Law & Courts

State Police Spying is Wry Civics Lesson

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — November 11, 2008 1 min read
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The broad net cast by the Maryland State Police as part of a surveillance operation was designed to track suspected terrorists, but instead snared a number of activists—including an educator who gleaned some firsthand lessons for students in his civics class.

Pat Elder, an English and social studies teacher at the Muslim Community School, a private school in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, was targeted in the monitoring operation, he learned from state officials last month. He was among four dozen people linked to various nonviolent organizations, all with no criminal histories or other warning signs, who appeared on the state police watch list, according to reports in The Washington Post.

Mr. Elder, 53, of Bethesda, Md., is a longtime anti-war activist who works with the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth to fight federal rules allowing military recruitment in the nation’s public schools.

Teacher Pat Elder, in shirt and tie, demonstrates at a military recruiting station in Silver Spring, Md.

The incident has provided fresh content for his lessons on constitutional rights, particularly the First and Fourth amendments, he said.

“The constitution was written by very wise men, and they penned the Bill of Rights to protect us—in this case, our freedom of speech and assembly and from unwarranted search and seizure,” he said in an interview. “The Maryland State Police violated my constitutional rights by keeping track of me.”

Mr. Elder has in the past organized demonstrations and campaigns against the mandate in the federal No Child Left Behind Act that schools provide contact information for each student to the U.S. armed forces. Parents can choose to keep their children’s names off the list.

While he says he has never endorsed or participated in violence, being targeted by the surveillance program is “like a badge of honor,” he said.

“We are a danger,” he said of himself and other activists on the list. “We are a threat ...to those who do not respect constitutional law or authority.”

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A version of this article appeared in the November 12, 2008 edition of Education Week

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