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Resolution on the Threat to Civil and Religious Liberties in Post – 9/11 America

Adopted by the General Assembly November 9, 2005

Civil and religious liberties, while affirmed under secular constructs that were formed by our national and world communities based on generations of human social interaction, are grounded in the religious conviction that all human beings reflect the divine imprint and are thus worthy of respect. These principles protect and seek to nurture the fundamental freedoms that men and women possess as members of an enlightened society.

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has historically and consistently defended these principles as integral to the well being of US citizens, and indeed of all people. This defense has been strongest during severe tests of our national character. This resolution, while recognizing the myriad civil and religious liberties issues at stake today – having to do among other things with privacy, gender, and genetics, as well as with free exercise, establishment, and education – is addressed primarily to the issues most related to this moment of national crisis, a crisis characterized by post-9/11 anxiety and responses such as the USA PATRIOT Act.

Theological Foundation. The theological foundation for this position is in the scriptures and tradition of the Christian faith. If it is true that all human beings reflect the divine imprint – "Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27, NRSV) – then it is also true that essential human dignity is the divine gift of God. Such dignity in turn reflects humanity's infinite worth and its endowment with rights intended to guard against the diminishment of that worth. It is no surprise that we consider religious liberty as basic to all other liberties.

Ultimately, based on the relationship with God for which humankind was created, a relationship of love and freedom, the dignity of women and men is found in our freedom – here the Christian tradition speaks of free will, and of the maxim that "God became a [human being] so that [human beings] could become like God” – and thus in our response to God and in our responsibility toward one another under God. Our response to God, and our responsibility toward one another, therefore, is to act in accordance with obedience to God, and to serve one another to the well being of all.

Policies. Particularly in times of national crisis, the National Council of Churches USA has taken strong positions in defense of these principles based on these theological affirmations. This is so even while recognizing that security is preeminently in God, and not in the secular constructs that govern our social contract with one another. A review of these positions, taken in the past yet highly relevant in specific content to this day, is in order:

In 1954, at a time of fear and suspicion with regard to communism, a policy statement, entitled "Investigative Procedures in the Congress of the United States,” was critical of the stigmatization of people and organizations on the basis of unsupported accusations; called into question forced testimony, under false pretexts, concerning economic and political beliefs; sought the prevention of questionable legal procedures intended to subvert legal processes; and expressed concern over the exploitation of public interest and fear.

In 1955, during a time of social unrest, a policy statement, entitled "Religious and Civil Liberties in the United States of America,” affirmed the separation of church and state while denying the indifference of church and state to one another; defended the rights and liberties of cultural, racial and religious minorities (though subjecting the exercise of these rights to morality, public order and security); and affirmed the interdependence and indivisibility of religious and civil liberties.

In 1957, at a time of debate over racial desegregation, a policy statement, entitled "Freedom of Association,” called for the protection of voluntary associations, especially in connection with desegregation; defended the right of peaceable association and freedom of speech; defended the right to privacy and anonymity of membership in such associations (subject to legal guarantees); and voiced its opposition to the suppression of voluntary association.

In 1965, at a time of struggle over the right to vote, a policy statement, entitled "Equal Representation is a Right of Citizenship,” affirmed the equal right to vote, and the equal value of all votes; called for protection of the standard of equal representation; stated that rights cannot be taken from people by those in power to protect their power; and confirmed that equal representation is a fundamental right and an adjunct to full political personhood.

In 1966, during a time of war, a policy statement, entitled "Rights and Responsibilities of Debate, Diversity and Dissent,” stated that freedoms and liberties were to be protected in times of crisis, not curtailed to present a united front; condemned the invalidation of the witness of whole groups based on the questionable motives of a few; defended conscientious dissent in times of military action; and questioned the appeal to patriotism to stifle criticism.

In 1967, at a time of social upheaval, a policy statement, entitled "Church-State Issues for Social and Health Services in the U.S.A.,” affirmed equal access to social welfare resources; distinguished between service and evangelism as a guide for the policies of church-related social agencies; affirmed the role of communities of faith in helping to implement social programs and shape social policy; and outlined principles governing church and state relations in social service.

In 1968, at a time of war and continued social unrest, a policy statement, entitled "Religious Obedience and Civil Disobedience,” confirmed the responsibility of government to secure justice, peace, and freedom, and to maintain order for these purposes; affirmed that Christians can disobey government if its authority is misused, and peace, justice, and freedom are denied; stated that Christians are compelled to act out of faith, yet peaceably in the case of civil disobedience; and argued that civil disobedience is a violation of a law deemed unjust in obedience to one's conscience or a higher law.

These policy statements, when taken as a whole, are a coherent and compelling defense of civil and religious liberties. Based as they are on Christian faith, they offer a template against which Christians may evaluate other challenges to civil and religious liberties that confront Americans and American Churches.

Current Issues. Today we are in another moment of national crisis and uncertainty. The terrorist attacks of 9/11; the all-consuming "war on terror”; the war in Iraq: all of these have led to anxiety, the exploitation of fear, and the erosion in national self-confidence. It has also led this country to the point of willingly sacrificing the very ideals that have made it great. In no area of social interaction is the threat as large as in the area of civil and religious liberties.

Many of these issues are reminiscent of years past, as is evident in the above policy descriptions; others are new and equally shocking. These threats include: indefinite detention and the withholding of due process; extraordinary rendition and torture; arbitrary designation of enemy combatants; the suspicion of immigrants and those applying for immigrant status; the invasion of privacy in terms of medical records, library borrowing, and other personal documents; and a creeping reliance on selective religious fundamentalism as the lens for shaping public policy, especially at the expense of other religious communities.

In response to pertinent security concerns, the US Government has availed itself of any number of tools. Most prominent among these is the USA PATRIOT Act, which has attracted much attention due to its expansion of government power to intrude in the private lives of individuals. Passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and largely reaffirmed this year as a continued weapon in the "war on terror,” it holds the potential for vastly eroding civil liberties. The provisions of the act are in seeming conflict with the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. These provisions include: delayed-notice search warrants to secretly investigate potential criminals; national security letters to secretly gather private and confidential information; relaxed restrictions on wiretapping; and extensive use of deportation and denial of immigrant applications based on unknowing associations.

At the same time, the law has authorized the seizure of assets of organizations, including religious and charitable organizations, deemed to have ties with groups labeled by the government as terrorist. As with other provisions which are executed in secret, there is no opportunity to challenge government declarations in advance of adverse enforcement action. The use of these laws to stigmatize American Muslims has created hardship and mistrust in their community, putting them in the position of having to prove innocence without even the benefit of an appropriate public forum.

In addition, the use of ethnic profiling as a proxy for religious profiling is especially troubling. The use of such profiling by law enforcement is a debatable and highly suspect practice. But it does not stop with official acts, as the official practice of religious profiling encourages a wider discrimination in the society at large whereby many peaceable, law-abiding citizens are severely disadvantaged solely because of their religious faith.

Liberty taken away in the name of patriotism and security is a cause for concern for all who trust in US Constitutional protections. While churches support law enforcement to protect Americans, they are not blind to the risks we all share when our civil and religious liberties are eroded. As persons of faith, we should also be aware that there is no exemption from these rules for faith-based organizations. We must therefore continue to stand strong against this tendency and to speak out in defense of those liberties that are fundamental to our national being.



the terrorist attacks of 9/11 have caused great fear in US society;

the resulting government-declared "war on terror” has exacerbated this fear;

the war in Iraq has increasingly eroded national confidence in the implementation of this "war on terror,” a development compounded by the exposure by Hurricane Katrina of the fault-lines in Homeland Security capabilities;

the "war on terror” has allowed the US to neglect, limit, and even betray its treasure of civil and religious liberties, as evidenced by recent legislative and policy assaults on such liberties, especially the USA PATRIOT Act, in the name of security;

as Christians we are concerned that the freedom we have as human beings is not well served by current policies;

as women and men of faith we believe our increasingly diverse society is best served by expanding, rather than narrowing, the opportunities of people of all faiths to access the public square, and thereby to expand mutual interaction and respect; and,

as an organization composed of Christian communions that have together over the years defended civil and religious liberties, based on Christian faith;

Therefore, be it resolved that the National Council of Churches USA:

urges its member communions to be ever-vigilant in protecting and defending civil and religious liberties – including those not specifically tied to this current moment of national crisis but nonetheless important to our national life – through any and all moral and legal means available;

commits itself to the monitoring of current and potential civil and religious liberties abuses in and by the US, and to taking action that would address these abuses; and,

pledges to educate members of its constituent communions, with this resolution and background materials on previous policy statements, on the importance of upholding civil and religious liberties, even and most critically in times of national distress.