The drastically revised and red-marked Bill of Rights posted around campus this week may have been disturbing to more than one onlooker — and that was exactly what the Yale chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, had intended.
The ACLU held an event to encourage students to sign an anti-PATRIOT Act petition addressed to Attorney General John Ashcroft Tuesday.
ACLU Chairman Boris Volodarsky ’05 said he believes now is an appropriate time to spread awareness about this issue on campus because of a growing concern that the PATRIOT Act is gaining momentum while the public remains unaware of it.
“Many people have never heard of it or don’t know what it stands for,” Volodarsky said.
Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act — which expanded the power of both domestic law enforcement and international intelligence agencies — 45 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Volodarsky said he believes that since then, the Justice Department has committed numerous Bill of Rights violations, including the unconstitutional detainment of suspects. He said that with recent proposals such as President Bush’s Domestic Security Enforcement Act, there is an urgent need to oppose already enacted legislation such as the PATRIOT Act.
“It’s important to keep reminding people that the PATRIOT Act is a flagrant violation of the Bill of Rights,” ACLU member Molly Lewis ’06 said.
At the event, the group displayed a poster of “Ashcroft’s version” of the Bill of Rights in an effort to educate passersby. The ACLU wrote over the amendments to show how each one might differ under Ashcroft’s proposals. They used a red marker to illustrate their idea of Ashcroft’s revisions. For example, the Sixth Amendment phrase “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury” was revised to read, “the right to a slow and private trial, by a military tribunal.”
Volodarsky said many people questioned the strong phrasing superimposed on the Bill of Rights, but the editing was used primarily to foster discussion.
“We tried to make it more inflammatory than the actual text,” he said.
Lewis said people complimented the group on its rendition of the Second Amendment — the right to bear arms. In contrast to the vast changes made in other amendments, the Second Amendment was simply circled in red ink, with “Good!” written next to it.
The petition expressed concerns that the Justice Department under Ashcroft is denying Americans their civil liberties.
“Give our civil liberties the attention and protection they deserve,” the petition stated. “[The Justice Department] has committed acts that openly violate the freedoms guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution.”
Lewis said when people took the time to listen to the group’s views, the response to the petition was positive.
“If people weren’t apathetic about signing a petition in general, they were definitely eager to sign [this one],” she said.
While the group did not collaborate with any other student groups, Volodarsky said he hopes others are equally concerned.
“We hope we are not the only ones doing it, and we hope that all of us coming together will make a difference,” he said.
Over 200 people signed the ACLU’s petition, which will be mailed to Ashcroft’s office later this week.