Free Speech

Dear friends,LWV

The Missoula League of Women Voters is sponsoring a film and issues forum on
April 4th: “Cautionary Tales for a Nation: Trading Individual Liberties for
Security in Times of War” in the theater on the 3rd floor of the University
Center on the UM campus. The 5:15 pm screening features Jailed for Their
Words: When Free Speech Died in Wartime America, a documentary about
Montana’s Sedition Law of 1918 (co produced by Gita Saedi Kiely and Clem
Work). A two hour forum will begin at 6:30 pm featuring Jim Taylor, Legal
Director of the Montana ACLU, and Clem Work, author and retired UM
journalism professor. Topics will include the role of journalism, free
expression and dissent in America, and the authority of the US government to
detain US citizens without trial as ‘enemy combatants’ (and developments in
the law since 911).  The event is cosponsored by UM Students for Peace &
Justice, and UM MSW Social Justice Action Network. MCAT will be recording it.

History shows that a national crisis followed by fear based propaganda can inspire
citizens to support military action, and trade guaranteed liberties for their own sense
of security. During WWI, under Montana’s Sedition Law, 78 innocent Montanans
were scapegoated – sentenced, imprisoned, with most being forced to do hard labor
for simple actions, such as an offhand comment or refusal to kiss the flag. During
WWII, nearly 74,000 Japanese-American citizens suffered incarceration for years in
ten guarded camps, though innocent of crimes and denied due process. In 1988
the U.S. government apologized for “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of
political leadership.”

The crisis of 9-11-01 ushered in the War on Terror, fueled for over 15 years by the
images of the Twin Towers on the horrifying day we were attacked and nearly 3000
died. Three days later, Congress granted President Bush broad military powers.
The “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” is still in force. The War on Terror
brought other changes home. Most citizens and members of Congress still seem to
think that new laws since 9-11, that give government access to private records and
communications, are in our best interest to keep us safe. But few citizens know
the full extent to which current laws erode our freedoms.

Parts of the 2001 Patriot Act were found by courts to be unconstitutional. What
remains still gives intelligence agencies and FISA courts access to private
information, outside Congressional oversight. Other laws such as the National
Defense Authorization Act (20122017) serve to intimidate and punish journalists
(exercising 1st Amendment rights), and whistleblowers who reveal government
wrongdoing. Even ordinary citizens are vulnerable in the simple and innocent
exercise of their 1st Amendment rights, as they can be detained according to the
NDAA. Senator Jeff Merkley has been particularly articulate about the NDAA’s
threat to “due process” enshrined in our Constitution (5th and 6th Amendments)
meant to prevent “our government from secretly arresting our citizens, throwing
away the key, or otherwise framing the case against Americans.”

Nationally, the League of Women Voters has weighed in on many changes
regarding individual liberties since 911, trying to strike a balance between civil
liberties and homeland security. But the League draws a very firm line in defense of
citizens’ rights guaranteed in the Constitution, including the right to due process.
Our founders urged us to be ever vigilant in protection of our Constitution that
protects us against enemies foreign and domestic. Please join us for the film,
presentations and discussion on April 4.

Teresa Jacobs, Forum Organizer for the Missoula League of Women Voters