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Borough man launches anti-Patriot Act pitch

June 25, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - A 26-year-old Waynesboro man has been trying for several months to convince the Waynesboro Borough Council to buck the Bush Administration and Congress by adopting a resolution opposing the USA Patriot Act, which he says violates the civil rights of Americans.

Chris Fewell, of 38 W. Fourth St., asked Borough Council members last week to join the three states and more than 100 municipalities that have adopted such resolutions.

The council heard his presentation and accepted a packet of information without comment.

The Patriot Act was passed by Congress in October 2001 on the heels of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It gives controversial new powers to the Justice Department in terms of domestic and international surveillance of American citizens and others within its jurisdiction.

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The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, a grass-roots group in Massachusetts, is leading the effort to get the act repealed.

"It creates a new crime, domestic terrorism, (that is) so broadly defined that it could conceivably apply to acts of civil disobedience," the defense committee said in one of its publications.

In April, Fewell gave the council a draft resolution fashioned from one written by a group in Texas opposing the act. That also was accepted without comment.

He said at the time that the "government is watering down our civil rights by passing laws that restrict our liberties. If we give up our liberties, then the terrorists will have won."

Councilman Clint Barkdoll said Monday that Fewell should have been more persuasive in his arguments before the council.

"There is some meat to it, but there is a dilemma for us in that the day before he spoke to us a federal Circuit Court upheld some of what (U.S. Attorney General John) Ashcroft is doing with the Patriot Act. That puts us in a difficult position. Other than doing something symbolic, there is little small local municipalities can do," Barkdoll said.

Barkdoll said Waynesboro is a conservative area and he would like to see more debate from other residents.

The Patriot Act has reached down into the banking industry, he said.

Barkdoll, a local attorney, said the FBI contacted his office last month during a real estate closing saying they needed to run the name of the buyer of the property through its national data base.

As it turned out, someone else with the same name as the buyer's name was on the FBI's terrorist list, Barkdoll said. Agents dispatched local law enforcement officers to the settlement but the buyer was "perfectly innocent. I'm a liberal Democrat, but I could see where this was one way they could have found a dangerous person," Barkdoll said.

"It is clearly an infringement but some sanctions are clearly called for," Barkdoll added. "We have to balance between them and our civil rights. There's definitely a Big Brother aspect to it, but the last three years have been difficult times in our country."

"I never really understood what he is trying to accomplish," Councilman Allen Porter said Monday. "His presentations were never very clear to me. What he's saying is that (the act) is destroying our freedoms."

Porter said a resolution adopted by the council "wouldn't be worth the paper it's written on when it comes to the federal government. What would the town gain by it?"

Fewell, who works as an estimator for a home construction company in Hagerstown, said his reasons for pushing for a resolution go back to when he was 12 years old and saw the Berlin Wall before it came down in 1989.

"It was an experience that I never forgot," he said.

"We don't have much control over it," said Council President Douglas Tengler. "We're just a borough. Congress passed the law. I strongly urge anyone who is opposed to it to write to their congressman."

Tengler said he didn't know if he would support such a resolution. "I think I'll have one of the council's committees look into it," he said.

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