July 16, 2012

“American Civil Liberties” resolution of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church

The Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) is circulating the following:

“American Civil Liberties” resolution of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  


Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 77th General Convention urge each congregation in The Episcopal Church to become a model for peacemaking in our society by encouraging its members to commit themselves to nonviolent and peaceable behavior in their relationships with others and to express concern about attacks on human rights, including attacks on the right to dissent from U.S. government policy; and be it further resolved:

That the General Convention express its concern through its Office of Government Relations that use of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the Patriot Act, and the Supreme Court decision in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project have a chilling effect on God’s call to peacemaking and unduly impact the Arab, Palestinian and Muslim communities in the United States, and be it further resolved:

That the General Convention commend Episcopal congregations for their work in interfaith bridge building, including between Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.


American government surveillance and oppression of people who challenge United States policy has a long history, including FBI surveillance of civil rights movement leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr., in particular, and Puerto Rican independence advocates. Anthony D. Prince wrote in The People’s Tribune, “the harassment intensified after King publically condemned the war in Vietnam, denouncing the U.S. involvement as irreconcilable with economic and social justice for American’s poor…his assassination came on the heels of an internal FBI report that labeled King a ‘direct threat to American security.’” The FBI’s surveillance program, which became known as COINTELPRO, targeted not only Martin Luther King, Jr. but also the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement and many other individuals and organizations. 

Since September 11, 2001, the Bush and Obama administrations have brought

Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim activists before Grand Juries, including Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar, Dr. Sami al- Arian, and Ghassan Elashi of the Holy Land Foundation. Most recently on September 23, 2011, ten Muslim students who had been arrested for protesting Ambassador Michael Oren’s February 8, 2010 speech at the University of California at Irvine, were found guilty of misdemeanor charges and were sentenced to 56 hours of community service and three years’ probation, to be reduced to one year after the completion of the community service. In late July 2011, FBI training material that contained bigoted and inflammatory views on Muslims came to light. 

In the fall of 2010, twenty-three anti-war and peace activists, including Colombian and Palestinian solidarity workers, have been subpoenaed by the FBI as part of what the United States government is calling an investigation into “material support” for groups the United States Department of State has declared “foreign terrorist organizations.”

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 created this new category of prohibited activity, namely “material support.” Five years later, as one result of September 11, Congress approved the USA Patriot Act, which broadened the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Then in June 2010 the Supreme Court’s decision, “Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project,” according to the

Center for Constitutional Rights “marks the first time that the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment permits Congress to make pure speech advocating lawful, non-violent activity-human rights advocacy and peacemaking a crime.” In summary, the Center for Constitutional Rights contends that “these material support provisions violate the First Amendment as they criminalize activities like distribution of literature, engaging in political advocacy, participating in peace conferences, training in human rights advocacy, and donating cash and humanitarian assistance, even when this type of support is intended only to promote lawful and non-violent activities.” (1) In early October 2010, seventeen organizations and ninety-six individuals signed the “Chicago Faith Community Statement on FBI Raids and Grand Jury.” It reads in part: 

“We are people of faith and conscience who condemn the recent FBI raids in Chicago as a violation of the Constitutional rights of the people and organizations raided. They are a dangerous step to further criminalize dissent. The FBI raids chisel away and bypass fundamental Constitutional rights by hauling activists before grand juries under the guise of national security. An overly broad definition of “material support for terrorism” in the June 2010 US Supreme Court ruling concerns us as people of faith who continue to be actively engaged in humanitarian work and peacemaking…we believe that peacemaking is a sacred commandment…we refuse to remain silent in the face of the latest efforts of the FBI to chill dissent against war by invading homes of peace activists and calling a grand jury with sweeping powers to manufacture fear. We denounce the use of fear and the far-reaching labeling of critical dissent as “terrorism” that tramples on not only our right, but our duty to dissent as people called to a moral standard of justice for all.”

For the original document see www.generalconvention.org/resolutions/download/146-1342045299

The Episcopal Church has nearly two million members in the U.S. and takes progressive stands on social issues. The CSFR editor highlighted the sentence concerning the repression of the 23 anti-war activists. This repression led to the founding of the CSFR.