ACLU Skeptical of Senate Report on "Homegrown" Terrorism

May 8, 2008 12:00 am

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Says isolating Islamic community does nothing to make America safer

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Washington, DC – After Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a report on Islamic homegrown terrorism today, the American Civil Liberties Union strongly urged Congress to use caution when moving forward on related legislation, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (S. 1959). The report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorism Threat,” is based on findings from hearings held by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The ACLU and nearly twenty other groups sent a memo to the committee outlining concerns with the report, most notably the free speech implications of labeling the internet as a “weapon” and the unfair singling out of one religious group as possible “extremists.”

“Once we begin trying to regulate belief systems, we have veered perilously far from the Constitution,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Though the need to prevent criminal acts of violence is unquestionable, targeting communities based on religious beliefs is unacceptable and unproductive. We will only end up stigmatizing the Islamic community and creating a nation of Islamophobes. We should not be legislating against thought and we should certainly not be regulating religious or unpopular thought. A dynamic debate can only make this country stronger and safer.”

The ACLU raised similar concerns regarding legislation passed by the House last year. The framework established by that measure could possibly lead to unconstitutional restrictions on speech and belief – in addition to more appropriate restrictions on actions.

Experience has demonstrated that in the event of a terrorist attack, the results of this report will likely be used to recommend the use of racial, ethnic and religious profiling. This will only heighten, rather than decrease, the spread of extremist violence. As an organization dedicated to the principles of freedom of speech, we cannot in good conscience support this report or any measure that might lead to censorship and persecution based solely on one’s personal beliefs.

The ACLU is concerned that identifying the Internet as a tool for terrorists will lead to censorship and regulated speech – especially since the Internet has become an essential communications and research tool for everyone. Indeed, some policy makers have advocated shutting down objectionable websites in violation of the First Amendment. It is an unworkable solution.

“Unfortunately, terror comes in all shapes and sizes, and from all colors and religious backgrounds,” said Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Focusing on people with specific religious beliefs or backgrounds will not protect against the Timothy McVeigh’s of the world. This narrow focus could cost us dearly in the future.”

To read the coalition memo about homegrown terrorism, go to:

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