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2004 News Releases

ACLU Labels as “Extraordinarily Dangerous” Governor’s Proposed Homeland Security Bill

Posted: February 17, 2004|Category: Free Speech Category: Open Government Category: Right to Petition & Protest

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The ACLU of Rhode Island today called “homeland security” legislation being proposed by Governor Carcieri “extraordinarily dangerous” with “alarming ramifications for political and labor protest, freedom of association, academic freedom and the public’s right to know.” That is the conclusion reached in a 13-page analysis of the bill prepared by the ACLU and sent out today to various political, labor and academic organizations.

At the heart of the Governor’s 18-page proposal is an incredibly broad characterization of terrorism taken from the controversial USA Patriot Act. The term is defined as an activity that (1) is intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population” or “influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion” and (2) involves “a violent act.” The penalty for any act meeting these criteria is a sentence of up to life imprisonment.

The ACLU’s analysis notes that since political protest is designed to “influence the policy of a unit of government,” and effective protest will, in many instances, be designed to “intimidate or coerce,” the commission of any sort of “violent act” in such circumstances becomes a capital crime. Thus, commission of a misdemeanor assault or throwing a rock through a window can turn a political protester or labor organizer on a picket line into a criminal facing life imprisonment.

Calling it “one of the most extreme attacks on freedom of speech that the ACLU has seen in recent history,” the report further condemns as throwbacks to the McCarthy era other provisions in the legislation that would make it a felony for any person to teach or advocate “acts of terrorism” as defined by the bill, or to even belong to a political group that advocates such acts.

The report is also severely critical of another provision in the bill that adds broad new exemptions to the open records law that, according to the ACLU, would keep the public uninformed on important safety matters. The exemptions include – incredibly enough as the state commemorates the anniversary of The Station tragedy – business fire safety records.

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said he hoped the organization’s analysis would serve as a tool for concerned citizens and organizations to rally against the legislation.

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