Civil liberties groups hailed passage yesterday evening of a pro-civil liberties resolution by the Baltimore City Council, making the largest city in Maryland the 108th community nationwide to officially express concern over unnecessary erosions of basic privacy and personal liberty in post-Sept. 11 America.

“Adoption of the Baltimore resolution is further evidence of the growing backlash in this country against federal policies that disregard the most basic convictions of American society,” said Laura Murphy, Executive Director of the ACLU Washington National Office. “As the resolution states, ‘there is no inherent conflict between national security and the preservation of liberty – Americans can be both safe and free.’”

Earlier this month, the city of Arcata, Calif., became the first city in the U.S. to pass an ordinance that not only denounces the USA Patriot Act and calls for its repeal, but actually forbids city employees from helping the federal government to implement the repressive legislation. Failure to comply with the new ordinance by a city department head could result in a $57 fine.

Arcata thereby joined more than 100 other U.S. cities, counties and towns that have passed resolutions calling for the Act’s repeal.

On Oct. 26, 2001, 15 days after the terrorist attacks in New York and on the Pentagon, Congress passed and President Bush signed the misnamed USA Patriot Act. This 350-page law – which authorizes wholesale wiretapping, electronic surveillance, and other violations of civil liberties – was opposed at the time by only 72 Congresspersons and one senator, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.).

Many lawmakers voted in favor of the bill without ever having read it, some of them later giving the excuse that they could not get into their offices because of the anthrax emergency.

When the American public began to realize what Congress had done, a salutary reaction against it started almost immediately. This backlash against the USA Patriot Act has now become a massive national phenomenon, and is in direct opposition to the Bush administration’s efforts to curtail civil liberties even more.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Northampton, Mass., started the ball rolling by passing a resolution against the Patriot Act over a year ago. Inspired by the Northampton resolution, one community after another has followed suit. To date, 108 city or town councils and one state legislature (Hawaii) have passed such resolutions, and scores more are in the pipeline.

While many of the cities that passed these resolutions are smaller college towns with decidedly liberal political cultures, a number of major cities like Baltimore have joined in too, including Oakland, San Francisco, Denver, Detroit, and Fairbanks, Alaska. Broward County, Florida, the 14th largest county in the U.S., on May 6 unanimously passed a resolution affirming the Bill of Rights and registering strong concerns about the Patriot Act.

The resolutions vary widely in their phrasing, but most have in common the following elements:

• A commitment on the part of each city government to respect the First Amendment and due process amendments of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.

• A denunciation of the USA Patriot Act, and often also of the Homeland Security Act and other government policies, for violating these constitutional principles.

• A request that the state’s congressional representatives work for the repeal of the USA Patriot Act and similar measures.

• An instruction to city police and other officials that they refuse to cooperate with federal government demands that violate First Amendment and due process rights.

Another aspect of the movement to pass the city council resolutions is the coalition-building involved: unions, churches, civil rights and peace groups are being brought together by the task of passing them.

The existing resolutions and other useful information can be read on-line at www.bordc.org, the web site of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Northampton.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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