In the eight years of the Reagan administration there has been "a slow, steady, quiet usurpation of First Amendment rights," says a liberal organization that concerns itself with the amendment guaranteeing Americans freedom of speech and religion and separation of church and state.
People for the American Way, which describes itself as "the non-partisan constitutional liberties organization," issued a report Thursday that it says shows 241 cases in which the administration trampled on those rights.The group cited a $45,000 federal grant to Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network; a White House aide's saying that anyone directly around Ronald Reagan "gets saved or gets out"; a 40 percent increase in classified information; the news blackout on the U.S. invasion of Grenada; and the attempt to induce reporters for two newspapers not to report various intelligence activities.
"The incidents we've cited in our report demonstrate . . . a slow, steady, quiet usurpation of First Amendment rights," Arthur J. Kropp, president of the organization, told a news conference.
"We're not at the crossroads of crisis, but we have begun to walk down the path towards `the quiet encroachment of our liberties' that James Madison warned about," he said, adding:
"It isn't as if Ed Meese and Ronald Reagan sat down (eight years ago) and said to themselves `How can we sink free speech today?' . . . But the Reagan administration did come to town with a very specific political agenda . . . and, most important, a seeming willingness to do whatever it takes to effect their agenda. If that meant violating the principles or rights set forth in the First Amendment, then, apparently, they were willing to do just that."
The report said that President-elect Bush, in forming his administration, appears to be showing more sensitivity toward the constitutional guarantees.
John H. Buchanan, chairman of the group, said that while Bush is part of the Reagan record, he is encouraged that the president-elect is "selecting people of reason, not radicalism, for his administration."
Buchanan said Bush "should not repay whatever debts he owes the far right by selecting ideologues for the middle- and lower-level positions in his administration.