Monday, February 27, 2006

No More Tax Dollars for Silver Ring Bling

Last week the federal government agreed to end funding for The Silver Ring Thing, a religious abstinence-only education program based in Pittsburgh. The ACLU brought the lawsuit on the grounds that The Silver Ring Thing used taxpayers' dollars for Christian evangelization of teenagers.

From the AP:

[The Silver Ring Thing] won't be eligible for more unless it changes its program to ensure the money isn't used for religious purposes, according to the agreement reached Wednesday between the American Civil Liberties Union and Department of Health and Human Services.

"Public funds were being used to fund a road show, really, to convert teens to Christianity," said Julie Sternberg, an ACLU attorney.

Sternberg said the ACLU supports the program's right to offer religious content, but not with taxpayer money. She added she hopes the lawsuit is a "wake-up call" to the federal government to more closely monitor the abstinence-only programs it funds.

The Silver Ring Thing looks like it will be OK without federal earmarks from Specter and Santorum; there is plenty of private money behind it. In fact, Former Philly Mayor W. Wilson Goode is now on a crusade to make Philadelphia the new hub for the Silver Ring Thing.

Which is fine with us--go wild. More power to you. Just don't use our tax dollars to do it.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Philadelphia Annual Meeting featuring Dover trial lead attorney and expert witness

If you live in the Greater Philadelphia area and want to hear about the future of intelligent design and what its supporters will try next, you should check out the Philadelphia Chapter's Annual Meeting on Sunday, March 12, at 2:30pm at the First Unitarian Church in Center City.

Our keynote speakers will be Eric Rothschild, lead attorney in the Dover intelligent design case, and Barbara Forrest, author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design and a star witness for the plaintiffs at the Dover trial. More information about the event here. (And hey, there'll be free coffee and dessert afterwards! Nothing like caffeine and sugar to help with that eternal vigilance thing.)

After Innocence: Freedom is just the beginning

Throughout the week, the powerful documentary After Innocence has been showing at the Harris Theater in downtown Pittsburgh. Last night ACLU-PA had the privilege of hosting the two evening screenings and hosting talkbacks afterwards.

The film follows the stories of eight men who were wrongly convicted, and while it explores how these innocent men ended up in prison, it spends more time telling their post-prison story.

When innocent people are released from jail, they re-enter the world with nothing. On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to spend time with Harold Wilson, Pennsylvania's most recent death row exoneree. Harold was given 65 cents and a SEPTA pass and released out the door of SCI-Graterford. Graterford is 31 miles west of Philadelphia and located on a state highway while Harold's family lives in South Philadelphia.

Exonerees have trouble finding work and finding housing because usually their record is not expunged. They walk the streets with a criminal record for a crime they did not commit. There is no state law mandating the expungement of their records, and it only happens if the District Attorney's office cooperates. More often than not, that is not the case.

There are legislators in Harrisburg who are starting to pay attention. Representative Michael McGeehan (D-Philadelphia) and 17 other co-sponsors have introduced House Bill 1473 to provide exonerees with compensation. Part of the compensation package includes "for each day that the claimant was incarcerated, a sum of money equivalent to the highest amount that a member of the General Assembly would have been entitled to collect for that day as a per diem". Rep. McGeehan has said that he chose this figure to make it personal for his fellow legislators.

Rep. McGeehan talked with Elmer Smith, a columnist from the Philadelphia Daily News, in January:
"It seems like more and more of these cases are coming up, almost on a monthly basis" McGeehan told me yesterday. "I saw your story and I had to call.

"It's very disturbing that mostly what we do when we find out we convicted someone wrongly is just let them go and say, 'Oops.' Oops isn't good enough."

You can hear the emotion in McGeehan's voice as he runs through the entries in the catalog of injustices that he's been compiling.

"Ray Krone" - a Pennsylvanian - "served more than 20 years on death row in Arizona (sic) before DNA evidence freed him," McGeehan said.

"The Vincent Moto case in Philadelphia is one where a guy spent 10 years in prison for a rape he didn't do. This guy's family spent their life savings to get him out. They're in their 70s and going back to work again because their life savings are gone.

"It's not enough to say, 'Now you are free to get on with your life.' That's why I'm doing this."

Similar legislation, Senate Bill 1029, has been introduced in the PA Senate with eight co-sponsors, including the chair, vice chair, and minority chair of the Judiciary Committee.

What can you do? Contact your senator and representative and ask them to support these bills. In addition, contact Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) and Rep. Dennis O'Brien (R-Philadelphia), the chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, and ask them to move this legislation out of committee.

It's time for justice to be done in Pennsylvania.

Andy in the HBG

Guest blogger: Dr. David Toub, M.D.

emergency contraception is not an abortifacient

I'm so tired of this issue...

Last week, the TV show Boston Legal aired an episode in which a victim of sexual assault was denied emergency contraception (EC) because she was evaluated in a Catholic hospital. The Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project of ACLU-PA and other organizations encouraged people to host events to accompany the broadcast, and a good deal of attention was generated about EC.

So of course, on the Web, there have been a host of comments about the broadcast, many of which refer to EC as an abortifacient, something that causes an abortion. A Catholic Web site even posted something by the head of the Catholic League, accusing all of us on the Philadelphia ACLU board of being "anti-Catholic." Of course, I chimed in and tried to correct some misconceptions (bad pun) about EC and its provision to women who are victims of sexual assault. Many of the posts on ABC's Boston Legal forum simply represented a lack of knowledge about EC, not a right-wing philosophy, and when I pointed out what EC is and does, and that it is not an abortifacient, people seemed to appreciate the information. Not so with the Catholic site, and I'm also curious if the right-wing Jewish World Review publishes my rebuttal to an article about the Boston Legal episode and EC that was anything but accurate.

So what really is the truth about EC? It's pretty simple---emergency contraception prevents a pregnancy from occurring after unprotected intercourse. It is up to 89% effective in preventing undesired pregnancy when used within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. While it may still prevent some pregnancies after 72 hours, It is much less effective (one exception: the IUD can work as an effective emergency contraceptive even five days after unprotected intercourse).

EC has no effect on an ongoing pregnancy. It is not teratogenic and does not disrupt an implanted embryo. While some believe that life begins at conception, this is a religious concept, not a medical one. Pregnancy results from an implanted embryo; one is not pregnant during the 5-7 days it takes for a fertilized oocyte to transit down the fallopian tube into the uterus. Indeed, as Charles Lockwood points out, for the first two weeks after conception, part of the blastocyst is multipotential, with cells that could develop on their own into an embryo, so there is nothing that particularly makes it a unique "person" at that point. And that is at least a week after implantation, so at 72 hours post-conception, one cannot argue that this represents life as we know it.

So how does EC work? While the precise mechanism of action remains to be conclusively delineated and proven, there is very good experimental and clinical evidence that EC primarily works by inhibiting ovulation and preventing fertilization through various means (inhibited sperm transport, etc). There is no good data supporting the idea that EC functions by preventing implantation of a fertilized oocyte. A review by Croxatto and colleagues concluded that:

"Studies searching for possible alterations of the endometrium at the time implantation would normally take place, found minimal changes of doubtful significance. Recent studies in animals cast serious doubts that LNG prevents pregnancy by interfering with post-fertilization events."

They also point out, very astutely, that EC does have a non-trivial failure rate, and this is likely to be due to treatment provided too late to prevent pregnancy. Were EC to prevent implantation, which can occur a week or more post-ovulation, it is unlikely that administering EC after 72 hours from unprotected intercourse would be associated with a significant failure rate.

So it is extremely unlikely that EC prevents implantation to any material extent, and its action is contraceptive (preventing conception) rather than interceptive (preventing pregnancy after conception has occurred). Pregnancy results from the successful and sustainable implantation of a fertilized oocyte into the endometrium. EC has no effect on an implanted oocyte, and is not an abortifacient. Arguments to the contrary are faith-based, not medical or scientific in nature.

James Trussell and the Office of Population Research at Princeton University have an excellent site with evidence-based information that also substantiates the concept that EC does not work by preventing implantation.

The truth is that EC can prevent a significant number of abortions. This is a goal that people from both sides of the abortion divide should be able to embrace and use as a starting point to find common ground.

Dr. David Toub is a member of the board of directors of the Philadelphia chapter of ACLU-PA. Check out his blog, david's waste of bandwidth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dover comes to a close

With plaintiff and new board member Bryan Rehm abstaining, the Dover Area School District voted unanimously last night to approve a settlement agreement in the intelligent design case. The district will pay $1 million dollars in fees to cover plaintiffs' attorneys' costs, more than half of the $2.067 million to which the plaintiffs are entitled based on the court order.
"Attorneys representing [the plaintiffs] settled the judgment for half that amount to recognize the community for voting out most of the board members who had approved the policy.

"This sends a message to other school districts contemplating intelligent
design that the price tag can be truly substantial, and it rewards the school
district and the community for cleaning their own house and voting out the old
board," said Richard Katskee, assistant legal director for Americans United for
Separation of Church and State....

"Attorneys' fees are an important part of civil rights litigation," said
Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "[Plaintiff] Tammy
Kitzmiller couldn't have afforded this case; the money has to come from
somewhere." (Philadelphia Inquirer article)

And, thus ends this chapter...

Voting Bill: "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"

Well said, by Tom Ferrick, Jr, of the Philadelphia Inquirer
"Consider the case of Pennsylvania's House Bill 1318, titled the Voter
Protection Act of 2006. It has the stated intent of ensuring voters the right to
access to polls by eliminating fraud, intimidation and identity theft.

So many noble words, employed in an insidious cause.

HB1318 is, plain and simple, a mechanism to suppress voter turnout,
particularly in big cities, especially among poor, minority and elderly voters.
It seeks to make the act of voting more difficult than ever."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Guest Student Blogger: Report Back on Dover/ID Event at the University of Pittsburgh

Lauren, University of Pittsburgh undergraduate student, blogs on last night's talk by Vic Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU of PA and lawyer in the Dover Trial

After Vic Walczak's well-attended presentation of the Dover Intelligent Design Trial last night, I felt that not only people concerned with the separation of church and state, but also people concerned with education, should be happy about the verdict. I was excited to see so many students present at the event, as they are the ones most affected by tampering with the educational system.

After the science teachers in Dover decided they would not read the four paragraphs that denounced evolution while singing the praises of ID, the decision was made to have an administrator read them at the beginning of the evolution curriculum every year, interrupting the class. Walczak emphasized that under this ridiculous situation:
"the students couldn't ask questions about ID and the teachers couldn't and wouldn't answer any."
Any administrator who thought that made for a good learning environment was wrong. In fact, it's that type of environment for which my fellow college students and I are inclined to give nasty evaluations at the end of the semester.

It has not been so many years since I took biology, and I even have retained much of what I learned. I remember dutifully taking notes on the birds in the Galapagos Islands whose beaks, Darwin guessed, were different because they had to adapt to food sources on each island.

The talk by Vic Walczak drove home the point of the importance of learning, as he had to learn a lot even for the sake of the trial. Walczak explained how he encouraged witnesses to explain evolution in a way that non-scientists--as both he and Judge John E. Jones were--could understand. It benefits no one to learn less, whether the mechanism is book banning (I loved 1984 and To Kill A Mockingbird) or curriculum gutting. I think the school board lost perspective and put their personal religious beliefs over the importance of a rigorous education.

In an age of competitive education, I'm glad we have judges fit enough to rule against teaching information that, as one of the expert witnesses perfectly quoted, "makes kids stupid."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Rendell says: Stop screwing around


Elements of this bill will cause significant interference with the fundamental right to vote and violate the U. S. Constitution as well as Article I, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which states: 'Elections shall be free and equal; and no power civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.' I, therefore, must veto this legislation."
Quoting letters from the AARP and League of Women Voters and refuting claims that a veto of the bill would allow for voter fraud, Governor Rendell made appearances in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, today, in order to publicly veto HB 1318. Rendell called attention to the large segments of the population that could be disenfranchised by this bill, particularly poor people, people of color, the elderly and those displaced from their homes. He also told the Pennsylvania General Assembly to "stop screwing around" with the voting rights of the military, calling the provisions in HB 1318 inadequate and pointing to House Bill 544 for a more comprehensive solution.

Today, both the Philadelphia Daily News and the Harrisburg Patriot-News published editorials critical of HB 1318.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Voter fraud does not exist in PA

Yesterday we told you
the voter fraud that ID would stop does not exist in the Commonwealth.

Today the Patriot News of Harrisburg confirmed it.
With all the debate over whether voters should show identification when they come to the polls, some might think the courts are clogged with ballot-casting miscreants after every election.


Local election and law enforcement officials said they can count on one hand, with fingers left over, prosecutions against people who tried to vote twice or pretended to be someone else to cast a ballot.

Patriot News: Voter fraud rarely occurs, officials say

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Another flaming liberal for checks and balances

George Will.

Besides, terrorism is not the only new danger of this era. Another is the administration's argument that because the president is commander in chief, he is the "sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs." That non sequitur is refuted by the Constitution's plain language, which empowers Congress to ratify treaties, declare war, fund and regulate military forces, and make laws "necessary and proper" for the execution of all presidential powers. Those powers do not include deciding that a law -- FISA, for example -- is somehow exempted from the presidential duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

The administration, in which mere obduracy sometimes serves as political philosophy, pushes the limits of assertion while disdaining collaboration. This faux toughness is folly, given that the Supreme Court, when rejecting President Harry S Truman's claim that his inherent powers as commander in chief allowed him to seize steel mills during the Korean War, held that presidential authority is weakest when it clashes with Congress.

This is required reading. No Checks, Many Imbalances

PA Senate sends Anti-Voting Rights Act to gov....

...where it is expected to be vetoed by Governor Rendell.

Patriot News: Rendell veto appears likely for voter-identification bill

"I urge the governor to sign this legislation," said House Majority Leader Sam Smith, R-Jefferson in a written statement. "Why wouldn't he want to stop fraud?"

Because like the "scientific" theory of intelligent design, "discrimination" against conservatives on PA's college campuses, and the "deterrent" effect of the death penalty, the voter fraud that ID would stop does not exist in the Commonwealth.

I'm trying to remember why legislators are scared of voters this year....

Andy in H-burg

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cover over content

Senator Feingold has announced his intention to filibuster against the revised version of PATRIOT Act, stating that the changes "produced only a "fig leaf" to cover weaknesses that leave people vulnerable to government intrusion."

Senator Specter admitted that the PATRIOT revisions were purely "cosmetic," telling reporters "sometimes cosmetics will make a beauty out of a beast and provide enough cover
for senators to change their vote."

"The proposed changes to the reauthorization bill do not correct the secret record search powers and do not require that there be any individualized suspicion of wrongdoing by Americans before their financial, medical, library or other records can be searched." (From the ACLU press release)

Good work, Ohio

As reported by today's New York Times:
"The Ohio Board of Education voted 11 to 4 Tuesday to toss out a mandate that
10th-grade biology classes include critical analysis of evolution and an
accompanying model lesson plan, dealing the intelligent design movement its
second serious defeat in two months."

The policy that was overturned did not include explicit language about teaching intelligent design (nor did it mention bacterial flagellum, blood clotting cascades or sudden emergence - oh, those were the days...), but the "critical analysis" language has been described as "design in disguise."

The policy change came as an emergency motion, submitted by Board Member Martha W. Wise who chategorized the original lesson as "bad news" and told the board that "it is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about the nature of science." Go Martha.

Panda's Thumb has the full text of the motion up, along with the commentary that "Ohio is no longer on the Discovery Institute's list of favorite states for pilgrimages."

Amy Laura in Philly

More Abu Ghraib photos surface

An Australian television network today broadcast what it said were previously unpublished images of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Some of the newly broadcast pictures suggest further abuse such as killing, torture and sexual humiliation, according to Special Broadcasting Services's "Dateline" current affairs program.

The ACLU filed a request on Oct. 7, 2003, under the Freedom of Information Act demanding the release of information about detainees held overseas by the United States, including information and images of abuse in Abu Ghraib. This website contains records the government has released under court order. It's a chilling list, including evidence of killing of detainees and cover-ups.

The government has been most resistant to releasing photographs. In September 2005, a federal judge in New York ruled that the government must turn over the Abu Ghraib images, as well as other visual evidence of abuse, noting "the freedoms that we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which our troops are armed." The decision is currently on appeal by the government.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Boston Legal episode to focus on emergency contraception

If you like to mix politics and pop culture, you may want to check out tonight's episode of Boston Legal at 10 pm on ABC. It features a story line on a hospital that refuses to offer emergency contraception (EC) to a rape victim who consequently becomes pregnant. The Duvall Reproductive Rights Project of the ACLU of PA has organized a tool kit for individuals who want to host a viewing party of the episode. Thought it's too late to organize something for tonight, we are hoping to obtain copies of the show to distribute for use in the future.

This tool kit is part of the project, a website which promotes the importance of making emergency contraception available to sexual assault survivors. Kudos to the producers of Boston Legal, who included information about on the show's site.

A day without an immigrant

"Proclamation for responsible immigration reform
Whereas the first Americans declared that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life,
Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"
Whereas we are not sojourners but active participants in the economy and share in building the American Dream.
Whereas our contributions far outweigh the emergency support we are
sometimes force to ask for
Whereas some people feel threatened by our presence even though we are people drawn to the light of freedom...

More that twelve hundred undocumented and documented immigrants and their allies stayed home from work and took to the streets in Philadelphia today, to voice the importance of immigrant workers to the local economy and the need for comprehensive immigration reform. This "Day without an Immigrant" also calls attention to the Sensenbrenner - King Bill, which threatens to erode due process and criminalize not only undocumented immigrant status, but organizations that assist undocumented immigrants. With rumors of raids by immigration officials running rampant through the city a couple weeks ago, the huge turnout for the demonstration was significant and impressive.

In preparation for the demo, participants handed letters to their employers which explained why they were staying home from work and asked them to advocate for reform. The goal was to demonstrate what the city and its ecomony would be like without its immigrant communities and workers.

The counter protesters were out in force. All five of them. But the Minutemen put out a press release calling for the investigation and prosecution of employers that hire undocumented immigrants.

Amy Laura in Philly

Monday, February 13, 2006

Happy Birthday Charlie!

Good article in the New York Times (registration required) today about 'Evolution Sunday.'
On the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin, ministers at several hundred churches around the country preached yesterday against recent efforts to undermine the theory of evolution, asserting that the opposition many Christians say exists between science and faith is false.

You can find out more about their efforts at The Clergy Project.

Also, did everyone see that George Deutsch has stepped down? It seems that he lied about graduating from Texax A&M when he applied for the job at NASA. I heard his indiscretion was uncovered by a blogger. Anyone know if that is true?

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Friday, February 10, 2006

NYT gives it to the PA legislature

It's a bad sign when a paper in another state uses valuable editorial space to criticize a bill in the PA legislature. The New York Times today attacked House Bill 1318, a bill that would strip ex-felons on probation or parole of the right to vote, calling it on of "the most odious felon-voting bans ever seen above the Mason-Dixon line."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Oh, yeah, the Patriot Act

Lest you've forgotten, the Patriot Act is still dangling out there. Apparently, the Republicans who joined with the Dems to oppose the conference report in December have reached an agreement with the White House with a press conference scheduled for later today. Stay tuned.

UPDATE, 4:03pm:
White House press secretary Scott McClellan pre-empted them, though, saying the changes "continue to build upon the civil liberties protections that are in place but do so in a way that doesn't compromise our national security priorities."

"We're pleased that this important legislation is moving forward," he said.


Uh-oh again.
But (Senator Russ) Feingold said before this afternoon's news conference that he would not be part of the deal about to be announced. "The few minor changes that the White House agreed to do not address the major problems with the Patriot Act that a bipartisan coalition has been trying to fix for the past several years," he said. "I will continue to strongly oppose, and use every option at my disposal to stop, any reauthorization of the Patriot Act that does not protect the rights and freedoms of law-abiding Americans with no connection to terrorism."

NY Times: Deal could break deadlock in Senate on Patriot Act

It's "safe and free," not "less safe and less free"

The President, the Vice President, and the former head of the NSA have all claimed that the warrant-free spying program could have prevented the attacks of September 11, 2001, a claim since debunked. Then there's this article from Insight on the News, which is published by the same company that publishes the Washington Times.
The Bush administration's surveillance policy has failed to make a dent in the war against al Qaeda.

U.S. law enforcement sources said that more than four years of surveillance by the National Security Agency has failed to capture any high-level al Qaeda operative in the United States. They said al Qaeda insurgents have long stopped using the phones and even computers to relay messages. Instead, they employ couriers.

"They have been way ahead of us in communications security," a law enforcement source said. "At most, we have caught some riff-raff. But the heavies remain free and we believe some of them are in the United States."

(Thanks to America Blog for pulling this one out for all to see.)

Andy in H-burg

It's not about party. It's about the Constitution and the rule of law

There are some who are trying their darnedest to paint the warrant-free spying program as a partisan issue. Today David Broder nicely sums up why that dog just don't hunt.
No member of the Senate is more conservative than Sam Brownback of Kansas -- a loyal Republican, an ardent opponent of abortion and, not coincidentally, a presidential hopeful for 2008.

As a member of the Judiciary Committee, he has supported President Bush on every one of his court appointments. He is not one to find fault with the administration.

And that is why the misgivings he expressed Monday about the surveillance policies Bush has employed in the war on terrorism are so striking.

And Brownback wasn't the only R who caught Broder's attention.
And the authority Bush is using is, in the judgment of Republicans as well as Democrats, highly questionable. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a military lawyer before he came to Congress, said that when he voted to authorize the use of force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, "I never envisioned that I was giving to this president or any other president the ability to go around FISA carte blanche."

As for the administration's contention that Bush has "inherent power" as chief executive to order warrantless wiretaps, Graham said, "Its application, to me, seems to have no boundaries when it comes to executive decisions in a time of war. It deals the Congress out. It deals the courts out."

With two other Republicans, Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Mike DeWine of Ohio, and all the Democrats agreeing with Graham's view, the president has been given a clear signal to get off his high horse and come to Congress for statutory authority and court supervision of the surveillance program.

Washington Post, Broder op-ed: Bucking Bush on spying

Meanwhile, the NY Times let rip on Gonzales' art of no-speak in an editorial yesterday:
On the absurd pretext of safeguarding operational details, Mr. Gonzales would not say whether any purely domestic communications had been swept up in the program by accident and what, if anything, had been done to make sure that did not happen. He actually refused to assure the Senate and the public that the administration had not deliberately tapped Americans' calls and e-mail within the United States, or searched their homes and offices without warrants.

Mr. Gonzales repeated Mr. Bush's claim that the program of intercepting e-mail and telephone calls to and from the United States without the legally required warrants was set up in a way that protects Americans' rights. But he would not say what those safeguards were, how wiretaps were approved or how the program was reviewed. He even refused to say whether it had led to a single arrest.

If an attorney general testifies before Congress and doesn't say anything, does he still make a sound?

Andy in Harrisburg

ACLU-TV: Another medium conquered

After five months of broadcasting the ACLU Freedom Files on satellite television's Link TV, internet streaming, and the campus network Zilo TV, we're going back to the future this weekend with the show's premiere on that newfangled technology- cable television. On Saturday at noon, the Freedom Files will air on Court TV at 12pm.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero will appear on Catherine Crier Live tonight at 5pm to discuss the episode, which focuses on religious liberty and includes discussion on the Dover case with Bryan and Christy Rehm, two of the plaintiffs in the case. A trailer is available now at the show's website.

And, of course, you can catch the show tonight on Link TV.

Once it airs on both networks, the episode will be available on the website, where you can currently view past episodes on racial profiling, dissent, the Supreme Court, and the Patriot Act.

Show your support for Sam Smith!

Several people have asked how they can show their support for Sam Smith, the 14-year-old who refused to stand for the pledge and has since been ridiculed in two newspaper editorials (one in the Inquirer and another in the Express Times). Here's what you can do:

1. Write a letter to the editor to either the Inquirer or the Express Times. If you send us a copy of your letter, we will forward them to Sam (so he'll see it even if it doesn't get published).

2. Write a letter directly to Sam care of the ACLU. We'll forward them along. (Our mailing address is P.O. Box 40008, Philadelphia, PA 19106.)

3. Send us an email at (delete the extra spaces on either side of the @ sign) with "Sam Smith" in the subject line. We'll print them out and forward them to Sam.

Thanks for your interest in supporting this courageous young man!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pick on someone your own size

I was appalled to read an opinion piece in this morning's Inquirer about one of our clients, Sam Smith, a fourteen-year-old who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The editorial writer, Joe Cox, was incredibly patronizing about this young man, whose decision not to say the pledge is based in part on his opposition to his country's policy in Iraq. Cox quotes Smith saying, "I don't think of myself as an American," he says. "I think of myself as a human being."

But rather than applaud him for taking a stand for something he believes in, Cox chose to criticize Smith because his views on Iraq are nothing original and "straight out of the Democratic playbook." (He also sums up Smith's philosophy this way: "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." Great rebuttal, Mr. Cox.)

Here's how he concluded the article:

So while there's some comfort in seeing a thoughtful 14-year-old take a skeptical view toward the things that conventional wisdom sometimes holds too close to its bosom, there's also something sad about this particular case.

Sam Smith is an intelligent young man who unfortunately seems to know only what he doesn't believe in, not what he does. And while rejecting God and country might seem fashionable to him now, there's likely to be a price to pay somewhere down his life's long road. That will happen the day he realizes he needs both in ways he can't even imagine right now. Rest of article

I must disagree - I think Sam Smith knows exactly what he believes in.

Incidentally, Cox might reserve some words for the adults who have responded to Smith's refusal to say the pledge with comments such as "he should move to Iraq if he doesn't love this country" and comparisons to protestors who stood at airports calling returning Vietnam vets baby-killers. He has also been told by fellow students that their parents now "hate him." Personally, I'll take Sam's thoughtfulness and courage over the sentiments of these "mature
adults" any day.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Where does it stop?

In Sunday's NY Times, "This American Life" contributor Sarah Vowell talks about her internal and "insuferable civics robot," which yelps every time Bush talks about his "responsibility 'to protect the American people.'" Vowell's robot yearns to remind Bush that his oath ("the one with the Bible and the chief justice") is to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

At the intersection of not protecting people or laws: I'm not liking this suggestion by "a Justice Department official...that in certain circumstances, the president might have the power to order the killing of terrorist suspects inside the United States." Domestic spying, domestic hit squads, what's next?

Meanwhile... I'm thinking that the whole "tell the truth, whole truth..." thing might be a good addition to an oath of office. Not only did our esteemed AG justify the NSA domestic surveillance program, but he falsley claimed that there was implicit Congressional approval of the program. In his blog, Russ Feingold accuses Gonzales of "bringing the parsing of words to new lows."

And, yet, the Harrisburg Patriot News and the ACLU's own Caroline Frederickson suggest that all of this attention to domestic surveilliance plays the role of convenient bait and switch to distract from the release of Bush's budget proposal. We haven't seen that before, have we?

But, while it might just be a petty distraction for you, me and my co-workers listening to C-Span online, we might as well send in the ACLU Action Alert calling for the appointment of special counsel to investigate this current incarnation of executive abuse of power.

Monday, February 06, 2006

ID Invades NASA

According to last Saturday's New York Times (registration required), NASA employees are starting to feel the Intelligent Design heat.

In October, for example, George Deutsch, a presidential appointee in NASA headquarters, told a Web design working for the agency to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, according to an e-mail message from Mr. Deutsch that another NASA employee forwarded to The Times. "

Was this due to Deutsch's extensive and illustrious science background?

The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose resume says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen's public statements.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

The memo also noted that The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual specified the phrasing "Big Bang theory." Mr. Acosta, Mr. Deutsch's boss, said in an interview yesterday that for that reason, it should be used in all NASA documents.

The Deutsch memo was provided by an official at NASA headquarters who said he was upset with the effort to justify changes to descriptions of science by referring to politically charged issues like intelligent design. Senior NASA officials did not dispute the message's authenticity.

My parents are both long-time NASA employees and long-time opponents (or at least skeptics) of the ACLU. The Dover case brought them much closer to understanding the importance of the ACLU's role in society. Now that they see 'Intelligent Design' forced on the scientific community and their workplace, they are much more supportive of my workplace. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they soon become 'card-carrying members' of the ACLU.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Thursday, February 02, 2006

We're retreating

No, we're not quitting, despite all of the raging civil liberties fires out there. Actually, the ACLU-PA staff is on its annual staff retreat in a top secret mountain location, so we haven't been very attentive to the blog this week. But here are a few quick news hits on some of the issues we're tracking.

On Tuesday, the PA House Rules Committee amended the Anti-Voting Rights Act (HB 1318) to reinsert the disenfranchisement of ex-felons who would not have voting rights until the maximum sentence had passed, i.e. sentenced to 10-20 years, serve 10, no voting rights until 20 years pass. The committee also slashed the Senate's expanded list of acceptable ID down to any ID issued by the Commonwealth or a voter registration card. Yesterday the House passed the bill with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats voting against. Election reform should be a bipartisan effort since both parties have an interest in the outcome. One can't help but question the motivation when only one party is in favor of this in an election year. (And we would say the same thing if it were the Republicans getting screwed.)

In the ongoing game of legislative ping-pong, the bill goes back to the Senate for a second time.

Meanwhile, HB 698, the Continue the Execution of the Mentally Retarded Act, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and now awaits action on the House floor. An attempt to add pre-trial, judicial determination to the bill failed in committee by a vote of 13-15.

The Constitution is much safer when these guys are on vacation.

Andy in the HBG