UU Congregation Sues NSA Over Privacy
Why a Small Church in Los Angeles is Leading the Legal Fight Against Government Surveillanceby Sonali Kolhatkar
The bespectacled and youthful pastor sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, certainly didn't look like a conventional "man-of-God." In fact, the Unitarian Universalist church to which Rick belongs is known for defying Christian theological convention. And, Rick's home at the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles also has a history of defying political convention.
The church, according to Hoyt, has been a "fierce advocate for personal liberties." Even before Edward Snowden became a house-hold name, the First Unitarian Church of LA became a named plaintiff in a major lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) over privacy violations.
Nineteen organizations have joined Hoyt's church in an unusual coalition that includes the Marijuana legalization group, NORML, and gun rights groups like the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees.
Hoyt admits that some of the groups are those his church doesn't normally work with and "aren't necessarily politically sympathetic with." But the right to personal privacy is a libertarian position deeply held by both ends of the political spectrum.
The coalition also includes Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace, Free Press, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. And while they may have some strange bedfellows particularly with the gun-rights organizations, the groups have found common ground in what they see as an attack by the US government and the NSA on Americans' First Amendment Right to Assemble.
The lawsuit is based on the NSA's indiscriminate telephone tapping program, about which suspicions have existed long before recent leaks of classified documents. Rev. Hoyt fears that NSA surveillance aimed at political groups impacts the right of people to freely assemble in those groups: "People need to feel that they have the freedom to join an organization ...and use the power of a group to amplify their voices."
His suspicion that the government is likely spying on his church is not unfounded. Hoyt cited the church's long arc of political activism, going as far back as the late 1800s when people like Caroline Severence, the prominent suffragist, joined the Unitarian Church. Unitarians also historically embraced abolitionism and later the Civil Rights and modern feminist movements.
More relevant to today's suit is the position the church took in the 1950s against the McCarthy-era anti-communist witch hunts, coming to the defense of the black-listed "Hollywood Ten" writers and actors in Los Angeles.Read the full post here.