Jim Sensenbrenner — the Wisconsin Congressman who widened the powers of law-enforcers to fight terrorism by authoring the Patriot Act — says a 2011 order that prohibits the FBI from entering mosques should be lifted.
"It certainly sets Islamic places of worship at a level that is different from places of worship of any other religious denomination, whether it be Christian or Jewish or Hindu or whatever and that shouldn’t be the case," Sensenbrenner told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.
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Investor's Business Daily reported Thursday that since October 2011, mosques are off-limits to FBI agents, with surveillance and undercover stings banned unless they are approved by a special oversight body at the Justice Department.
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The newspaper said the ban was enacted under pressure from Islamist groups who complained about FBI stings — even though the agency launched many successful operations against homegrown jihadists in mosques and foiled numerous plots.
"You shouldn’t say that a certain denomination's place of worship is a sanctuary," Sensenbrenner said.
"Consequently, the FBI or law enforcement cannot try to find out what is going on in order to protect everybody, including members of that house of worship who might not be a part of this."
He added that the First Amendment is clear that the government cannot choose between a so-called "good religion" and "bad religion."
"The fact of the matter remains that if terrorist acts or any type of crime or felony is being hatched up, there should not be kind of a safe house that’s called a place of worship," Sensenbrenner said.
"I don’t care what religion or what denomination is maintaining such a safe house — that should be wrong. Every religion does have a prohibition against murdering other people."
Sensenbrenner, former Chairman of House Science and House Judiciary Committees, made headlines when he said the National Security Agency's power to collect the phone records and emails of all Americans goes far beyond what the Patriot Act boundaries.
And he told Steve Malzberg the secret court that grants the National Security Agency those powers must be reined in.
"[We must] try to force this FISA court to follow the law . . . [It's] orders requiring the phone companies and the internet companies to go far beyond what the Patriot Act required was simply a rubber stamping," he said.
"Their power is too much . . . The federal courts are supposed to protect our Constitutional rights and I guess they do a better job of that when they don’t meet in secret."
He acknowledged there is divided opinion on whether surveillance of Americans has gone too far and steps on the right to privacy, but added "more and more Republicans are telling me, you know, thank you for standing up for this.
"I consider myself a terrorist hawk but I also consider myself one whose obligation is to balance the civil liberties and Constitutional protections that have made American different with the need for security," he said.
"A police state is completely secure. We never want that to happen here."
Sensenbrenner said he hopes the United States will be able to apprehend Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who revealed the existence of the agency's surveillance programs to the press.
But whether he can be tried on the charge of treason is doubtful, he added.
"He should be extradited and tried for unlawfully revealing classified information," Sensenbrenner said.
"[But] getting a treason rap on anybody is really, really tough and we haven’t had many of those occur in the history of this country because it does require two witnesses in the Constitution."
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