On July 1, a coalition of 25 Maine-based organizations, ranging from environmental and farming organizations to a council of churches and to health associations, all known as the Environmental Priorities Coalition, produced a five year “trail map” to prosperity that calls for investing in Maine’s environment.

The state’s recognition that its natural beauty helps drive the economy has deep roots, extending back through a long line of politicians, policy makers and business men and women, and to Gov. Baxter. This coalition wants its report to be used as a tool for crafting new and ongoing policies at the State House, and includes specific steps that regulate toxic chemicals, protect farmland, establish regional and mobile food processing centers, convene towns, developers and citizens to build more onshore wind power, provide at least $20 million per year for the Land for Maine’s Future Program and other programs that conserve working farmland and waterfront and protect forests, implement comprehensive state and local transportation planning, ensure no new school construction occurs outside growth areas, and increase funding for pedestrian and biking routes.

This report does not break new ground in presenting ideas for legislators and agency employees in Augusta; rather, it reinforces the political trend over the past decade and more that in order for Maine to be a place where citizens don’t just exist we need to build an economy based on innovative and renewable energy, on farming, on education, on tourism, on university research and on education.

The coalition behind the report consists of diverse interests — the American Lung Association, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Wilderness Society, to name just a few. These groups are also diverse in their own makeup, but in agreeing to set a path for the state, they are in effect building a strong voice in Augusta. If legislators want to know what Mainers are thinking about how to build a new economy, “Investing in Maine’s Environment: A Trail Map to Prosperity, 2010 – 2015” is a solid indicator and worth studying. It is available to read at protectmaine.org.

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The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling June 22 that should be a concern to all citizens who prize freedom of speech.

A majority of the justices ruled that the federal government could punish individuals or groups who provide material support to any organization deemed by the U.S. secretary of state to be a foreign designated terrorist organization. Material support, as defined by the court, is not just weapons or money, but speech, if it is in coordination with anyone considered to be part of a terrorist organization.

The decision was on a challenge of the federal law by the Humanitarian Law Project, which wanted to assist the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. That group is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. The U.S.-based Humanitarian Law Project wanted to work with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party to help it develop peaceful means to advocate for its positions in support of Kurdish people living in Turkey.

The Supreme Court ruled, however, that even advice on how to resolve a dispute peacefully is material support. The majority of justices said a terrorist group could manipulate public opinion somehow by acting like it had peaceful goals while waging a violent struggle.

So what the Supreme Court ruled was that if a peace group in the United States wanted to advise a group that could be designated as a terrorist group for political reasons by a presidential administration, the authors of the advice could be thrown in prison for 15 years. If the Humanitarian Law Project wrote an opinion piece for a newspaper advising a group how it could resolve a dispute peacefully, the author could spend the next 15 years behind bars.

This ruling strikes at the heart of dissent in a country that prides itself on freedom.

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the public has accepted more and more loss of freedom in the name of fighting terrorists. But instead of making us stronger, this weakens the ideals of the United States.

Citizens or groups of individuals should be able to author writings or speak out on a position that is contrary to the official position of the federal government without risk of punishment. Such laws have been used since our country was created. Presidents John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson were in office when dissenters were jailed for beliefs during wartime that were in opposition to the government.

These laws are never acceptable, but in a time when the so-called War on Terror is a never-ending battle, these laws could be abused by those in power to stifle dissent.

Congress and the president should change the law to outlaw only true material support, not speech.