President Obama once called Rep. John Lewis "the conscience of the U.S. Congress." It is that conscience, perhaps, which has prompted Lewis to praise Edward Snowden in the face of White House efforts to prosecute the NSA whistle-blower
Paul Lewis at The Guardian writes:
John Lewis, one of America's most revered civil rights leaders, says the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was continuing the tradition of civil disobedience by revealing details of classified US surveillance programs.Lewis recently demonstrated how seriously he takes government spying when he voted for the Amash-Conyers Amendment, which would have eliminated the NSA's legal justification to engage in bulk phone surveillance (per Section 215 of the Patriot Act). As Lewis noted in the Guardian interview, he views such surveillance to be a troubling issue, and recalled the secret spying done on civil rights leaders in the 60s:
Lewis, a 73-year-old congressman and the last surviving lieutenant of Martin Luther King, said Snowden could claim he was appealing to "a higher law" when he disclosed top secret documents showing the extent of NSA surveillance of both Americans and foreigners.
Asked in interview with the Guardian whether Snowden was engaged in an act of civil disobedience, Lewis nodded and replied: "In keeping with the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence, in keeping with the teaching of Henry David Thoreau and people like Gandhi and others, if you believe something that is not right, something is unjust, and you are willing to defy customs, traditions, bad laws, then you have a conscience. You have a right to defy those laws and be willing to pay the price."
When it was pointed out to Lewis that many in Washington believed that Snowden was simply a criminal, he replied: "Some people say criminality or treason or whatever. He could say he was acting because he was appealing to a higher law. Many of us have some real, real, problems with how the government has been spying on people."Lewis's praise of Snowden, at a time in which the White House is pressing hard to extradite and prosecute him, is politically significant.
He added: "We had that problem during the height of the civil rights movement. People spied on, and got information on Martin Luther King junior, and tried to use it against him, on the movement, tried to plant people within different organisations – that probably led to the destruction of some of those groups."
It has deep symbolic significance as well.