February 9, 2011
ACLU Says Counterterrorism Efforts Must Not Infringe On First Amendment Rights
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON – As the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing today on terrorism threats, the American Civil Liberties Union urged committee members and witnesses to keep First Amendment principles in mind as they address the issue. Earlier this year, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), declared his intention to hold hearings on the “radicalization” of the American Muslim community to determine whether it is sufficiently cooperative with government anti-terrorism efforts. Those hearings are expected to begin early next month, and today’s hearing appears to be laying the groundwork for those proceedings.
The ACLU believes that questioning a religious community’s loyalty to the United States is misguided, counter-productive and discriminatory.
“Singling out an entire community, such as Muslim Americans, is un-American, unfair and does not make us safer,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, ACLU Legislative Chief of Staff and First Amendment Counsel. “Targeting one particular faith or ideology risks blinding the government to other threats and is a waste of law enforcement resources. It is crucial that law enforcement and the government investigate incidents of violence and criminality and not First Amendment-protected belief systems.”
The ACLU recognizes that the government has an obligation to help protect society from terrorists and other violent criminals, and that studying previous terrorist attacks and the people who committed them could provide clues useful to preventing future acts of violence. Empirical studies of terrorism, however, show that there is no single identifiable path to extremist violence.
Credible experts agree that counter-terrorism policies that are based on racial or religious profiling and the marginalization of communities will only backfire and recent terrorist incidents show that threats come from many sources. Government-sponsored studies of terrorism should be broad-based, to encompass all threats to our security, and should be based on facts, not driven by prejudice toward any group or individual.
“The most effective way for the government to identify security threats is to focus on violent behavior rather than ideology and belief,” said Michael German, ACLU senior policy counsel and former FBI Special Agent. “In past times of national crisis, we wrongly targeted belief systems through measures such as the Sedition Acts, Japanese internment and the McCarthy hearings. These actions betrayed American laws and values without making us safer. We must not today repeat the mistakes of our past.”
To read the ACLU’s testimony on violent extremism from a 2009 House hearing, go to: www.aclu.org/free-speech-national-security/aclu-testimony-violent-extremism-house-homeland-security-subcommittee-