searching homes while the owner is away, all based on a suspicion of anti-American leanings. The Constitution's checks and balances of the Judiciary over the Executive no longer seem to apply.
Our Founding Fathers created the Bill of Rights as a result of the original colonies fearing what the Government could do to us as free peoples. For hundreds of years the Bill of Rights has guaranteed us the freedom of speech, press, and assembly (First Amendment); it has protected us from unlawful search and seizure (Fourth Amendment); and it has protected our rights to due process and the confronting of our accuses (Fifth and Sixth Amendments). These rights are now in danger from the USA PATRIOT Act and the proposed successor, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act (DSEA), a.k.a. "PATRIOT Act II." One of the more odious provisions in the DSEA is the revoking of American citizenship (even if you were born here) for working lawfully with a group the Attorney General designates as a "terrorist" organization - which can be pretty broadly defined.
The Denver Police Department were discovered collecting of information on activists in the Denver and Colorado Springs area. This brought back memories of the FBI's "Red Scare" and COINTELPRO activities (collecting information and infiltrating organizations 1950s-70s), but now under the guise of Homeland Security. In communications with other concerned Americans, a forum on civil liberties and the PATRIOT Act was organized. It was held at the University of New Mexico campus on April 14, 2003. The room was designed to hold 100 people, but almost 200 showed up. The audience ranged from students, academics, lawyers, and activists (and perhaps one or more government agents taking notes), each anxious to learn about the erosion of our civil liberties. Speakers from the forum graciously allowed their words to be seen here, with our thanks. We hope this issue encourages more folks to question the erosion of our rights, and stand up and be heard.
"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."
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"For as adamant as my country has been about civil liberties during peacetime, it has a long history of failing to preserve civil liberties when it perceived its national security threatened. This series of failures is particularly frustrating in that it appears to result not from informed and rational decisions that protecting civil liberties would expose the United States to unacceptable security risks, but rather from the episodic nature of our security crises. But it has proven unable to prevent itself from repeating the error when the next crisis came along."
--Supreme Court Justice William Brennan
December 22, 1987
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