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County balks at residents' Constitutional resolution

The World Link | July 5, 2005
By Carl Mickelson

At a recent Coos County Board of Commissioners meeting, county residents Monica Schreiber and Dennis Phillips asked the three commissioners to adopt a resolution in support of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The commissioners demurred.

The one-page resolution submitted by Schreiber and Phillips, who are members of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee of Democracy for America, proposed the county should declare strong opposition to terrorism - but that it also should take care not to tread on the civil liberties of the people of Coos County.

The proposed resolution - similar to resolutions adopted in 368 communities across the nation - called for the elimination of spending county tax dollars on expanded law enforcement investigative techniques granted when the federal USA Patriot and Homeland Security Acts were passed in 2001. Those laws have "unlawfully attempted to authorize the federal government to infringe upon fundamental liberties guaranteed by the U.S. and Oregon Constitutions," the resolution stated.

The board's reluctance to adopt the proposed resolution was due to the commissioners hesitation to jump into an issue better-suited for congressional - not county - politics.

Instead, the commissioners - in a motion created jointly by commissioners Nikki Whitty and Gordon Ross - unanimously adopted a resolution reaffirming the commissioners' sworn duty to defend and uphold the U.S. and Oregon constitutions, Griffith said.

"Congress is already dealing with the Patriot Act," he said.

Absent from the adopted resolution were references to the Patriot and Homeland Security acts - the intended targets of Schreiber and Phillips' resolution. However, the adopted resolution did contain a line asking congressional delegates to continue to "protect the freedoms and liberties of the people of Coos County."

That wasn't enough for Schreiber, a staunch opponent of the federal laws that expanded law enforcement powers less than two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks. Congress currently is locked in deliberations over changes to the Patriot Act, some of which are set to expire in September.

"I was sorry that the opportunity to make that statement was not taken more seriously by the commissioners," Schreiber said, calling the replacement of the language attacking the specific federal laws with a more innocuous statement a "diversion."

"It sidestepped the point," she said. "It muted it. It watered it down. The intent of the resolution was to adamantly state: 'We recognize that some of the (federal) branches are overstepping the basic Constitution. This was an attempt to expose that. ...This would have been an affirmation to the people in our community about care and respect."

Instead, she said she feels that the laws breed fear.

"The secrecy is what is scary," she said. "It is very subversive to do something in secret. It creates fear. An atmosphere of invasive fear. And it undermines the whole fabric of what we stand for. What this county, at least some of its citizens, stand for."

But for Griffith, for one, it was just too much. Had the board passed the proposed resolution, he said, it wouldn't have made a difference anyway.

"I'm concerned about the potential misuse of federal laws to invade the privacy of any law-abiding Coos County citizen," he said. "But, I don't think we have many, if any, international terrorists here."

However, while Congress moves toward a decision on the laws, Griffith said he was in favor of at least some increased law enforcement powers in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.

He said the increase on his mind is somewhat intangible, but more than what was in effect on Sept. 10, 2001.

"It's a compromise. It's all a compromise," he said. "So it's just sort of a stab, and an awkward one, in how much the American population is willing to give up its constitutional freedoms for security. And I think Congress is trying to feel its way through to answer that question."


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