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Both Christian conservatives and liberals are worried that proposed legislation to expand the surveillance powers of the federal government could undermine religious liberty. Responding to their concerns, Attorney General John Ashcroft says he is seeking the right balance between freedom and security in the post-9/11 world.

After September 11, 2001, President Bush and Ashcroft shifted the Department of Justice's goal from prosecuting terrorists to preventing terrorism.

"It's a fundamental and unprecedented shift," Viet Dinh, a former assistant attorney general who teaches at the Georgetown University Law Center, told Christianity Today. "We are fighting guerrilla warfare on steroids, an attempt [by terrorists] to destabilize and defeat the Western order."

That battle is unsettling to some. About eight months ago, a Justice Department employee leaked a draft of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, dubbed Patriot II after the initial USA Patriot Act. Patriot I passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That law will expire in December 2005. Congress will hold hearings in the fall on Patriot II, a bill that may:

  • Grant federal investigators greater freedom in collecting private information on individuals who may be associated with terrorism.

  • Broaden the extent of permissible covert surveillance of individuals linked to terrorism.

  • Allow American citizens to be stripped of citizenship and expelled if they are members or material supporters of terrorist organizations actively opposed to the United States.

Some evangelical leaders expressed concern to Ashcroft in late March about enacting Patriot II measures they saw in the leaked document.

The White House later held a meeting with 150 evangelicals, including Josh McDowell, James Dobson, ...

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Curbing Big Brother
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September 2003

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