Other Voices: Surveillance threatens our constitutional rights | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Surveillance threatens our constitutional rights

In recent days, members of the Grass Valley Friends Meeting (Quakers) have been prayerfully reflecting on the balance between national security and protecting the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. We are fully aware of the dangers that confront our nation, and we share the concern for our common safety.

However, an incident in which citizens were exercising their constitutional rights to openly meet, discuss, and plan nonviolent protests and actions alerted us to the fact that surveillance without a warrant is happening to ordinary U.S. citizens who are committed to peace. Consequently we felt called to respond.

The letter below addresses our concern, and has been sent to the president, our Congressional representatives, and Quaker Meetings and organizations. We want to speak to the issue of what happens to us as a nation if, out of fear we try to protect ourselves, but lose what we stand for. Are we then still a beacon of democracy for the world?

We believe our country’s Executive Branch has violated the Fourth Amendment through wiretaps not authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Furthermore, we believe the disclosure of a secret Department of Defense database indicates that it has exceeded the guidelines of 1982, limiting the extent to which data can be collect on U.S. citizens. The Grass Valley Friends Meeting (Quakers) cannot let these violations of constitutional rights go unnoticed.

On December 14, 2005, NBC News reported the existence of a 400-page secret Department of Defense document collected by the Pentagon’s Talon Program. A portion of the document records a meeting, held the previous year, of the Truth Project at the Lake Worth, Florida, Quaker Meeting House, where the group openly met to discuss meaningful alternatives to military recruitment at high schools.

Attendees at the meeting included five Quakers and a 79-year-old grandmother. The data base listed the meeting as a “threat.” Additionally, nearly four dozen anti-war meetings, protests and some 1,500 “suspicious incidents” (such as leafleting and commemorating the second anniversary of the Iraq war) are included in the database.

We, the body of the Grass Valley Friends Meeting, are opposed to war, militarism, and the illegal surveillance of citizens. While we are very aware of the dangers in the world, we long to see creative, nonviolent solutions in situations of conflict.

We firmly support our Friends of the Lake Worth, Florida Meeting in their counter-recruitment efforts in the schools. It is important to educate young people about available alternatives to war and military service, thereby enabling them to reach informed decisions. We believe this action is commensurate with a desire to eliminate the “seeds of war” in our society.

The Grass Valley Friends Meeting affirms the rights of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly for all Americans regardless of their political persuasion or religious affiliation. We expect that our government will uphold our nation’s laws, and that the internal surveillance of peaceful, law-abiding U.S. citizens will cease.

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