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Cities lining up to oppose the Patriot Act“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” – Benjamin Franklin
City Councils and local governments around the country are passing resolutions opposing the USA Patriot Act; a sweeping counter-terrorism law passed shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and seriously damaged the Pentagon. Many civil libertarians have expressed serious reservations about the Act, which “among other things… allows authorities to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely; secretly monitor political groups; seize library records; and tap phone and Internet connections” according to ABCNews.com.
While some cities pass resolutions against the Patriot Act, others are taking their opposition a step farther. The Oakland, California City Council’s resolution states "to the extent legally possible, no City employee or department shall officially assist or voluntarily cooperate with investigations, interrogations, or arrest procedures, public or clandestine, that are in violation of individuals' civil rights or civil liberties as specified in the above Amendments of the United States Constitution."
The Patriot Act passed by wide bipartisan margins in both the House and Senate. After the 9-11 attacks, the American people were in no mood for political bickering and wanted our leaders in Washington to present a united front in the War on Terror. Open and aggressive opposition to a President with approval numbers in the stratosphere would have been a self-inflicted mortal wound on the career of a Congressman or Senator. This allowed a law to pass that would likely have failed on September 10th. Now many of those who voted for the original act are expressing reservations that we may have sacrificed civil liberties too much in our quest to protect ourselves from terrorists. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, in his farewell address, warned his colleagues not to sacrifice freedom in order to combat terror.
Such reservations are valid, because some of the provisions in the Patriot Act are downright frightening. Allowing government, in the course of a terror investigation, to monitor religious or political organizations in the absence of suspicion of criminal activity smacks of Big Brother. Any political group on one side or another of a divisive political issue could be a target. Eric Robert Rudolph and the Earth Liberation Front may be used as an excuse to spy on peaceful pro-life or environmentalist groups, and almost any political or religious group could be considered “dangerous” enough to come under the watchful eye of the federal government. The fact that the federal government can monitor Internet activity or what information is checked out in a library is frightening.
There is a possibility that the Bloomington City Council may take up a resolution on the Patriot Act. City Councilman Tim Mayer (D-at large) said on January 23rd that the council might be willing to take up such a resolution in the future. Such a resolution, if it follows the same pattern as Oakland’s resolution, would not be another instance of the City Council simply stating its opinion on something like I-69 or the 1991 Gulf War (Both of which were opposed in resolutions passed by the City Council) but would have a substantive impact on the civil liberties of people in Bloomington. A resolution similar to what was proposed in Oakland would fall under the umbrella of city business.
However, it is important that a resolution opposing the Patriot Act not become a forum for partisan political pontification. People from all points of the political spectrum are concerned about the ramifications of the Patriot Act on our freedoms. A resolution reaffirming local government’s dedication to protecting civil liberties would draw a coalition of Republicans, Democrats, Greens and Libertarians, among others. Using the resolution as a means to attack President Bush or Attorney General John Ashcroft would break apart that coalition. Such an act, if introduced and passed by the Bloomington City Council, should be a statement of opposition to a policy that infringes upon civil liberties, not opposition to the policymakers that passed and implemented that policy. Including partisan political rhetoric in a potential resolution would be a disservice to the very position a potential resolution would take and would be an improper use of power and the taxpayer dollars entrusted to the City Council by the voters.
The resolutions passed by local governments are likely something the Founding Fathers would have endorsed. As the federal government expands in power, becomes more involved in our lives and restricts our rights under the Constitution, it is encouraging to see local governments standing up to the federal juggernaut’s growing power, especially those that have refused to cooperate with federal actions that infringe upon civil liberties. Such resolutions embody the spirit of federalism and states’ rights the Founders believed in so strongly.