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Sounding Alarm Over Thought Crime Programs, TRI Warns College Against Tracking Religious, Political Ideologies

June 16, 2023

CHARLOTESVILLE, Va. — Responding to a report suggesting that the University of Virginia should consider tracking the religious and political affiliations/ideologies of students and faculty, The Rutherford Institute has warned that such a program would raise significant constitutional concerns, especially as it pertains to the right of citizens to associate anonymously without being compelled by the government to disclose their political or religious beliefs.

“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.”

During a June 2023 meeting of the Board of Visitors for the University of Virginia, it was reportedly suggested that the school track the religious and political affiliations of its students and faculty, purportedly to provide insight of its diversity for constituents. Noting that nothing is ever as simple as the government claims, The Rutherford Institute has warned that such a system, even when justified in the name of ensuring diversity, can quickly lead to a slippery slope in which anyone espousing views that run counter to the official government narrative might be found guilty of thought crimes.

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.” The ramifications are so far-reaching as to render almost every American an extremist in word, deed, thought or by association.

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 Rutherford Institute’s letter to UVA President James E. Ryan is available at

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated, and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.


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