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Say Protection of America Must Include
June 27, 2002, NEW YORK CITY - Post-September 11 changes in federal law and policy raise concern that innocent people have been made to suffer and their fundamental rights abrogated, according to the National Council of Churches (NCC), which has joined a dozen faith groups in calling on the U. S. government "to confront and counter terrorism with the least restrictive means necessary, as determined through open debate and deliberation."
On June 19, as a list of signatories was still in process, the "Religious Declaration on Liberty, Security and Faith" was sent to President George W. Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
The document was developed through the efforts of the Civil, Human and Voting Rights Task Force of the Washington Interreligious Staff Community (WISC). NCC Washington-based staff participate in WISC, as do staff of its member communions and many other faith groups with a Washington presence. WISC members cooperate in making the voice of faith heard in our nations capital.
The Religious Declaration supports security measures that are "truly necessary to protect our nation from further danger and harm," but cautions against adopting "methods by which we compromise the very liberty we seek to defend."
The right of due process has been eroded since September 11, the declaration says, stating, "Persons must be free from arbitrary arrest and detention; must have a just and open trial with the opportunity to confront accusers; and must have access to meaningful judicial oversight."
The declaration cites the increasing federal use of "sealed warrants" to enter homes and offices and confiscate large quantities of records as a threat to the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
The statement also upholds the right to privacy, the right to free speech and assembly, and the right to religious liberty.
Signatories expressed concern that ethnic, national and religious profiling by law enforcement "fosters an environment in which individuals regularly feel unable or that it is unwise to exercise their right to religious expression." They also voiced concern that "the Department of Justice has relaxed surveillance restrictions on domestic religious organization."
As part of its next meeting, on July 10, the WISC task force plans to distribute the Religious Declaration to the full House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
The full text of the declaration follows, along with the list of signatories as of June 27. The Task Force is seeking additional denominational signatories to the document.
Religious Declaration on Liberty, Security, and Faith
None of us remains untouched by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and subsequent events. We are bound together by a grief that is shared, a future that is uncertain, and a newfound sense of our own vulnerability. Who among us does not yearn for some further measure of control over personal safety? Who among us does not support that which is truly necessary to protect our nation from further danger and harm?
Since September 11, our leaders have sought to improve our nations security, to protect all who live in our country, and to minimize our vulnerability to further terrorist attack. These actions are in keeping with the distinct roles and responsibilities of government to maintain social order, to promote the general welfare and to protect persons and their rights from external threat.
Yet government must also protect the rights of individuals from internal erosion. As communities of faith, we are forever asking moral questions about public policy. Never is this more difficult-or more important-than when the nation is rallied for war and charged with patriotism, for these are the times when fundamental rights are most likely to be cast aside. Among these are:
The Right to Due Process. Persons must be free from arbitrary arrest and detention; must have a just and open trial with the opportunity to confront accusers; and must have access to meaningful judicial oversight.
The Right to be Free from Unreasonable Search and Seizure. Individuals must be free from unreasonable searches of their person, homes, and workplaces.
The Right to Privacy. Persons must be free to communicate in their homes, and have confidential conversations, and written correspondence.
The Right to Free Speech and Assembly. Persons must be free to express their own beliefs, including dissent, individually or in groups, on government, public policy and society without fear.
The Right to Religious Liberty. Persons must be free to hold religious belief or unbelief without coercion, to meet together for public worship and witness, to speak prophetically from religious conviction to government and society, to live out their religious beliefs, and to be free from government intrusion, coercion, and control of the free exercise of conscience and religion.
As communities of faith, we are concerned that changes in federal law and policy are causing innocent people to suffer needlessly. We believe that the efforts of our nation to confront and counter terrorism should be conducted with the least restrictive means necessary, as determined through open debate and deliberation.
In our efforts to protect the freedom of our country against aggression from without, we must be vigilant against the suppression of freedom from within the United States itself. In providing a defense against possible attacks on the liberty of our people, we ought not adopt methods by which we compromise the very liberty we seek to defend.
Religious Declaration on Liberty, Security, and Faith
as of June 27, 2002
American Baptist Churches USA
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