51 RI Bar J., No. 1, Pg. 11 (July, 2002). SPEAKING OUT - Is Big Brother Back?.

AuthorJerry Elmer, Esq.

Rhode Island Bar Journal

Volume 51.

51 RI Bar J., No. 1, Pg. 11 (July, 2002).

SPEAKING OUT - Is Big Brother Back?

SPEAKING OUT - Is Big Brother Back?Jerry Elmer, Esq.A forum for Rhode Island Bar Association members to express their personal viewpoints on issues of interest.On January 19, 1973, on the eve of President Nixon's second inauguration, over 600 Rhode Islanders attended a "Religious Convocation for Peace," sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and held in Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Providence. It was a few short weeks after the Nixon Administration's notorious "Christmas bombing" of North Vietnam, which had targetted civilian population centers; this was not only morally repellent to many Americans but was also a crime against humanity under international law. Anti-war sentiment in the country was running high.The Religious Convocation for Peace was led by many of the state's religious leaders, including the Episcopal Bishop, Frederick Belden, and the Rev. James Webb, General Secretary of the State Council of Churches. The program followed a traditional religious format, with Scripture readings, prayers, and hymns. A collection was taken for AFSC's medical relief programs in Vietnam, which were licensed by the U.S. government. After the service, one older priest commented to me that this was the first time in 20 years he had seen Grace Church filled to capacity.

As then-co-director of the Rhode Island AFSC office, I helped to organize the Religious Convocation for Peace. Five years later when I obtained my Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), I learned that the FBI had conducted surveillance of and had filed permanent reports on the event.

I also learned that the FBI file on me had a copy of an anti-war petition I had signed as a high school student in 1968, a copy of a personal letter I had written to a friend in 1971 (the mail had apparently been intercepted and photocopied), surveillance reports of a peace meeting I had attended in a private home in a New York suburb in 1971, and detailed information about a legal, nonviolent anti-war fast in Washington, D.C. which I had helped organize in 1974.

I only obtained these documents from the FBI after a protracted court fight. When I had first requested my FBI dossier under the FOIA, the FBI...

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