February 27, 2003
Fifty "Civil Liberties Safe Zones" Uphold Bill of Rights
Nancy Talanian, Director
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Cotati, CA — On Wednesday, February 26, by a unanimous vote, the City Council of Cotati, California, became the 50th local government body to pass a resolution declaring its commitment to uphold the Bill of Rights and to protect the civil liberties of its residents. Other communities that have passed resolutions include Boulder, Cambridge, Detroit, Eugene, Fairbanks, Flagstaff, Madison, Missoula, New Haven, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Seattle. The governments of Alachua County, Florida, and Yolo County, California, have also passed resolutions. Local committees in more than 100 other communities are currently working on resolutions.
The resolutions address concerns that the USA PATRIOT Act, Homeland Security Act, and several Executive Orders threaten key rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens and non-citizens by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions, such as freedom of speech, assembly, and privacy; the right to counsel and due process in judicial proceedings; and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. The grassroots campaign to restore those rights has gathered speed in recent months as people have reacted to the TIPS program, to the Defense Department's Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program, directed by Admiral John Poindexter, and to the recent revelation that the Justice Department has secretly drafted the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act," also known as "Patriot II." A copy of the draft was leaked to the Center for Public Integrity, which made it available to the public via its web site two weeks ago.
"Americans who were raised to believe in 'liberty and justice for all' are rejecting the argument that they must give up precious liberties such as freedom of speech and right to privacy in order to be safe from terrorism," says Nancy Talanian, director of the Northampton-based Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which has been supporting community groups passing resolutions for the past year. "People are alarmed by the executive branch's new powers to declare citizens 'enemy combatants' or members of 'terrorist organizations' and detained indefinitely or tried with secret evidence. As the Bush Administration heads toward war, many people worry about how they will be treated if they express opposition."
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) maintains a web site, www.bordc.org, and provides direct contact to support the work of community groups nationwide that are involved in the grassroots movement. The web site contains information on threats to civil liberties and documents that communities can adapt and use, such as petitions, resolutions, press releases, and flyers. The committee formed in November 2001, shortly after the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, to help educate community members about the assault on civil liberties. It settled on a local resolution as the best means for presenting to the federal government that the community was unified in its demand for the restoration of liberties. Its resolution requests that local, state, and federal law enforcement acting within the city not engage in activities that threaten civil liberties, "even if requested or authorized to infringe upon these rights by federal law enforcement acting under new powers granted by the USA PATRIOT Act or orders of the Executive Branch." It also contains a mechanism for law enforcement to report to the city on their actions under the USA PATRIOT Act and other regulations.
The BORDC set up its web site in May 2002, after it won the Northampton
City Council's unanimous passage of its resolution and helped other
Massachusetts communities with their campaigns. Last October, the
ACLU added support for local organizing to its Safe and Free campaign.
# # #