Defending Rights & Dissent, formerly the Bill of Rights Defense Committee & Defending Dissent Foundation, protects the right of political expression to strengthen participatory democracy, and to fulfill the promise of the Bill of Rights for everyone.
Our Vision and Values
Freedom to dissent is essential to a functioning democracy, and every person under U.S. jurisdiction or control is entitled to Bill of Rights protections. At all times and especially when federal, state, or local governments propose or enact laws or policies that threaten or deny those rights, the people organize, exercising those same rights in the service of protecting them. Most people understand that the country cannot be made safer by sacrificing some rights for all or part of its population. When the people know and exercise their rights, the liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights hold firm and remain self-sustaining.
Defending Rights & Dissent is guided by the Bill of Rights, which was adopted to limit the power of the state over individuals and to preserve basic human and individual rights for every person under U.S. jurisdiction or control, even in times of war or other national crises, and regardless of who holds elected power. The standards of the Bill of Rights define the fundamental protections for every person in our society, namely:
- First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to dissent;
- Liberty from unwarranted government intrusion;
- Nondiscrimination and equal protection of the law;
- The expectation of privacy, and protection from unreasonable search and seizure;
- Due process of law and freedom from arbitrary imprisonment via habeas corpus;
- A speedy and public trial by an impartial jury; and
- Protection from cruel and unusual punishment.
We seek to hold government accountable to We the People and create a nation where police and intelligence agencies cannot be used as tools of repression or to silence dissent.
Our work will ensure government accountability and transparency, end profiling based on personal characteristics (such as race, religion, ideology or gender) by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and will protect our private information and activities from unwarranted government spying.
- We build connections across identities and ideologies to expose patterns of government repression.
- We support local coalitions challenging repression and organizing to protect constitutional rights, offering leadership, training, tools and resources to support our grassroots partners.
- We connect grassroots activist to national policy debates, following principle, not political expediency or compromise to advocate for transformative reform.
- We monitor and gather evidence of unconstitutional, illegal, unethical and undemocratic government tactics to illustrate how a variety of movements and people are targeted. We empower and give voice to grassroots activists and movements by highlighting stories of resistance.
As a grassroots advocacy organization wielding limited resources, Defending Rights & Dissent is not in a position to offer individual legal advice or representation.
About the merger of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation
In 2015, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the Defending Dissent Foundation agreed to merge to place both organizations and their respective supporters in an even stronger position to help restore constitutional rights eroded by executive agencies.
While BORDC was established to fight the PATRIOT Act in the wake of its passage under the Bush administration, DDF was founded decades ago to fight the McCarthy-era witch hunt that targeted law-abiding Americans on the basis of their political beliefs. Both organizations are committed to popular constitutionalism, and work with grassroots Americans from all walks of life to help them raise their voices to confront the national security state.
A Bit About Our History
The Defending Dissent Foundation was founded in 1960 as the National Committee to Abolish HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee). By the end of the decade, after a coordinated campaign of lobbying, education, and grassroots organizing and protesting, HUAC was a shadow of its former self. It was officially abolished in 1975. We became the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation in the late 1960’s in order to expand our agenda to include calls for the repeal of the 1968 Anti-riot Act and other legislation that didn’t specifically relate to HUAC but infringed upon the First Amendment.
Over the decades, we have worked against legislation and policies that infringe on our rights. In the early 1970’s, we fought for the repeal of Title ll of the Internal Security Act of 1950 which created a system of preventive detention along the lines of the Japanese Internment Camps of WWll. The Japanese American Citizens League spearheaded the repeal effort and a broad bi-partisan coalition lobbying both in DC and at the grass roots won a victory.
In 2007 we changed our name to Defending Dissent Foundation. We hope to post more about our history, but you can dig deeper by looking at our archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society, or by viewing this documentary, narrated by Ed Asner, on youtube.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee was founded in 2001 to fight the PATRIOT Act. A few weeks after the law passed, the idea for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee was born at a Women’s Congress for Peace gathering in Northampton, Massachusetts. Within a month, participants from the gathering formed a community-based “Bill of Rights Defense Committee” that, in turn, held a community forum and petition drive. Their work culminated with passage of a city council resolution establishing Northampton as a “civil liberties safe zone.”
The idea caught fire, and under the leadership of our first Executive Director, Nancy Talanian, over 400 towns, cities, and even a few states passed similar resolutions over the next few years. Since then, BORDC has grown into a nationwide movement using the successful organizing model developed in Northampton.
Since those early days, the work of BORDC has necessarily expanded beyond calling for repeal of the PATRIOT Act, as the NSA, FBI, CIA, DEA, DHS, and DOJ have perverted other laws, and even the English language, to vastly expand their authorities beyond anything the founding fathers could have imagined. Read more here.