There’s nothing patriotic about the Patriot Acts

For more than 20 years Stella Levy has been a government lawyer who is committed to social justice

Supposedly designed to thwart terrorism, the USA Patriot Act was passed within days of 9/11 by a Congress that had not carefully considered its many provisions. Rather than be expanded, as the proposed Patriot II intends, this deeply flawed legislation should be repealed and replaced by a well-considered law that addresses legitimate security concerns. If this belief makes me unpatriotic—well, my patriotism has been questioned before.

In 1969, I was living in my hometown of Orlando, Fla. Hired to teach fourth grade by the local school district, administrators were pleased with me because I was the first “white” teacher willing to teach in a “colored” school, allowing them to claim that they were moving to desegregate the public schools. Their pleasure was short-lived.

I was given a packet of “routine” paperwork, which I took home. One document, titled “Loyalty Oath,” caught my eye. I set it aside and completed the other documents.

The next morning, I returned to the loyalty oath. I didn’t want to sign it, though I wasn’t sure why. I turned the packet in without the oath. Meanwhile, I discussed my reluctance with my partner and friends. They felt that I should sign. They pointed out that I needed the job, and they said it was really no big deal.

A week passed, and I was pulled out of my classroom for an urgent call. A district administrator was on the phone. She said a “certain document” was missing from my packet, and she added that if said document was not delivered into her hands by 8 a.m. the next day, she would delete my name from the payroll.

I realized then that the loyalty oath was indeed a big deal—big enough for the state of Florida to withhold my paycheck. I flatly stated that I would not cooperate.

As a result of my refusal to sign an unconstitutional loyalty oath, I lost my job and was not paid my wages for more than three years, until well after the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case in my favor. During state court proceedings, my patriotism was questioned by both the government and the media.

My commitment to civil liberties and healthy suspicion of self-proclaimed patriots hasn’t wavered during the intervening years. These so-called Patriot Acts, both I and II, threaten our Constitution by sacrificing basic civil liberties on the altar of national security.

Less-drastic measures would suffice.