FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PHILADELPHIA -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today criticized eco-terrorism legislation that is before the state General Assembly, calling it a threat to the First Amendment rights of all Pennsylvanians who wish to express their views on matters of public policy.
Larry Frankel, Legislative Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, testified in Harrisburg today at a hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee on House Bill 213. Frankel stated that under this legislation people who engage in traditional forms of civil disobedience, such as sit-ins, could be treated as terrorists. He explained that the legislation violates the First Amendment because it discriminates against certain expressive speech based on the viewpoint of the speaker. Frankel also noted that law enforcement already has been successful at prosecuting eco-terrorists under existing laws.
"This legislation should be rejected because it represents yet another front in the government's attempt to stifle dissent," Frankel said. "There is growing evidence that political activists are being targeted by law enforcement officials. Last month, the ACLU of Pennsylvania joined the national ACLU and other ACLU affiliates in seeking more information about what appears to be efforts by the FBI and local police to investigate law-abiding human rights and political advocacy groups, including some right here in Pennsylvania."
In response to widespread complaints from students and political activists who said they were questioned by FBI agents prior to last year's political conventions, the ACLU filed Freedom of Information Act requests in six states and the District of Columbia in December 2004 on behalf of more than 100 groups and individuals. On May 18, 2005, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and nine other ACLU affiliates filed additional requests seeking documents related to efforts on the part of the FBI and local police officials targeting political groups.
"It is bad enough that the FBI is using tax dollars to spy on innocent Americans, but now the FBI is coming to the Pennsylvania General Assembly and asking our legislators to aid and abet the chilling of First Amendment rights," Frankel said. "We urge the Senate of Pennsylvania to oppose these overreaching and intimidating tactics."
For more information on the Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the ACLU affiliates around the country, go to www.aclu.org/spyfiles.