The Crisis, Civil Liberties, and Moving beyond Despair: A Unitarian-Universalist Perspective

Meg Riley

The Crisis, Civil Liberties, and Moving beyond Despair:
A Unitarian-Universalist Perspective

By Meg Riley, Director, Washington Office,
Unitarian Universalist Assn

"Despair, when not the result of absolute physical and moral defeat, is, like war, the failure of imagination."
— Adrienne Rich in What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics

Dear Cyber-friends,

A temporarily unimaginative Meg Riley at the keyboard here. I have felt so grateful to be part of our religious movement through this time, and to read all of the prayers, letters, accounts of vigils, intentions, sermons, lamentations and commitments of our communities of faith.

I have also been grateful to have a venue to share positive steps that can be taken. I hope that you have looked at our website, to see the resources and tips we have compiled and created for you! This will be changing continually as the days and weeks go by; please stay in touch with it, and please send in word of your own activities, favorite resources, etc.

As Bill Sinkford said in his letter of September 20 to ministerial colleagues,, we do not have consensus about what we should do regarding foreign policy in the aftermath of September 11. He wrote, "It would be easy for us to begin fighting among ourselves as to who is right." I was inspired by the following relevant words on the UU Ministers' Chatline from the Rev. Alice Blair Wesley:

"There is a world of difference between witnessing to the truth as we see it, humble in our recognition that no human being ever knows it all, and arguing about the truth, as though strong argument and absolute proof were the same thing....

"May ours be a fellowship in which we are strengthened to think and to act as well as it is given to us to do, even in times of confusion, and especially when we ourselves do not agree. We don't gather to decide collectively what is "the" truth or what is the "one" thing we all will do.

"We gather in the spirit of love earnestly to witness one another, in the confident hope that we human beings learn best when we both say honestly what we see and feel and experience, and also listen to other viewpoints that we might come to see from other wider perspectives from our own.

"In this way we live out our obligation to seek truth as a disciplined community of love, and we faithfully honor the responsibility of each to think and believe and act with their own integrity."

Again, those were the words of the Rev. Alice Blair Wesley.

Legislatively, our office has been involved with a coalition to try to mitigate some of the most potentially dangerous provisions of domestic antiterrorism bills.

With the backing of UU resolutions, we spoke out against similar (though not as far-sweeping) legislation in 1996 after the Oklahoma City bombing. What we saw after the passage of that legislation was a tiny inkling of what we might be looking at in the future. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson can blame the ACLU all they want, but despite the ACLU's, and our, objections to the legislation in 1996, it passed overwhelmingly.

Clearly it did not prevent terrorist attacks, but it did result in a number of people jailed for years with no legal recourse, no legal right to be told why they were jailed, and no appeals process.

Go to for a full description of this proposed legislation. Here are a few of the provisions that are most alarming to us:

The provisions would permit the unilateral and indefinite administrative detention of any non-citizen based solely on the authority of the Attorney General.

He would be given the unprecedented power to "certify" non-citizens based only on a vague "reason to believe" that the non-citizen "may" endanger national security. The bill does not identify the evidence that is necessary for such certification to be issued.

The bill would also allow the Attorney General to unilaterally require the incarceration indefinitely of any non-citizen who is "certified" even if he or she is here legally, has not been charged with any immigration violation, is not accused of being removable as a "terrorist," or is granted political asylum on the basis of persecution.

These are just a few of the most frightening aspects of this bill. I hope that you will engage in a letter-writing campaign at your church on Sunday about this. Here's how you do it:

Take in a bunch of pre-stamped postcards, and the addresses and names of your local representatives (see our website

Take in pens. Write a sample note on a large piece of posterboard, which reads:

Dear ________________:

I write to voice my strong concern about several provisions in the Attorney General's proposed antiterrorism legislation.

I am deeply grieving the casualties of September 11, but I do not want basic civil rights for all Americans to become casualties of terrorist activism as well. Please refuse to support any provisions which deny meaningful hearings or legal counsel to non-citizens. I also object to the far-reaching expansion of electronic surveillance and secret searches by law-enforcement authorities.

Yours in faith,


By the way, see our website for a more detailed "how-to" re setting up a letter-writing table Let us know how many letters you generated! And keep us posted about other stuff as well!

May the weekend bring deep nourishment to each of your shining souls.

Meg Riley

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Washington Office for Faith in Action
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregation
2026 P Street NW
Washington DC 20036-6907
tel/ 202-296-4672
fax/ 202-296-4673