ACLU Joins Conservatives to Restore Freedoms Lost Under Patriot Act; "Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances" Hopes to Shape National Dialogue

March 22, 2005 12:00 am

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ACLU Joins Conservatives to Restore Freedoms Lost Under Patriot Act; “Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances” Hopes to Shape National Dialogue


WASHINGTON -The American Civil Liberties Union said today that it has joined forces with the several conservative organizations to fix the most extreme provisions of the Patriot Act, some of which are scheduled to “sunset,” or expire, at the end of the year. Former Congressman Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia, will chair the new group, “Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances,” which includes Americans for Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union and others.

“Commitment to America’s freedoms transcends any political ideology,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Patriot Act went too far, too fast, and now is the time to determine what freedoms have been unnecessarily lost in the name of national security. Now is the time for Congress to restore those freedoms.”

The new organization is urging Congress to thoroughly review the most intrusive and constitutionally suspect provisions of the Patriot Act. Specifically, the act allows federal agents to gather highly personal information — including library, medical and gun purchase records– without criminal suspicion, permits secret searches of homes and businesses with indefinite notification, and expands the definition of domestic terrorism to potentially include political protest.

“Checks and balances are absolutely essential, even and especially during times of threat,” Barr said. “Our message is universal: liberty is not divisible, even in the face of terrorism, and we must not allow any part of it to be sacrificed in our efforts to defeat acts of terrorism.”

The growing list of member organizations includes — in addition to the ACLU, the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Free Congress Foundation, the American Policy Center, Citizens’ Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the Second Amendment Foundation and the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances is also asking that President Bush reexamine his continued calls for a full reauthorization of the Patriot Act. A letter will be sent today from the member organizations to the president asking that he be open to a true dialogue on the Patriot Act, and areas where it can be brought in line with the Constitution while giving law enforcement agencies the tools that they need. The letter is signed not only by the member organizations, but also by Citizen Outreach, Private Citizen and the Republican Liberty Caucus, and others.

Murphy pointed to the bipartisan 9/11 Commission report which said that “the burden of proof for retaining a particular government power should be on the executive, to explain (a) that the power actually materially enhances security and (b) that there is adequate supervision of the executive’s use of the powers to ensure protection of civil liberties. If the power is granted, there must be adequate guidelines and oversight to properly confine its use.”

The president’s own advisors have indicated that there is room for discussion about how the Patriot Act can be fine-tuned. Addressing the National Association of Counties earlier this month, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the goal of the Patriot Act should be “to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep America safe, while honoring our values and our Constitution.” Last week, Fran Townsend, the White House homeland security advisor, said, “In the debate over the Patriot Act, we often hear about that delicate balance that we rightly must make between freedom and security. I value that debate. The president values that debate.”

“The White House and its allies accuse critics of the Patriot Act of engaging in ’empty rhetoric’ about our legitimate concerns,” Murphy added. “Yet, when pressed for why the Patriot Act can’t be modified to give law enforcement the tools they need and preserve our commitment to privacy and freedom, we hear nothing. America deserves better than a ‘trust us, we’re the government’ retort from its leaders. The ACLU and Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances are ready to engage in a true dialogue about the issues. We hope that the president and the attorney general will join us at the table.”

The ACLU noted that pro-civil liberties resolutions have been passed in 375 communities in 43 states, including the state legislatures of Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont and Maine. Most of the resolutions call upon Congress to bring the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution. These communities represent approximately 56.2 million people.

For more on the ACLU’s campaign to Keep America Safe and Free, go to:

For more on “Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances,” go to:

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