‘Ask the ACLU’ discussion series to continue with program on Muslim registries and surveillance

Three panelists to discuss the issues during Feb. 2 forum

Image from the ACLU of Florida website

Next week, the Sarasota Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida will continue its monthly discussion series Ask the ACLU, with a focus on Muslim Registries and Surveillance in America, the organization has announced.

The forum will take place on Thursday, Feb. 2, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Selby Library, which is located at 1331 First St. in downtown Sarasota. Each program is free and open to the community; light refreshments will be served.

“The right to freedom of religion is at the core of American democracy,” a Sarasota Chapter ACLU news release says. “Enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is protection from religious persecution. The panel of experts will discuss why creating registries and unwarranted surveillance of American citizens is morally and strategically wrong,” the release adds.

Among the panelists will be Muaaz Hassan, who serves as the Islamophobia and communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Florida, the release notes. “Hassan, the son of South African immigrants who fought against the injustices and racism of an apartheid regime, was inspired from a young age to fight for freedom, justice and equality for all,” the release points out.

A second panelist, Michael Barfield, is the vice president of the ACLU of Florida “and an expert on government surveillance systems, equipment and methods,” the release explains.

The third panelist will be Keith Fitzgerald, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives and a professor of political science at the New College of Florida since 1994. “He is an expert on immigration policies and the role of surveillance,” the release adds.

The Sarasota Chapter of the ACLU of Florida launched the Ask the ACLU discussion series in response to concerns over a slate of policies proposed by President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, the release explains. The ACLU has said that those policies, if enacted, would violate the constitutional rights of many people in America, the release points out.

Selby Public Library is in downtown Sarasota. File photo

“Our first two programs have both been standing-room-only,” noted Pete Tannen, president of the Sarasota Chapter of the ACLU of Florida, in the release. “We are gratified for this community’s concern for civil liberties,” Tannen added in the release.

“[Trump’s] statements about ‘a total and complete’ ban on Muslims entering the country, creating a Muslim database and surveilling American Muslims and their houses of worship show a complete lack of regard for the inalienable rights guaranteed by the Constitution, potentially violating the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments,” Tannen continued in the release. “We feel it’s crucial for community members to understand what our rights are and how we can ensure those rights are protected for all Americans.”

Future programs have been planned as follows: Protecting and Defending Abortion Rights (April 6); Protecting and Defending LGBT Rights (May 4); and Police, Community Relations and Race-based Policing (June 1). All programs are non-partisan; the goal is to inform and empower, the release adds.