A coalition of local political activists wants Columbia City Council to pass a symbolic resolution opposing the USA Patriot Act.
“The act creates an unfunded mandate,” said Denyse Williams, president of the S.C. branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Police power is directed away from local problems to enforcing the act.”
More than 370 cities and four states have passed resolutions in opposition to the Patriot Act, according to a national advocacy group leading the effort.
City Council members gave no indication Wednesday they intend to add Columbia to that list. No S.C. cities have passed such a resolution.
“You’ve got to show there is a local connection before City Council should take time to discuss it,” Mayor Bob Coble said.
Congress passed the Patriot Act months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to give law enforcement authorities more powers to investigate terrorism. The Justice Department credits the act with helping prevent new terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.
Opponents, however, have called the act an attack on civil liberties because it gives law enforcement easier access to people’s personal records and places political activists under greater government scrutiny.
Coble, a Democrat who briefly ran for U.S. Senate, said he does not have a personal opinion on the Patriot Act. But he said if he was convinced that the Patriot Act had detrimental effects on Columbia, he would support a resolution opposing it.
Councilman Hamilton Osborne said the city should not be involved.
“The debate regarding constitutionality should take place in the courts, not in City Council,” he said. “If we start engaging in debates to suit our own political purposes, we’re misusing public resources.”
City Council heard from Williams — speaking for at least 30 organizations seeking the resolution — but took no action Wednesday.
Other organizations supporting the effort include local chapters of the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Carolina Peace Resource Center.
Williams said similar efforts are under way in Beaufort and Charleston.