Big Brother at the Olympics

The Olympics are over and the athletes are home, but in Norway an Olympic controversy is still seething. The Norwegian parliament is waging a passionate debate over whether the police did right in kicking out several American prolife activists. It all began when several Norwegian prolife pastors invited American friends to visit during the Olympic games. They would pass out pamphlets, hold up banners, speak against abortion in churches. The Reverend Gordon Peterson and his wife Nancy had relatives in Norway and accepted the invitation gladly. When the Petersons got off the plane in Norway, however, customs officials checked their names against a list, and then started acting very strange. Their baggage was searched, their pro-life literature was confiscated. They were fingerprinted, interrogated, photographed, and kept in a jail-like cell for several hours. That night they were moved to a detention center with a high fence and barbed wire. The following day they were forced to leave the country. What's going on here? Why were peaceful protestors treated like a band of desperados? Every country tries to stop terrorists and drug dealers from crossing their borders, of course. But in this case, Norwegian authorities said, the FBI gave them the names of several prolife protestors. The Norwegians nervously assumed that the prolifers were vicious criminals, intent on disrupting the Olympic games. And so, even though Gordon and Nancy Peterson were not accused of committing any crime, even though the only thing the police found on them were prolife banners, they were harassed for hours and then deported, along with ten other prolife activists. This is outrageous interference in the lives of private citizen by the Norwegians and by our own FBI. The FBI has no business snooping on American citizens, or giving their names to foreign governments, merely because of their political activism. This is a dangerous step toward the criminalizing of political views. Several years ago I wrote a column about the FBI, which at the time was investigating the sanctuary movement. I adamantly disagreed with the sanctuary movement, which was largely leftist-inspired. Still, I argued that the FBI has no business conducting surveillance of a citizen's group just because of its political views. As I wrote back then, "Unless a group is a clear and present danger to national security, its rights of assembly and free speech, and protection against unreasonable search and seizure must never be invaded." I understand the temptation of using police power against groups we disagree with. In fact, when I was in the White House myself, I once urged the FBI to trail Jane Fonda, who was spouting North Vietnamese propaganda. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed. But where are the cooler heads in the state department today? Where is Janet Reno, who should be defending the rights of political protestors? Where is the president, who himself used to organize political protests in foreign countries? It doesn't matter whether you agree with a particular group or not. Once we permit FBI surveillance of any group, just remember: Next time Big Brother could watching me or you.


Chuck Colson



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