Kim Baldonado, Sue Monroe
The church says this type of surveillance is reminiscent of that felt by the congregation during the McCarthy era. Kim Baldonado reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on August 16, 2013.
A Southern California church has joined 18 other organizations in filing a lawsuit against the National Security Agency, claiming its electronic surveillance program violates the First Amendment right of association.
"The argument is not necessarily that we have been spied upon, but simply the fact the government might be spying on us is creating a chilling effect," said Reverend Rick Hoyt, with the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.
A former NSA worker Edward Snowden in May leaked information about the agency's surveillance programs to British publication The Guardian, sparking a nationwide scandal and debate that has citizens asking where to draw the link between security and personal freedom.
"We have drawn the line far too close to the side of paranoia and security and willingness to lose fundamental freedoms I think are important to us," Hoyt said.
The reverend said this type of surveillance was first felt by this church during the McCarthy era in the 1950s. When the church supported blacklisted Hollywood writers and actors, the FBI took notice.
"The FBI began to send agents to our members' houses and they would send plain clothes agents to our worship services," Hoyt said.
The church continues to take stands on issues, which Hoyt says could make it, and any other outspoken organizations, targets for surveillance and thus make worshippers afraid to join.
President Barack Obama's administration again on Friday promised transparency and defended the NSA's program, despite a report by the Washington Post that said the agency violated several privacy laws thousands of times and went beyond its legal authority.
"These programs are done with the goal of keeping the American people safe and keeping people around the world safe," said Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department.
Hoyt doesn't disagree with that goal, but believes the American public needs to be part of the discussion about balancing security and personal freedoms.