- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 21, 2002

The leader of a national pro-life group said he will seek an injunction to stop the Metropolitan Police Department from using its surveillance cameras to monitor next month's annual right-to-life march on Washington.

The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the D.C. -based Christian Defense Coalition, said he was stunned to find out that police plans to monitor the pro-life march and any other peaceful demonstration on the Mall.

"I am absolutely outraged about these cameras," said Mr. Mahoney, a Presbyterian minister. "It is a crushing blow to the First Amendment and free speech activities."

The Washington Times reported yesterday that D.C. police will activate surveillance cameras next month for the first time since city officials passed new legislation on their use. Police officials said they would operate their network of 14 cameras and install more to monitor the International Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) rally Jan. 17 to 19 and the D.C. March for Life on Jan. 22.

Mr. Mahoney, who heads a group of more than 10,000 members, has been involved in pro-life rallies in the District for 28 years and in the March for Life for 13 years.

"There has never been any type of disruption or violence or criminal activity at any of the marches," he said. He has contacted his attorneys at the American Center for Law and Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union to determine if the surveillance can be halted.

Art Spitzer, a lawyer with the ACLU, said the organization will not seek an injunction against the police surveillance of the two events next month. "But we are devoting a great deal of our resources to convince members of the [D.C.] council to oppose that bill," he said.

Police spokesman Kevin Morison said the department will install and activate additional cameras on a temporary basis at Farragut Square, Dupont Circle, Malcolm X Park in Northwest and the Marine Barracks in Southeast to maximize their ability to monitor the demonstrations in the interest of security.

Mr. Morison added that there is no history of violence or any other security problems associated with ANSWER or the pro-life march. But since September 11, police officials believe the need for heightened security has changed as terrorism has become more of a threat.

Other participants in the March for Life such as Priests for Life and Lutherans for Life said they don't believe surveillance is necessary but do not oppose it because they have nothing to hide.

Mr. Mahoney dismissed that argument. "We're talking about moms and dads traveling to the city to speak out against a particular issue," he said.

He said he agreed with D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, that the cameras will have a negative effect on peaceful demonstrations and free-speech activities.

"It's not an issue of 'We're not doing anything wrong, so we don't care,'" Mr. Mahoney said. "Every citizen should stand up and speak out against this because it violates the spirit of the First Amendment."

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