This information provided by The Federal Observer, http://www.federalobserver.com
By M. Scott McAllister
Sometime in the not too distant future...
WASHINGTON - President Bush today announced his support for the Justice Department's so-called "Reasonable Religious Rights" initiative. The shift in policy comes just weeks after the latest round of terrorist's attacks, in which more than 5,000 Americans lost their lives.
"We intend to honor our Constitution and respect the freedoms that we hold so dear" and "we want to make sure we do everything we can to prevent a further attack, to protect America," Bush said.
The initiative, co-sponsored by the FBI and Justice Department, outlines new restrictions to the freedoms of State-defined religious "fringe" groups. Although the definition of "fringe" religions will be left up to Congress to decide, the Justice Department has imposed an emergency 30-day cessation of all public religious activity until the new regulations can be drafted and approved.
"I want to stress that this initiative does not infringe on the rights of reasonable religious groups to meet publicly and exercise their beliefs," said FBI Director Robert Mueller. "We simply want to protect Americans from fanatical religious activities."
Among the activities outlined by the Justice Department as "fanatical" are unwanted conversion attempts; non-ecumenical teaching which promotes disunity, anti-Government rhetoric, and public solicitation of funds.
"The day of the street preacher standing on a soapbox screaming fire and brimstone is over," said Homeland Security Advisor Tom Ridge. "And that's a good thing. Preaching in public places infringes on the rights of pedestrians. It's time Americans learned to keep their faith to themselves, for their own good."
Part of the joint initiative includes a mandatory registry of all religious organizations. Churches, Mosques, Temples, and religious schools must all complete a four-page form outlining core doctrines and religious activities. Although the form is still in early-draft form, Justice Department officials say the final version will be ready by the end of the 30-day waiting period.
Religious organizations will then have 30 days to submit a completed form. Failure to register will result in fines and possible restriction of activities.
"We don't want to have to shut churches down," Ashcroft said, "But we will if we have to. There has to be an enforceable regulation. Otherwise, any group of terrorists are free to gather together and teach whatever they want in the name of religion."
Civil libertarians are outraged at what they call the "latest round of Government imposition on religious rights."
According to an unnamed source within the Bush Administration, the shift toward government regulated religious activity has been evident since the months following the first terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.
"When (Attorney General) Ashcroft announced that the FBI could spy on churches without probable cause, I knew we were headed for trouble," the source said.
The move by Ashcroft to lessen restrictions on government surveillance and searches came last May following a particularly embarrassing revelation that the FBI had failed to respond to early warning signs of terrorist activity.
"The guidelines allow FBI field agents to do everything possible within the bounds of the Constitution and the law to keep Americans safe from future terrorist attacks," one Justice Department official said.
Opponents of the move expressed concerns that the Justice Department was posturing itself as the "Big Brother" protector of America.
"Apparently Attorney General Ashcroft wants to get the FBI back in the business of spying on religious and political organizations," said Margaret Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "That alone would be unconstitutional but history suggests the FBI won't stop at passive information gathering. We fear a return to the days of Cointelpro." (Reuters, May 30, 2002)
"Cointelpro" was the code-name of the widespread domestic spying FBI operation during the J. Edgar Hoover era. In 1976, rules were instated to restrict the use of federal investigators to search and gather intelligence outside of a criminal investigation.
Ashcroft´s move to ease these restrictions last spring allowed the FBI an unprecedented access to religious assemblies and non-criminal communications.
Although several terrorist operations have been averted due in part to the expanded FBI access, many within the administration say the sacrifice of civil liberties was simply not worth the price.
"The bill of rights guarantees the right of Americans to observe their religions without government interference," one opponent said. "So where does Ashcroft get off telling churches that they have to report their activities to the Justice Department?"
The first amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America states:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
It remains to be seen whether Ashcroft´s new proposal walks the fine line between state interference and national security or whether it tramples on the right of Americans to exercise their religious liberty.
One thing is for certain. For the next 30 days, the church bells will all be silent. The preceding news story is part fact, part fiction, and perhaps part prophecy. It's up to you, the reader, to decide which parts are which.
Yet, I assert this... Is it so hard to imagine our government taking the next step toward trampling our religious liberties when the provisions of the 2nd and 4th amendments have already been so infringed?
We as Americans seem content to willfully hand over our liberties in the name of national security rather than holding our elected officials responsible for doing a better job within the limits that are already prescribed by the constitution. We fancy ourselves "patriotic" because we sacrifice for the better good of the nation. But in truth, we allow the government to slowly and methodically take away freedoms that our forefathers intended us to have.
The red-tape that restricts the FBI from conducting more efficient operations is not the result of the provisions of the bill of rights. The Justice Department it seems would rather abolish basic American freedoms than take the time to examine and eliminate unnecessary and often unconstitutional bureaucracies.
You may call me paranoid. You may think that President Bush has all the right priorities and intentions. And you may be right. But our next president may not be so honest, nor our next Attorney General so judicious. Do we really want to allow even the most well-intentioned leadership erode the very freedoms that protect us from the possible tyranny of future administrations?
G-d help us if we allow our government to lead us down that slippery slope.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." - United States Constitution, Amendment IV
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Toogood Reports contributor and "Best of the Web" award-winning writer M. Scott McAllister is a Fundamentalist Christian and political conservative concerned with secularization and liberal trends in contemporary American society and politics. A graduate of Bob Jones University, a Christian liberal arts university in South Carolina, He holds a degree in journalism and works as a freelance graphic designer and writer.
E-Mail M. Scott McAllister
Source: Toogood Reports