This story was originally published by the WND News Center.
The Rutherford Institute, which works to defend civil and religious rights across America, is warning the University of Virginia against going ahead with a scheme that would involve monitoring the religious and political affiliations of students and faculty – in the name of "diversity."
The comments follow a report in the Daily Progress that noted the school already tracks gender and race. Some board members proposed tracking religious beliefs and political ideologies, too.
They claimed those are needed to "better inform" the school about diversity.
That's a program, the institute said in a letter to the school, that is problematic.
"Any attempt by a government agency to establish a system by which the populace can be targeted, tracked, and singled out based upon their ideological viewpoints and affiliations must be met with extreme caution," said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of "Battlefield America: The War on the American People."
"In an age when the government has significant technological resources at its disposal to not only carry out warrantless surveillance on American citizens but also to harvest and mine that data for its own dubious purposes, whether it be crime-mapping or profiling based on whatever criteria the government wants to use to target and segregate the populace—including race, religion or politics—the potential for abuse is grave."
Rutherford reported it was during a meeting this month of the school's board of visitors that the suggestion was made to track beliefs and politics.
But the report warned "thought crimes" aren't far behind such a plan.
"Indeed, the FBI, CIA, NSA, and other government agencies have already invested in corporate surveillance technologies that can mine constitutionally protected speech on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in order to identify potential extremists and predict who might engage in future acts of anti-government behavior. For example, the government has used surveillance, threat assessments, fusion centers, pre-crime programs, etc., in order to target potential enemies of the state based on their ideologies, behaviors, affiliations, and other characteristics that might be deemed suspicious or dangerous. Moreover, the government has used the phrase 'domestic terrorist' interchangeably with 'anti-government,' 'extremist' and 'terrorist' to describe anyone who might fall somewhere on a very broad spectrum of viewpoints that could be considered 'dangerous, " Rutherford reported.
It said "almost every American" could be an "extremist" on some issues.
The institute told the school: "Yet what the First Amendment assures is the right of citizens to speak truth to power. Thus, institute attorneys conclude, in order for that right to be fully protected—especially in light of the government’s massively expanding characterization of what constitutes 'extremism' and indications of 'domestic terrorism'—citizens must be allowed to associate anonymously without the government compelling them to disclose their political or religious beliefs."
The letter said, "'The vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools,' and '[s]cholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust," the letter said."Therefore it is our hope that the University of Virginia will remain committed to the First Amendment principles that were valued so highly by its founder, Thomas Jefferson, among these are the right to speak, think and associate freely, the right to religious freedom, and the right to criticize the government."