SOA Watch Victory Against Metal Detectors and Illegal Searches: The 11th Circuit Court Upholds the Constitution! Print
Court rules that search policy violates First and Fourth Amendments



Read the Associated Press article.

Read the ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court.




In November of 2002, a week before SOA Watch?s annual gathering at the gates of Fort Benning, the city of Columbus instituted a policy requiring anyone who wished to participate in the SOA Watch vigil to submit to a metal detector search at a checkpoint staffed by Columbus police.



SOA Watch immediately sought a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, alleging that the searches violated individuals? First and Fourth Amendment rights. Two days later, Bush-administration appointee Judge Clay Land dismissed the complaint, effectively upholding the illegal searches. SOA Watch, represented by Bill Quigley, a human rights lawyer and professor of law at Loyola University in New Orleans, and Gerry Weber, legal director of the Georgia ACLU, then appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court.



On Friday, October 15, 2004, the court ruled unanimously that the Columbus City search policy at the SOA Watch protest site violates the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution, and that protesters may not be required to pass through metal detectors to enter the rally site.



?We cannot simply suspend or restrict civil liberties until the War of Terror is over, because the War on Terror is unlikely ever to be truly over,? Judge Gerald Tjoflat wrote for the three-member court. ?Sept. 11, 2001, already a day of immeasurable tragedy, cannot be the day liberty perished in this country.?



The court agreed with SOA Watch that the ?mass, suspicionless, warrantless? metal detector searches violate the Fourth Amendment right of people attending the SOA Watch gathering to be free of ?unreasonable searches and seizures,? adding that while the threat of terrorism is real, ?we cannot use it as the basis for restricting the scope of the Fourth Amendment?s protections in any large gathering of people.?



The Court ruled that the search policy also violates the First Amendment in five ways, including that the policy was implemented based on the content of the protestors? speech. Even putting aside the First Amendment analysis, the Court ruled that the search policy constitutes an ?unconstitutional condition? because protestors were required to surrender their Fourth Amendment rights in order to exercise their First Amendment rights.



Since September 11, 2001, we have seen a dramatic increase in attacks on civil liberties, including the unconstitutional limiting of the ability of citizens to peaceably assemble and ?to petition the government for redress of grievances.? This ruling has far-reaching implications and importance not only for SOA Watch but for all of us struggling to uphold human rights and civil liberties.



It is more important than ever that we gather together again this year at the gates of Fort Benning! We must continue to exercise and uphold these Constitutional rights. Join us November 19-21 to stand up for human rights, for civil liberties, for justice!



Find out more about this November?s gathering.



"The state can't give you free speech, and the state can't take it away. You're born with it, like your eyes, like your ears. Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free..." -- Utah Phillips