The Southern Oregon University Student Senate passed a resolution vowing non-compliance with the USA Patriot Act – the first resolution in the Oregon University System to challenge the act aimed at fighting terrorism.
Student senators met Tuesday night to discuss the Patriot Act and the implications it carries for the student body. The majority of senators concluded the controversial, Congress-approved act infringes too heavily on the rights of individual students.
According to junior Danielle McNeill, SOU student body president, many students have e-mailed her with concerns regarding the impact the act will have on students.
“It’s a concern and we need to pay attention it,” McNeill said to audience members and senate. “It’s about our civil liberties and our rights as citizens.”
Senators passed the “Resolution of Non-Compliance With the USA Patriot Act” 8 to 3, with senators Jonathan Bilden, Heather Virell and Doug Honse opposing. Eleven of the 20-member senate were present for the motion.
The resolution of non-compliance was pioneered by Peace Club founder Keith Quick, who feels the Patriot Act directly hinders the rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens.
“I’m always concerned with things that undermine the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights,” Quick said.
The Patriot Act was signed into law by President Bush in October 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, granting new powers to both domestic law enforcement and international intelligence agencies to fight terrorism.
Quick said one way the act violates guaranteed rights to privacy is the government’s increased access to personal records.
“Everything that you do on campus is subject to search and that includes the books you check out from the library,” he said.
The act also widens the scope of searches, so long as there is a belief that it’s relevant to an investigation.
“They (the government) no longer have to inform you or notify you that they have a warrant to search your house,” he said.
With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union Southern Oregon-chapter, Quick drafted a resolution which states campus administration should continue to preserve student freedoms and protect the campus community from unreasonable searches and seizures “even if requested to do otherwise and infringe upon such rights by federal or state law enforcement agencies acting under new powers created by the USA Patriot Act. …”
While many students urged the Senate to pass the non-compliance resolution, Honse, SOU’s housing senator, said he could not support the resolution because he feels the Patriot Act was enacted to protect U.S. citizens from the threat of terrorism, not violate rights.
“I feel the Patriot Act is in place to deter terrorism and prevent it from happening in the first place,” Honse said. “We can sit around and let disaster happen and clean up the mess afterward or we can prevent the mess.”
Honse said his interest was in protecting the safety of all students and that if searches help cut down on the possibility of a terrorist act, students should comply.
“If you don’t have anything to hide, then there shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.
Despite the dissent, the motion passed.
Quick said the motion to pass the resolution is just the first step in letting the community know that SOU students are against the act. The next step would be to get the SOU Faculty Senate to pass the resolution and then the university’s workers’ unions.
Paul Copeland, Ashland resident and co-chair of the local ACLU chapter, said SOU senators may pave the way for other universities to pass non-compliance resolutions.
“We (the ACLU) think the resolution is significant because I believe its the first one in Oregon and it may have influence on other campuses throughout Oregon,” Copeland said. “We hope that other schools in Oregon will look to SOU as a model to follow.”