In what seems to be a violation of basic
democratic rights such as freedom of speech, a federal grand jury
issued subpoenas last week to four anti-war activists in Des
Moines, Iowa as well as to the administration of Drake University
in an investigation of a November anti-war demonstration. The
activists were ordered to report to testify before the grand jury,
and Drake University was ordered to hand over records for their
student chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. Drake was also put
under a federal gag order prohibiting university employees from
discussing the subpoenas.

Kate Green

Amid a legal challenge from the NLG and public outcry from
advocates of civil liberties, peace activists and politicians,
thankfully federal authorities withdrew the subpoenas against the
activists on Tuesday and backed off of their investigation into the
demonstration. A federal judge also removed the gag order from
Drake.

The Drake chapter of the NLG held a conference titled
“Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!” which
included a nonviolence training workshop on Nov. 15, followed by a
demonstration at the Iowa National Guard headquarters the next day
at Camp Dodge in Johnston. At the demonstration, 12 protesters were
arrested on charges of trespassing.

On Feb. 3, a Polk County Sheriff’s Deputy served a
subpoena to Drake asking for records of the NLG chapter, including
lists of officers and locations of local offices. The subpoena was
withdrawn Feb. 6 after Drake officials raised questions about laws
protecting student privacy. The subpoena was replaced with an order
to hand over records of the November conference, including lists of
people in attendance and campus security accounts of what was
discussed. This was a clear violation of the First Amendment rights
of those who attended the conference and a blatant infringement on
the NLG’s right to freedom of association.

This kind of federal intrusion into the free speech rights of
anti-war activists, or activists of any kind, is inexcusable and
can potentially breed distrust of the federal government. In a
democratic society, no one should have to fear governmental
harassment and intrusion as a result of voicing opinions. The
federal government is supposed to protect the free speech rights of
all citizens; the practice of prying into private records of
organizations that are critical of current government policy is
incompatible with protecting these rights.

Organizations such as the NLG and the Iowa Civil Liberties Union
that spoke up and fought this over-extension of federal authority
are to be commended for their role in making government more
accountable. If such a federal action is ever undertaken against
activists at this University, the administration should take every
available measure to protect students against government harassment
and unnecessary surveillance.

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