Rights group objects to Patriot Act

Group agrees to ask the City Council to denounce it, too.
Thursday, March 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:12 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]

A movement to have Columbia officially denounce parts of the USA-Patriot Act took a step forward at Wednesday’s Human Rights Commission meeting, but that doesn’t mean the City Council will follow through with it.

Phil Steinhaus, the HRC’s city worker, will pass on a letter this week to the council written by David Finke, the subcommittee chairman for the Patriot Act, that addresses why the council should be concerned.

The HRC focuses on discrimination and other human rights concerns in Columbia.

Finke was not at Wednesday’s meeting, but Michael Blum, the other member of the subcommittee, approved the motion.

Finke writes in the letter, “We now have reason to believe that many of the groups most fearing such misuse of federal powers are represented here in our community and deserve to be heard.”

Blum hopes for public hearing

The subcommittee has been working on this issue for about four months. The letter will present the issue to the council, Blum said. He said ideally he would like to see a public hearing, to find out if it is a local concern.

“The City Council is very busy; we realize and respect that,” Blum said. “They work darn hard for nothing, but we think it’s a very important issue.”

The Patriot Act, which President Bush signed in the aftermath of Sept. 11, has been controversial since its inception. The act granted greater powers to authorities in fighting terrorism, but is viewed by civil libertarians as a breach of rights.

More than 250 cities and three states have officially expressed concern with the Act. In Missouri, both Kansas City and University City, near St. Louis, have also.

City Council likely to avoid debate

City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said the council has traditionally avoided issues of national concern and would likely do the same with this. Boeckmann added that the HRC’s role is to work on issues of discrimination and doesn’t have jurisdiction of national issues.

Boeckmann disagrees with HRC action

He said although one could make an argument that the Patriot Act isn’t being issued equally, based on religion or ethnicity, the HRC taking action is “a bit of a stretch.”

“Just because you’re opposed to the Patriot Act doesn’t mean the commission should take action,” he said.

The HRC has been hesitant to move forward with the issue despite overall disapproval of the Patriot Act.

“I think the Act is a terrible thing, but I don’t think we should put a red-hot coal in somebody’s pocket,” HRC member Glen Glasgow said.

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