The state public safety commissioner apologized Wednesday for placing an ACLU letter about school Christmas parties on an Internet map of suspicious terrorist activities.
The alert about the ACLU letter was removed from the map of “terrorism events and other suspicious activity” on the website operated by the Tennessee Fusion Center, an intelligence branch of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Office of Homeland Security.
“In this case, a decision was made to take it down out of sensitivity,” safety department spokesman Mike Browning told The City Paper.
He said safety department Commissioner Dave Mitchell apologized in a phone conversation with Tennessee ACLU Executive Director Hedy Weinberg.
“He had a conversation with Hedy about the fact that it was placed on the map inappropriately,” Browning said. “Apparently, they are going to have a meeting and have a discussion about this and other issues that are of concern to the ACLU.”
Weinberg called it a case of “really blatant stupidity” on the part of the state intelligence agency.
“There clearly should be some oversight of this agency,” she said. “It’s fine to say it was a mistake and the analyst shouldn’t have put this up [on the Internet map.] But who’s checking the analyst? There needs to be a guideline or principle, perhaps even a law, that protects the citizens’ First Amendment right to protest, to speak out, to do what he or she might want to do without fearing that law enforcement is collecting information about those people’s political or religious views or associations.”
The ACLU sent its letter on Christmas earlier this month to 137 school superintendents in Tennessee. The letter cautioned that holiday celebrations focusing primarily on one religious holiday amount to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The ACLU said it was responding to a number of complaints from families about school Christmas party activities.