Dispatches from the Creation Wars

A DHS fusion center in Tennessee — an agency designed to aid cooperation between state, local and federal officials in anti-terrorism investigations — has put the ACLU of Tennessee on a map of terrorist organizations because it sent a letter to schools warning them about Christmas celebrations and the First Amendment.

A state government anti-terrorism agency placed the Tennessee ACLU on a map of “terrorism events and other suspicious activity” for sending a letter warning public schools not to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday…

On the Fusion Center’s website, the blinking map of Tennessee shows flashing icons. Rolling a computer’s cursor over the icons results in explanations popping up on the screen, none of which have anything to do with major terrorist plots. The ACLU letter was highlighted under the icon for “suspicious activity.”

“ACLU cautions Tennessee schools about observing ‘one religious holiday,'” the website’s explanation reads.

The ACLU is not happy:

“It is deeply disturbing that Tennessee’s fusion center is tracking First Amendment-protected activity,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-Tennessee’s executive director. “Equating a group’s attempts to protect religious freedom in Tennessee with suspicious activity related to terrorism is outrageous. Religious freedom is a founding principle in our Constitution — not fodder for overzealous law enforcement.” …

“While the ostensible purpose of fusion centers, to improve sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different levels and arms of government, is legitimate and important, using the centers to monitor protected First Amendment activity clearly crosses the line,” the ACLU said in a news release.

And the spokesman for the center is spewing nonsense:

Mike Browning, a spokesman for the Fusion Center, said “that was a mistake” to label the ACLU letter as a suspicious activity. He said the Fusion Center meant to use the icon that means merely general information. The icon was changed after the ACLU sent its news release, he said.

“It’s still on the map,” Browning told The City Paper. “It has been reclassified into the general information category.”

But a look at the website shows there is no icon for general information. Instead, the icon for the ACLU letter now signifies “general terrorism news,” according to the website’s legend.

Browning said, “You can argue that you don’t like the word terrorism in there, but it’s just general news that’s provided. That’s the general news category. It doesn’t have anything to do with terrorism. It was just provided to schools as general information.”

After The City Paper pointed out to Browning that the entire map was labeled “terrorism events and other suspicious activity” on the website, that was changed to “open source news reports.”

Don’t you feel safer knowing this is what those fusion centers are spending their time on?