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Congressman Amash and Michigan ACLU talk wiretaps, drones, and gay marriage

Courtesy photo

Congressman Justin Amash (R-Grand Rapids) says libertarian leaning Republicans like himself are having an impact on federal policies involving people’s civil rights. He made the remarks at a town hall meeting Monday night hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union in Grand Rapids.

He points to US Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour-long filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. That filibuster was, in part, to raise awareness about the ambiguity in the rules governing the use of unmanned drones on American soil.

“Provided (drones) are used in a war setting, I don’t have a problem with the government using them,” Amash said. “But the definition of war has changed.”

Amash says the War on Terror that began after the attacks on September 11th, 2001, changed the definition of war in way that’s dangerous to civil liberties, because the war zone can be anywhere on the globe.

“When you’re fighting a war, you fight the war and you get it over with. You can’t have an ongoing war that lasts forever and detain people as prisoners of war essentially forever,” Amash said, referring to detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Amash said civil rights have taken a bigger hit under President Barack Obama than any other administration. Kary Moss, Executive Director of Michigan's ACLU, pushed back; calling the former President George W. Bush era a “pretty horrific time” for civil liberties.

“Don’t even get me started on the Patriot Act,” Moss said.

Bush approved of warrantless wiretapping of phone lines through the Patriot Act. He also established Guantanamo Bay where alleged terrorists are held for years without trial.

“I don’t think anyone had high expectations that President Bush was going to protect their civil liberties,” Amash said. The crowd of about 150 people laughed a little.

“But when President Obama was elected, even though I’m a Republican, I was hopeful that at least he would pare back some of the civil liberties violations,” Amash said. “I get to Congress and one of the first things we’re voting on is extending the Patriot Act.”

Obama has not followed through on his promise to close Guantanamo Bay. He re-authorized the Patriot Act through 2015.

Amash talked about the flack he got for voting against the Patriot Act from fellow Republicans. “I remember the leadership coming to me and asking ‘what are you doing?’ and I said ‘I’m following the Constitution,” Amash said.

He thinks established Republicans in Congress are generally in favor of granting the executive branch of the federal government more powers, particularly when it comes to national security issues.

“They’re not likely to, suddenly when you have a Democratic president, then announce that they’re against these policies because they figure we’ll have a Republican president again,” Amash said.

Amash and Moss also discussed immigration, law enforcement’s ability to collect DNA samples, and the Israel/Palestine conflict.

“It wouldn’t be an ACLU event if I didn’t talk about gay marriage,” Moss said with a smile.

The ACLU will argue a case in front of the Supreme Court this week that questions the Defense of Marriage Act. Under the act, states like Michigan that have banned gay marriage, can ignore marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by states that allow gay marriage.

Amash told Moss he views marriage as a strictly private, religious matter.

“I don’t want the government deciding who has a legitimate baptism, who has a legitimate Communion, who’s involved in other personal relationships we have,” Amash said.

Congressman Justin Amash says the government should not define marriage; gay or traditional.

A Supreme Court decision in the gay marriage case is not expected until summer.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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