A former Republican lawmaker and lead author of the Patriot Act said the Biden administration’s targeting of parents protesting COVID-19 restrictions and the race-based program at school board meetings confirms his worst fears about abuse federal laws “as instruments of political repression”.
Former Representative F. James Sensenbrenner, who served as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, said he warned of potential abuse of the Patriot Act when drafting legislation almost two decades ago. Looking back, Mr Sensenbrenner says he could not have imagined it would be used to target citizens’ rights to free speech.
“When debating the Patriot Act and other federal anti-terrorism laws, no one in any house of Congress could have imagined that these laws would be turned against affected parents at local school board meetings,” wrote the former Republican congressman in an op-ed published Tuesday. in the Wall Street Journal.
“Yet on October 4, Mr. Garland issued the memorandum who will live in infamy,” wrote Mr. Sensenbrenner, referring to a memo from Attorney General Merrick Garland released in early October which has since drawn the wrath of many Republicans.
The controversy in question stems from a letter the National School Boards Association (NSBA) wrote to President Biden in late September. The letter specifically cited the Patriot Act, among other legal measures, to justify the request for “federal assistance in ending threats” posed against public school officials by concerned parents protesting at school board meetings.
In response, Garland released his memorandum citing a “worrying spike” in “threats of violence” against school officials, and called on federal law enforcement officials to discuss strategies “to deal with the threats. against “school boards and local administrators, and” to open dedicated lines of communication for reporting, assessing and responding to threats.
Mr Garland’s memo was quickly rejected by GOP lawmakers, who said the call to action was an undue assault on US citizens exercising their free speech.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee responded with their own letter to Mr Garland, telling the Attorney General that they were concerned about the “appearance” of the Department of Justice “monitoring the speech of concerned citizens and relatives.” .
“We urge you to make it very clear to the American public that the Department of Justice will not interfere with the rights of parents to appear before school boards and speak with educators about their concerns, whether regarding related measures. to coronaviruses, the teaching of the critical race. theory in schools, sexually explicit books in schools or whatever, ”the senators wrote.
They went on to say that it was inappropriate to use the Patriot Act or any other federal power “to overrule those who challenge local school boards.”
Mr Sensenbrenner, meanwhile, wrote in his Wall Street Journal editorial that the October 4 attorney general’s note set a chilling precedent.
“Unless it is immediately withdrawn, the memorandum will curb free speech, undermine civil liberties, erode public confidence in federal law enforcement, divert resources from real terrorist threats, and weaken support for the government. Congress to major anti-terrorism laws, ”he wrote. “All of these developments would make Americans less free, less secure and less secure.”