Monday, January 30, 2006

When Harry met Spot

This is too much.
If marriage isn't defined as only a union between one man and one woman, state Rep. Arthur D. Hershey believes people will want to marry animals.

Hershey, of Cochranville, who represents the 13th District, was one of about 90 legislators, including four others from Chester County, to cosponsor the Marriage Protection Act, a bill introduced Tuesday to constitutionally define marriage in Pennsylvania.

Hershey said this week that without the bill, "down the road, people will want to marry their dogs and horses to get benefits."

Daily Local News: 5 county lawmakers co-sponsor marriage bill

Where do they come up with this stuff? Oh, I know. Rick Santorum.

If nothing else, some reps provide quality yucks. You have to laugh. Otherwise, you'll cry. Or scream. Or bang your head against the wall.

Thankfully, reps like Hershey do an excellent job of destroying their own credibility.

Andy in H-burg

Criminal justice reform discussed at capitol

There's a headline that will make some heads turn. Today the PA Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on S1069, a bill introduced by committee chair Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) that would establish the Innocence Commission of Pennsylvania. This commission would be tasked with investigating why innocent people are convicted of crimes in Pennsylvania and would be made up of prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, police, corrections officials, victims advocates, academics, and reps from criminal justice organizations.

It's a bold step by Greenleaf, a former prosecutor, and it is a bi-partisan effort with five Republicans and seven Democrats as co-sponsors.

Witnesses today included three exonerated Pennsylvanians- Nicholas Yarris of Philadelphia, who spent more than 20 years on Pennsylvania's death row and was nearly ready to accept execution until DNA evidence cleared him; Thomas Doswell of Pittsburgh, who spent 19 years in prison for a rape before DNA evidence cleared him, thanks, in part, to a DNA bill Greenleaf helped pass in 2002; and Vincent Moto of Philadelphia, who was wrongly imprisoned on a rape charge for more than 10 years and whose story is featured in the movie After Innocence, as is Yarris.

The witnesses, who also included representatives from the Innocence Project, Duquesne School of Law, Justice & Mercy, and United Methodist Witness, highlighted several issues that lead to wrongful convictions, including mistaken eyewitness identification, false confessions, and inadequate representation for the poor.

"That is one of the worst problems, inaccurate or coerced identification," Yarris said.

Stephen Saloom, Policy Director of the Innocence Project, noted that a majority of the nation's 174 DNA exonerations have included mistaken eyewitness identification.

"Mistaken eyewitness identifications contributed to 75% of the underlying wrongful convictions proven by DNA evidence," Saloom said. "In many cases, there were multiple mistaken eyewitness identifications of an innocent person as the true perpetrator."

Saloom and Duquesne Professor John Rago both stated that, as written, this commission could be "a model" for the rest of the country.

"The innocence commission crafted by this bill could be one of the nation's best," Saloom said.

Andy in H-burg

Friday, January 27, 2006

Deja Vu

You know it's a sad day when it's difficult to keep track of which government agencies are spying on which Americans. In our offices, we have actually been heard to say, "Now which spying case is this again?"

In the past couple of months, it's been shown that the NSA has been illegally wiretapping US citizens, and that the Pentagon has been keeping a database on anti-war protestors and groups who protest at recruiting stations (although the latter story received little press attention).

Now these are not to be confused with the FBI's misuse of Joint Terrorism Task Forces to engage in surveillance of non-violent activist groups. In Colorado, for instance, one memo the ACLU obtained indicated an ongoing federal interest in Food Not Bombs, a group that provides free vegetarian food to hungry people and protests war and poverty.

Clearly the powers that be were not history majors, and we're now doomed to repeat the abuses of power of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Sara in Philly

Thursday, January 26, 2006

That pesky 4th amendment

General Michael V. Hayden, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence and the former director of the NSA, tried to give a tutorial on the Fourth Amendment at the National Press Club on Monday.
QUESTION: ...I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use --

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But the --

GEN. HAYDEN: That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says --

QUESTION: The court standard, the legal standard --

GEN. HAYDEN: -- unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: The legal standard is probable cause, General. You used the terms just a few minutes ago, "We reasonably believe." And a FISA court, my understanding is, would not give you a warrant if you went before them and say "we reasonably believe"; you have to go to the FISA court, or the attorney general has to go to the FISA court and say, "we have probable cause." And so what many people believe -- and I'd like you to respond to this -- is that what you've actually done is crafted a detour around the FISA court by creating a new standard of "reasonably believe" in place in probable cause because the FISA court will not give you a warrant based on reasonable belief, you have to show probable cause. Could you respond to that, please?

GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. I didn't craft the authorization. I am responding to a lawful order. All right? The attorney general has averred to the lawfulness of the order.

Just to be very clear -- and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me -- and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one -- what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe -- I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.

(My bold)

So what, exactly, does the Fourth Amendment say?
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

(My bold again, the Framers couldn't change their font, unless they dipped for more ink)

NY Times: Leader who worked to reshape agency's image is on the defensive

Andy in H-burg

A permanent police force: United States Secret Service Uniformed Division

Those are not words that I created. They are from Section 605 of the USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization conference report. The jurisdiction of this crew would be the major players in the executive branch,foreign diplomats, and "a special event of national significance" (The World Series of Poker?).

Here's my favorite part:
(b)(1) Under the direction of the Director of the Secret Service, members of the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division are authorized to--
...(B) make arrests without warrant for any offense against the United States committed in their presence

Paul Craig Roberts had this to say:
The language conveys enormous discretionary and arbitrary powers. What is "an offense against the United States"? What are "reasonable grounds"?

You can bet that the Alito/Roberts court will rule that it is whatever the executive branch says.

The obvious purpose of the act is to prevent demonstrations at Bush/Cheney events. However, nothing in the language limits the police powers from being used only in this way. Like every law in the US, this law also will be expansively interpreted and abused. It has dire implications for freedom of association and First Amendment rights.

Unfathomed dangers in Patriot Act reauthorization

Andy in the HBG

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sticking it to the (Straw) Man

A commmon tactic to gain support for restricting civil liberties is to build a Straw Man out of the opposition, which is then easy to tear down.

Karl Rove has mad skills in this department when he talks about the PATRIOT Act or the NSA spying scandal, as a good editorial in today's Philly Inquirer points out.

Speaking of the PATRIOT Act, did you know that today is National PATRIOT Act Call-In Day? Yeah, we got the memo kind of late, too. Oh well...they'll probably be just as excited to hear from us tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The legislature's back and we're gonna be in trouble

We have a joke in our office about how our civil liberties are safer when the legislature isn't in session. Well, we aren't laughing today. The legislature came back from the break today, and eighty-nine of the 203 representatives in the PA House lined up to co-sponsored HB 2381, or what the other side calls the "Marriage Protection Amendment." We like to call it the "Let's Write Discrimination into the Constitution! Amendment." (A personal aside: Can someone please, please explain to me why some people are so interested in controlling the personal lives of others? I sincerely just don't get it.)

The one bright spot in Harrisburg today was that the House Judiciary Committee did not get to House Bill 698 on mental retardation and the death penalty. The version they would be looking at would have a determination of mental retardation made by the jury after they've convicted the defendant. (We, and advocates for the mentally retarded like ARC, support a different version of the bill which states that a judge would make the determination before the trial. For more on this issue see yesterday's blog entry.) Nonetheless, we expect this bill to surface again soon, so call your representative if he or she happens to be on the Judiciary Committee to encourage him or her NOT to support HB 698. Here's a list of the committee and their phone numbers.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A New Hope

It's common for ACLU-PA staff to do presentations with groups of students, including high school students. What is not so common is for our staff to do presentations where the program for the evening includes 11 punk bands, but that is exactly what I did on Saturday night.

And it was great.

A youth center in suburban Harrisburg asked us to take part in their "Activist Night", an evening of music and preparation for some of the center's members to go to D.C. to protest the State of the Union speech on Jan 31. Since these young people would be traveling to Washington to exercise their right to free speech, it seemed appropriate to screen the Dissent episode of The Freedom Files, our new television program. Afterwards, we held a Q&A session.

I could not help but be impressed by the awareness of social issues and eagerness to learn more about our rights that this group exhibited. There were about 50-60 teens on hand, and, by and large, they gave me their attention throughout. They were very respectful, too.

When they asked questions about their rights, particularly at school, they weren't asking because they want to create websites to criticize their teachers or to protest the menu in the cafeteria. They were asking because they want to hand out pamphlets to protest war. They wanted to know how far they could go at school in opposing government policies. They wanted to know about not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem as a form of political speech.

When I talked about the Patriot Act, the NSA spying program, LGBT rights, and other issues, there were heads nodding in the audience. These young people know what's up.

I was in awe, and I say that not because the ACLU necessarily endorses these positions (for example, we take no position on war) but because these were teens so ready and willing to use their right to free speech.

Young people get rapped for being unaware and apathetic, but that was not my experience Saturday night. The next time you see a young person with noserings, dyed hair, or a leather jacket loaded with studs (or the next time you see any teen, for that matter), you might be looking at the next generation of civil libertarians.

Andy in the HBG

3 1/2 years later...

...the PA legislature might finally act on the Atkins v. Virginia decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that ended the execution of the mentally retarded. The Court ended the practice but left the states to figure out how to git it done.

But wait! Even when directed by the SCOTUS, this bunch in Harrisburg still might find a way to screw it up. Tomorrow the PA House Judiciary Committee will take up House Bill 698, a bill that only a prosecutor could love. HB 698 would require that the determination on retardation be made after conviction by the jury. After going through an entire trial and recognizing the defendant's guilt, the jury is expected to give an objective opinion on whether or not the defendant is retarded. Plus, this procedure means that everyone on said jury is "death-qualified", which means they all support the death penalty. Like I said, it's a bill that only a prosecutor could love and that only a PA legislator could think is constitutional.

Meanwhile, out here in the rationally thinking world, advocates for the mentally retarded, church groups, and civil libertarians support HB 1410, which would require that the determination on retardation be made pre-trial by the judge.

According to The Death Penalty Information Center, eight states have implemented post-Atkins standards. Six have opted for pre-trial determination, Virginia chose post-trial, and Louisiana is pre-trial, if the prosecutor agrees. (Stop laughing.) Fittingly, a Louisiana state court found the state's procedure to be unconstitutional for multiple reasons, including the use of a "death-qualified" jury.

You know what to do.

Andy, Harrisburg

Anyone have a black helicopter we can borrow?

Thomas More Center President Richard Thompson exercised his free speech rights recently in an article about the ACLU in Saturday's Patriot News. (As you may remember, Thomas More Center represented the Dover Area School District in the intelligent design case.)

"I think you always have to keep in mind, the ACLU's purpose is to destroy the foundation of Americans," said Richard Thompson. "[The ACLU] wants to remove the basic moral and religious foundations upon which the nation was founded, to move the nation to a one-world government, and they do this under the pretext of enforcing the Constitution -- which over the years they have successfully changed through litigation."

I must confess, the "one-world government" bit is a new one to me. Points for creativity, Mr. Thompson. (But not, alas, for accuracy.)

Sara in Philly

Friday, January 20, 2006

No rest for the weary

To think that years ago I used to be envious of those who lived through the civil rights and civil liberties battles of the '60s. Is it too late to take it back? I had no idea how exhausting living in a time of relentless attacks on our freedoms could be.

Speaking of the '60s, even those hotbeds of '60s rebellion, university campuses, aren't safe anymore. (Although perhaps that's no coincidence.) Yesterday's news was full of revelations that the UCLA Bruin Alumni Group is offering students $100 to record and report on "radical" statements made in the classroom by "leftist" professors. Check out the Bruin Alumni Association website, which has a special "expose" on all the "radical petitions" that UCLA professors have signed. Last time I checked the right to petition the government and the right to free speech were covered by the Bill of Rights. But maybe they took it out while I wasn't looking. (And don't think they're above trying it.) At least several members of the Alumni Association had the sense to resign when it became clear what the association was doing.

Well, rest up this weekend, my fellow weary civil libertarians. Next week brings us anti-gay marriage amendment proposals in the Pennsylvania House and likely the Senate as well, along with a bad bill on mental retardation and the death penalty in the House Judiciary Committee. More on those next week.

Sara in Philly

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why marriage matters

Andrew Sullivan sums up the importance of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples today at the Daily Dish.
In Oklahoma, a gay cowboy couple brought up three kids on a ranch. They did fine - "I was raised to be independent. I didn't really care what other people thought," - until one of them died. Now, because there is no legal protection for their relationship, the surviving husband has lost everything.

The Daily Dish: "Brokeback" Today

Freedom: It's not just for liberals anymore

For nearly a year now, the ACLU has been working on Patriot Act reform with Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, a coalition of mostly conservative groups, including the American Conservative Union, Gun Owners of America, the Libertarian Party, and Americans for Tax Reform, among others. With former Congressman Bob Barr as the chair, it has been a positive and productive relationship. Mr. Barr visited central PA in May and June to articulate why all Americans- liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican (or otherwise)- should be concerned about the Patriot Act.

On Tuesday, PRCB stood up again for freedom by calling on Congress to hold "open, substantive oversight hearings" on the administration's warrant-free domestic surveillance program.
"When the Patriot Act was passed shortly after 9-11, the federal government was granted expanded access to Americans' private information," said Barr. "However, federal law still clearly states that intelligence agents must have a court order to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans on these shores. Yet the federal government overstepped the protections of the Constitution and the plain language of FISA to eavesdrop on Americans' private communication without any judicial checks and without proof that they are involved in terrorism."

Meanwhile, earlier today, I was checking out The Hill and found this archived op-ed by David Keene, chair of the American Conservative Union, on the Patriot Act.
Specter opposed last week's filibuster on the grounds that he had negotiated everything he could and going back for more just wouldn't work.

He may have been right before the revelations about the far more widespread use of what are known as national-security letters by the FBI than anyone had suspected (as many as 30,000 having been issued in just one year according to some reports) and the New York Times story revealing that the president had directed the National Security Agency to gather information on U.S. citizens, in direct violation of existing law, but members of both parties last week began to express concerns about what seems to be going on in the name of fighting terrorism.

Here at the ACLU, we don't check your political affiliation at the door. If you believe in the Bill of Rights, join the party. (That's Lisa and Amy Laura spinning wax on the turntable.)

Andy in H-burg

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Free speech prevails in Pittsburgh

You don't have to have money and favor with the powers-that-be to march in Pittsburgh.

"The city's new permitting system should allow everyone - rich and poor, popular and unpopular - to use public spaces to deliver their message," Witold "Vic" Walczak, the Pennsylvania Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Wednesday.

AP: City, ACLU reach agreement on parade permit case

Now even Broncos fans can get a permit.

Andy in the HBG

Standing up for American values

It's not unusual for we Americans to reflect on our country's values around certain holidays- 4th of July, Memorial Day, maybe Election Day. The Questionable Authority found inspiration at a most unusual time and place- a Hawaiian luau.
(T)hey close the luau by recognizing and thanking the veterans of the various wars for their service, then by recognizing those who are currently in the service. The final song is a stirring rendition of Lee Greenwood's Proud to be an American, complete with a standing audience and candles.

Usually (we've taken family to this luau a few times now) I more or less blow off the conclusion. I mean, I stand and sing with everyone else, but it isn't exactly what I'd call a thought-provoking moment. Last night was different.

Last night, I started out by thinking about what I could do to show my pride in this country, and what I could do to defend America and American Values. I tried to join the military some years back, but was medically disqualified, so that was out, but I was still feeling a bit guilty. My wife is on active duty, and does her part, but what do I do? What could I do? Then, as I thought about the last verse of the song, it came to me:

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

In a sudden moment of clarity, I realized that there was something I could do, even if it wasn't much, to do my part to defend the things that this country stands for.

I went home, went online, and joined the ACLU.

Because freedom can't protect itself.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Conservatives are "irony-challenged" on marriage

so says Dimitri Vassilaros, in yesterday's Pittsburgh Tribune Review article, "The Marriage Protection Racket," about the proposed PA constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

"Whenever a judge or legislative body in a state say that homosexuals have the
same marriage rights as heterosexuals, it promotes more marriage.
Denying gays and lesbians that right is anything but protecting marriage
-- it's attacking it. The gays are the ones trying to protect it. "

Like he said.

State Rep. Scott W. Boyd (R-Lancaster) intends to introduce his Marriage Protection Amendment on January 24th (i.e. next week). The language of the amendment goes like this:
"Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this commonwealth, and neither the commonwealth now nor any of its political subdivisions shall create or recognize a legal status identical or substantially equivalent to that of marriage for unmarried individuals."
The PA Constitution currently prohibits the denial "to any person the enjoyment of any civil right, nor discriminate against any person in the exercise of any civil right." Vassilaros says "What part of "any" do they not understand?"

Sooo, PA residents, don't forget to give a call to your legislator's office about this pesky amendment. You know the drill: it's unnecessary and divisive, it's hostile to LGBT families and their constituents don't support it. Find more talking points here.

Amy Laura in the Philadelphia office


"This just in, and I think it's very exciting: in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day, the FBI has just announced that, just for today, they're going to spy on all Americans." Jon Stewart, on the Daily Show (1/16/06)

So, it seems that the FBI has actually been quite disgruntled with the NSA policy of widespread domestic surveillance and the vast quantity of pointless post-9/11 leads that the Agency was required to follow up on, which have led to "dead-ends or innocent Americans." In today's New York Times article, an unamed official noted that FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has raised questions about "the legal rationale for a program of eavesdropping without warrants."

We at the ACLU have a few questions about this as well, as do Greenpeace, Council on American-Islamic Relations and five journalists and scholars

"who frequently communicate by phone and e-mail with people in the Middle East [and] believe their communications are being intercepted by the NSA under the spying program."

These organizations are the named plaintiffs in the ACLU's suit against the NSA, which was announced today and is profiled in another New York Times article. The Center for Constitutional Rights has also announced that they're bringing a suit against the NSA, on behalf of "four lawyers at the center and a legal assistant there who work on terrorism-related cases at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and overseas."

Amy Laura in the Philadelphia office

Monday, January 16, 2006

Just another holiday?

How do you keep Martin Luther King Day from becoming just another excuse for a three day weekend? According to today's editorial from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, you need to start 'working toward achieving the civil rights leader's goals.'

OK, that sounds good, but what does it really mean? For Pennsylvanians, it could mean a lot of things. It could mean contacting your state representative to express your opposition to HB 1318, and especially toward any move to reinsert the Barrar amendment, which would disenfranchise ex-offenders on probation or parole.

Or it could mean visiting and learning more about the campaign to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, key sections of which are set to expire in 2007 unless Congress acts to renew them.

Or maybe you could watch the most recent episode from the ACLU's TV series, which happens to be about racial profiling.

And then there's always the death penalty, with its disproportionate impact on the African-American community both in Pennsylvania and nationwide.

So, although it sounds a little corny and preachy, it's good to remember some things that make MLK Day more than an excuse for a three day weekend (Though Pittsburgh may also have needed a day to recover from the Steelers game. I fell asleep last night to the sound of my drunk neighbors firing shots into the air).

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Virginia dodges a bullet

So to speak.

Washington Post: DNA tests confirm guilt of executed man

What this situation has shown is that the focus on wrongful executions is greater than ever.

AP: Did Missouri execute an innocent man?
Chicago Tribune: Texas man executed on disproved forensics
Houston Chronicle: Did Texas execute an innocent man?

AP: Real ID a real nightmare for DMVs

The Associated Press is reporting that the Real ID Act is the kind of nightmare that is keeping motor vehicle administrators up at night.
"It is just flat out impossible and unrealistic to meet the prescriptive provisions of this law by 2008," Betty Serian, a deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said in an interview.

ACLU-PA hit the ground running after the passage of Real ID and has already spoken publicly on the issue with civic clubs, libertarians, and immigrant organizations. We responded to the AP story this afternoon:
"Civil liberties groups, conservative groups, immigration groups - we've all been saying that Real ID will be a real disaster and needs to be revisited by Congress," said Larry Frankel, Legislative Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. "These documents indicate that PennDOT officials - the people actually responsible for carrying out this ill-conceived law - also have serious problems with Real ID."

This is also from our press release:
"Pennsylvania officials are right to be concerned," said Frankel. "Real ID not only means a national ID, but it will also mean higher taxes and fees, longer lines, repeat visits to licensing centers, bureaucratic snafus, and, for a lot of people, the inability to obtain a license. To top it off, it will do little if anything to prevent terrorism."

Frankel noted that the national survey responses showed that the concerns expressed by Pennsylvania's officials are broadly shared by motor vehicles administrators around the United States. For example, no state that responded to the survey seems to believe it is possible in the near future to link all the motor vehicle information databases between all states, as the statute requires. And 3 in 4 states reacted with "medium" to "high" concern to Real ID's extensive new document-verification requirements, which they said would involve major systems changes and increased hiring - and that is assuming that AAMVA or the federal government will build electronic systems for verification.

Full text of press release

National ACLU has launched a new website on this issue at

At least the DMV'ers are maintaining a good sense of humor:
And a new record-sharing provision of Real ID was described by an Illinois official as "a nightmare for all states."

"Can we go home now??" the official wrote.

Andy, H-burg

Live from Guantanamo Bay

When the secret military tribunal system was first announced, who could have imagined that representatives of the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights First and two dozen international reporters would get to watch the proceedings? Well, that's exactly what is happening, as ACLU national staff attorney Ben Wizner reports at national's blog.

Intelligent design challenge in Cali

LA Times: 1st suit in state to attack "Intelligent Design" filed

So ID has gone west to find its fortune. Over the last year, it has been said often, including by ACLU-PA, that ID would not violate Amendment 1 in a philosophy course, but we weren't thinking of The Philosophy of Why Evolution is Nonsense and Creationism Rules.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars has been eyeing this story:
The first syllabus was incredibly blatant in advocating creationism and looks as though it was thrown together on the back of a cocktail napkin. It includes a list of some 19 creationist videos to be shown and not a single resource on evolution to be used. Perhaps the most amusing thing about the original syllabus is that it includes as a speaker "Francis Krich - evolutionist". Apparently, someone recommended to the teacher that she ask Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA along with James Watson to speak to the class. Good idea, except for the fact that he's dead.

Dover Part 2, with a twist

The Questionable Authority is also on the case:
First, let's be clear about one thing: this is not a class that is having students "learn about material that some people consider religious." As Casey (Luskin, Discovery Institute attorney) admits, this is a class that "advocates for young-earth creationism and teaches out of the Bible. [emphasis mine]" Advocating for something is not the same as teaching about it.

Second, the young-earth creationist position is not "material that some people consider religious." It is a religious position. You need look no further than the various statements of faith that the different young-earth groups support to see that.

Spinning creationism back into the classroom

Press release from Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Andy in H-burg

Monday, January 09, 2006

Academic Freedom Showdown Part 1

Were the hearings on academic freedom a "collosal waste of time," as Rep. Surra has attested?
Not according to Temple University President David Adamany and Robert O'Neil, founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, who were happy to use the hearings to assess and publicize policies around academic freedom and promote the need for self-regulation within campuses.

But, is academic freedom at risk?
While Temple "regularly receives complaints on all manner of things on campus," Adamany has heard of no "instances in which students have complained about inappropriate intrusion of political advocacy in their courses... [or] improper grading because of their views."

O'Neil broke it down further, refuting the accusations involved in some of the more heavily publicized national cases at Columbia, U of Colorado or Northwest University School of Engineering. Investigation into each of these has uncovered that even teachers with the most "outrageous views, like leftist activist Ward Churchill or Holocause denier Arthur R. Butz, had kept their politics out of their classrooms.

Adamany and O'Neil both focused instead on the need for self-regulation, not governmental intrusion. "Our students are an assertive group," stated Adamany. Added O'Neil, "We are a society that relies heavily on the ability [of citizens] to assert their rights. I would not like to be the kind of society that monitors people at random." Rep. Frankel shared his "belief that the intent [of the hearings] was to make the state government more invasive..." which could diminish the "economic viability and academic reputation" of the state university system.

Rep. Armstrong seemed to think that extensive government oversight was essential. Armstrong, who dominated the questioning on the first day of the hearings, was particularly concerned with a Temple faculty forum called Dissent in America that included speakers critical of HR 177.

Armstrong: Is it appropriate to rally faculty against the government?
Adamany: The university did not rally faculty...The right of people to
assemble is constitutionally guaranteed.
Armstrong: Is it appropriate to present a one-sided discussion at a faculty senate event?
Adamany: The faculty senate has a right to express their views [and] an active citizenry is a protection [against infringement on rights].
Armstrong wanted assurance that there were federal guarantees for a
counter protest and was personally "disappointed, as someone who fought for this
country, that he was not given the opportunity to speak" in favor of the
resolution. Armstrong also focused on the supposed disparity on campuses
between "liberals" and "conservatives." "How would you explaing the disparity
10:1 or 40:1?" he asked. Others, like Frankel, pointed out to Armstrong that different schools within a university have faculty with differing political viewpoints and that university trustees are predominently conservative.

O'Neil responded: "no one has ever asked me what party I belong to... I don't think it's anyone else's business..."

ACLU announces opposition to Alito

It was quite eye opening to discover first thing this morning that the national ACLU board voted for only the third time in its history to oppose a nominee for the US Supreme Court (the other two were William Rehnquist and Robert Bork). Generally, we do not take a position on judicial nominees, in part because we could appear before them. Here's the ACLU's press release on our opposition to Alito.

Last month the national ACLU prepared a very thorough report on Alito. You can download it here.

Finally, Some Serious Reality TV

Hey couch potatoes (or is that potatos?). In case you don't have Link TV, you can now stream online the ACLU's new TV series The Freedom Files. Check out Dead Prez in the Racial Profiling episode, and Lewis Black in the Dissent episode. And stay tuned for upcoming episodes, which will highlight issues like lesbian and gay rights, religious freedom, and voting rights.

Friday, January 06, 2006

VA Governor orders DNA testing in case of executed man

Being the anti-death penalty kinda gal that I am, I just wanted to acknowledge the unprecedented decision by Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner to order DNA testing that could prove the guilt or innocence of a man executed in 1992.

According to the Washington Post, Warner said yesterday in a statement, "I believe we must always follow the available facts to a more complete picture of guilt or innocence." This should not be a revolutionary statement from someone in government, but it is.

Despite the 122 death row exonerees, prosecutors and other officials around the country continually deny that any innocent person has been executed. They have repeatedly fought attempts to reexamine DNA evidence in cases where the convicted person has been executed, clearly fearing what the outcome of that testing might reveal about both the specific case and the American criminal justice system.

The test results in the Coleman case are expected as early as next week. No matter what they are, the ramifications of this step are huge. It's high time people realized that the justice system should be about getting at the truth, not about getting convictions.

Sara in Philly

Lady Liberty tips her torch to North Middleton Township

"With liberty and justice for all."
As the words of the Pledge of Allegiance faded, and chairs scraped as audience members took their seats, the North Middleton Township Zoning Hearing Board meeting began on Thursday night.

The Board was scheduled to hear the appeal of the Peace Centre, a Muslim school and prayer facility in the Cumberland County township. In October 2005, Township officials sent the Centre a cease and desist letter, telling it that it could not operate as a school and worship facility because the building was located in an industrial zone. Through its attorney, Carl C. Risch, the Peace Centre disputed the Township's position and asked for a variance, which would permit the Centre to operate in the industrial zone.

After testimony from one of the Centre's administrators and community members, the three Board members deliberated. One of the Board members paused and looked out at the audience, where supporters of the Peace Centre sat waiting anxiously. The Board member noted our country's long tradition of religious liberty, then made a motion to grant the Centre a variance. The two other board members agreed and within moments, the variance was granted.

The words of the Pledge of Allegiance -- liberty and justice for all -- were heard loud and clear in Cumberland County. Lady Liberty sends her thanks.

Paula in Harrisburg

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The undignified, ugly thrashing of Judge Jones

One can just hope that this is the final wail of a dying movement (please, God, deliver us from these people), but the intelligent design crowd can't resist thrashing Judge Jones for his decision in the Dover case. Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum and John West of the Discovery Institute are the latest, but at least they learned something from the trial. Like the Dover School Board members before them, they both use misinformation to make their point.

First, Phyllis, whose column "False judge makes mockery of case for 'intelligent design'" has all sorts of problems, but here is one of the more obvious:
He lashed out at witnesses who expressed religious views different from his own, displaying a prejudice unworthy of our judiciary. He denigrated several officials because they "staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public."

There's one slight problem there, Phyl. You didn't put the quote in context. Here's what Judge Jones actually wrote in the opinion:
It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

And it is equally ironic that Phyl then took the quote out of context to misinform her readers.

Then there's West, who wrote this at "Are the newsmedia reinventing Judge Jones?" (nice grammar, by the way):
In addition, Judge Jones does not seem in sync with most conservatives' attitudes toward crime and punishment. During his confirmation hearings, he spoke with pride about defending a murderer of a twelve-year old boy and how he was able to get the murderer spared from the death penalty:

I served for 10 years, Madam Chairwoman, as an assistant public defender in Schuylkill County, and so very frequently I found myself enmeshed in unpopular areas representing unpopular people. In particular, in 1989, I represented an individual who was alleged to have murdered a 12-year-old boy. It was, as you can imagine, coming from a small town, a highly charged atmosphere. We had a week-long trial. I represented him throughout in a most difficult circumstance, with the community at large very much against him. He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case... I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.

The Questionable Authority did a great job picking up on this one.
Desperate, pathetic, and disgusting- DI's West on Judge Jones
What West did was to selectively omit material, resulting in a passage that looks like it means something a bit different from what the author actually said.

To see the omission, see QA's post. He goes on:
Jones' isn't saying that he's proud that he kept the guy off of death row, he's saying that he was proud to take on an unpopular case because that was his duty as a public defender.

And it was his duty, and he should be proud of that. This country was not founded with the sort of "fry 'em all and let God sort it out mentality" that seems to be promoted by some these days. The founders of this country deliberately decided to use a justice system based on an assumption of innocence, and to make sure that anyone accused of a crime was entitled to a proper defense. Supporting that powerful principle should not be a mark of "liberalism," or indicate that someone doesn't have the "right" view of crime and punishment. Supporting the right of anyone accused of a crime to an adequate defense should be - is - an American Value.

A lawyer who is providing the defense for an accused criminal has the same obligation to the client whether he or she was hired by the accused or assigned the case as a public defender. That obligation is simple and clear: the lawyer must defend the client to the best of their abilities. Nothing less should be acceptable.

John West has become so desparate for ammunition to use to attack the decision and the judge that he is apparently willing to resort to dishonesty and false witness. In this case, he has overstepped the bounds of human decency. He has tried to take a lawyer's account of doing the right thing for a client - a lawyer demonstrating the ideals of the American justice system - and twist it into a "soft on crime" attack.

No elaboration needed. QA nailed it.

Andy in the HBG

Where's the FIRE?

In apparent preparation for Monday's good times at Temple University, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) seems to be on the campaign trail in support of HR177, the so-called "academic freedom" witch hunt. Today's (Harrisburg) Patriot News features an op-ed by Charles Mitchell, a program officer at FIRE.

Speech codes make universities intolerant

Charles is absolutely right. University speech policies that restrict student speech, force students to hold protests in one 10'x10' patch of grass on campus, etc. violate our most basic freedoms. In fact, nationally, the ACLU has advised and defended students on this issue.
ACLU of Virginia asks Hampton University to accomodate student free speech on campus
George Mason University drops charges against student arrested for protesting campus military recruiters

During a recent presentation at Shippensburg University on free speech, ACLU-PA staff attorney Paula Knudsen used the Bair v. Shippensburg University, a FIRE case, to highlight free speech on campus. Shippensburg's policy included provisions that stated, "The expression of one's beliefs should be communicated in a manner that does not provoke, harass, intimidate or harm another," and, "No person shall participate in acts of intolerance that demonstrate malicious intent toward others." The court found in favor of the plaintiff in a decision decided by none other than Judge John E. Jones III.

But here's the rub: HR177 is not about university speech codes. It's about certain legislators attempting to smoke out faculty whose political views don't line up with their own. In fact, The Penn Stater, the magazine of the PSU alumni association, features a cover story this month on this issue. (Unfortunately, it's not available online.) Reporter Dan Morrell sets up the story with anecdotal evidence of possible discrimination by faculty and a recap of the legislature's action and then delivers the punchline in the story's second-to-last page:
(T)he committee asked Penn State to submit a list of all of the complaints it had received in the last five years that dealt with the issues of academic freedom. In a university of more than 80,000 students, during a period when more than 177,000 courses were taught, only 13 complaints had been filed.

Where's the fire? There is no fire. HR177 is a solution in search of a problem.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Circus Comes to Town

Ready for the next wave of "academic freedom" hearings? If you are looking for a good time and live in the Philadelphia area, drop by Temple University next week. The hearings established by Pennsylvania HR177 will begin on Monday, January 9th at 1 p.m., and will continue on January 10th at 9 a.m. The show will take place at the Temple University Student Center in Rooms B & C.

If the hearings are anything like those held in Pittsburgh last November, they are a spectacle not to be missed. For readers not residing in Philly, stay tuned--we'll report back on all the good stuff.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

A Good Day in Dover

Although it wasn't exactly a surprise, it was still nice to hear that the Dover Area school board voted 7-1 last night against appealing Judge Jones' ruling on intelligent. The lone holdout was Heather Geesey, who (surprise) voted for the intelligent design statement and is the only current board member who was in office in 2004. Here's the complete York Daily Record story.

In related news, plaintiff Brian Rehm won the runoff vote for the final Dover school board seat. Because of a voting machine malfunction during the Nov. 8 election, a special election was held yesterday at one precinct between Rehm and James Cashman, who had been an incumbent.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

In the legislature: looking forward to 2006?

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has just released its Legislative Report for 2005. The report provides a round up of all the issues we've worked on for the past year, many of which will be cropping up as Congress and the PA legislature come back into session. A few things that will be coming up in the days ahead:

Death Penalty and Mental Retardation
: Last week, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision called on the legislature to take action on the 2002 United States Supreme Court's Atkins decision that declared that it is unconstitutional to execute individuals with mental retardation. We will be mobilizing support for a Pennsylvania ban that contains a mechanism for determining mental retardation before trial (something that the Atkins decision does not address). We are already working on this issue, in cooperation with the ARC of Pennsylvania and other allies.

"Anti-Voting Rights" Act: HB 1318, which would require photo ID of all voters and was originally written such that it disenfranchised people serving probation or parole, was passed in the PA Senate in December. It has been recommitted to the Rules Committee of the PA House, which could reinstate the language about felon disenfranchisement. Activists around the state are organizing to defeat this bill. This past week, letters to the editor have been published in the Delaware County Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

PATRIOT Act: The Bush Administration has launched its pro-PATRIOT Act campaign backed by a phalanx of U.S. attorneys. Read Bush's statement here; it speaks for itself.
"Members from both parties came together and said we will give those on the front line of protecting America the tools necessary to protect American citizens, and at the same time, guard the civil liberties of our citizens. For four years, that's what's happened. These good folks have used the Patriot Act to protect America. There's oversight on this important program."

Monday, January 02, 2006

John Ashcroft: Sword and shield for civil liberties

Ok, that's a stretch. But yesterday the NY Times reported that Ashcroft and then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey expressed discomfort with the administration's domestic spying program. While Ashcroft recovered from gallbladder surgery, Comey, as acting AG, refused to approve certain aspects of the program, and when White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales visited Ashcroft in the hospital, our favorite crooner also expressed his own unease:
But some officials said that Mr. Ashcroft, like his deputy, appeared reluctant to give Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales his authorization to continue with aspects of the program in light of concerns among some senior government officials about whether the proper oversight was in place at the security agency and whether the president had the legal and constitutional authority to conduct such an operation.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a great editorial on the issue on Wednesday:
Security is all-important, therefore the normal requirement to obtain court approval for surveillance had to be short-circuited?

That reasoning is an affront to Americans who hold dear both their liberty and their lives.

The issue here isn't whether it was wise to tap into the phone calls and messages of people with suspected ties to al-Qaeda. Many Americans could be persuaded that national security concerns require such surveillance.

Instead, the issue is whether the President and aides at the National Security Agency (NSA) get to be the sole arbiters of who gets bugged.

Under the Constitution, they don't.

Protect life and liberty

Finally, national ACLU has launched an ad campaign comparing President Bush to President Nixon.

Andy in H-burg