Fourteen Harvard professors and 22 student groups have signed a letter urging Massachusetts congressmen to reject a proposed revision of the federal criminal code which they consider a threat to civil rights.
The letters, which the Seymour Society, a Black Christian social action group, will main today, criticize Senate bill 1630 for what Vern Countryman, Royall Professor of Law, recently called "its draconian provisions on preventive detention and sentencing."
The bill is designed to update and stream-line the enormous body of federal criminal codes, but civil rights activists contend that it will curtail individual liberties by adding a series of new laws against activities such as protesting at nuclear power plants and publishing certain information leaked by government sources.
"I have no opposition to improvements in the current code, but I do regard this as an improvement," said Countryman, who drafted one of the letters.
"The bill is fairly frightening in terms of giving tools to the government to suppress the kind of protests we've seen in this country in the last 15 years or so," said Jonathan R. Beckwith, a biology professor who singed the letter.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54 (D-Mass.) and Strom Thurmond (R-SC) sponsored the bill Democratic leaders in the Senate have expressed dismay that Kennedy normally a liberal, has backed the measure
Seymour Society members asked Country man to write the letter before a rally they sponsored last week at Memorial Church to protest the bill
The bill's effect on Blacks is especially severe because Blacks are disproportionately represented in prisons. Errol T. Louis '83 a member of the Seymour Society and a Crimson editor, said Friday, explaining the society's interest in the legislation
Along with the professor's letter the society is marling a similar letter endorsed by 22 student groups, including the Black Students Association, the South African Solidarity Committee, the Harvard Radcliffe Democratic Club and La Raza.
Three professors contacted by the Seymour Society did not sign the letter, but in recent interviews, none of them expressed any opposition to the cause
Rev. Peter J Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Moral, who said he was reached too late to sign the letter, explained that although he does not usually sign circular letters, this would have been one of the very few exceptions", "Gomes called the proposed code "terrifying," saying that it would create a "repressive atmosphere of fear."
Daniel Bell. Ford Professor of Social Sciences, said he refused to sign the letter because he was not familiar enough about the issue.
Orlando Patterson, professor of Sociology, said that although he had reservations about the bill, he trusted one of its sponsors. "Kennedy wouldn't put his name to a bill which is really fascist," Patterson said.
The other professors who signed the letter are Everett I. Mendelsohn professor of the History of Science: Martin L. Kilson, professor of Government: Hilary W. Putnam. Pearson Professor of Modern Mathematics and Mathematical Logic: Richard C. Lawontin, Agassiz Professor of Zoology: John Womack, professor of History: Ruth Hubbard, professor of Biology: Lee Rainwater, professor of Sociology: Erwin N. Hiebert, professor of the History of Science: Duncan M. Kennedy, professor of Law: Nathan I. Huggins, Dubois Professor of History and Afro-American Studies: George Wald. Higgins Professor of Biology Emeritus: and Stephen Jay Gould, professor of Geology