Diverse Groups Line Up To Fight Patriot Act's Extension
Published on Wednesday, May 5, 2004 by the Amarillo Globe-News (Texas)
Diverse Groups Line Up To Fight Patriot Act's Extension
by Beth Wilson

A debate down party lines is common in Washington, but a fight that draws conservatives, liberals, gun owners and civil rights groups is much more rare.

These are the types of groups working together against the Patriot Act, a bill that expanded the intelligence-gathering powers, strengthened borders and restricted terrorists' funding sources.

Passed just 44 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the act has drawn critics from all sides.

At the top of that list is the American Civil Liberties Union.

Will Harrell, executive director ACLU of Texas, said the Patriot Act represents the greatest erosion of civil liberties since the group began.

It attacks, among other liberties, the right to privacy, freedom of association, and is a violation of the equal protection clause, he said.

"Anybody that cares about freedom and liberties and opposes abuses of government, especially big federal government, should be against the USA Patriot Act," he said.

That, Harrell said, explains the odd partnerships forming against the act.

A bipartisan effort is teaming up to tone down the Patriot Act, with the Safety and Freedom Ensured Act. Introduced by Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, the act is supported by a host of legislators and lobbyists from both sides.

Members of the Gun Owners of America, a 300,000-member group that relies heavily on its members to lobby congress directly, have weighed in with support of the Safe Act and with opposition to the Patriot Act's renewal or any expansion, Executive Director Larry Pratt said.

"Gun owners are sensitive to having their privacy respected," he said. "Weakening the Fourth Amendment's protections of privacy in the name of fighting an enemy most gun owners agree needs to be fought, we're not persuaded the remedy is an appropriate one."

Pratt said there was a "whole package of government intrusiveness" in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, but Congress was reluctant to pass it. Some saw the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as a way to get those through, Pratt said.

"We were doing what we could to make it not quite as bad," he said of those days after the attack and before the passing of the Patriot Act.

Pratt said the several provisions that expire, or sunset, in December 2005, are a good indicator of what is most concerning about the act.

"We didn't like the stuff to begin with. At least this gives us another crack at it," he said.

El Paso signed last week a resolution against the Patriot Act, becoming the latest in a list of nearly 300 cities to do so. Harrell said that shows the strength of resistance across Texas and the nation.

With that said, Harrell said he's confident the act will be repealed.

"It's what the polling indicates," he said.

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