Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I Solemnly Swear I Am Fed Up With Doctors' "Right to Refuse"

Recently, one of CNBC's Donny Deutsch's "Big Ideas" was to interview Darlene Bender, whose 20-year-old daughter was raped and later denied emergency contraception by her ER doctor at Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon, PA last month. Deutsch cannot believe that the doctor would put his personal beliefs before those of his patient-that he had the "audacity to take that decision [to provide emergency contraception] upon himself." You go, Donny.

Dr. Donna Harrison, from the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists joined the dialogue and was introduced as someone "offensive" to Donny because she stands behind Dr. Gish's refusal to provide emergency contraception to the young woman. Dr. Harrison asserted that physicians have a right to refuse to prescribe medications and that requiring doctors to do so would be "against the Hippocratic oath." Her Hippocratic oath included a promise not to have sex with her patients, a promise not to give a drug which would kill someone, and a promise not to destroy human life before birth. Her oath did not seem to involve treating patients with whom she disagrees inhumanely.

For some reason, the last bit didn't sit well with me (I'm sure you can't imagine why). According to Wikipedia (the most succinct explanation of the Hippocratic Oath):

Several parts of the oath have been removed or re-shaped over the years. . . as the social, religious, and political importance of medicine has changed. Most schools administer some form of oath, but the great majority no longer use the ancient version, which praised non-Abrahamic deities, advocated teaching of men but not women, and forbade general practitioners from surgery, abortion, euthanasia, or abuse of the prescription pad.

The actual oath may not have even been written by Hippocrates; instead, it has been attributed to the Pythagoreans of fourth century BC.

It sounds to me like you can swear on whatever you want to swear on-the ancient Hippocratic Oath, the Declaration of Geneva, Dr. Harrison's anti-choice oath, or the Oath of Lasagna (and no, I'm not just trying to be funny with a reference to a favorite cartoon orange cat, this is a real oath!). Dr. Harrison has held true to the anti-choice part even though emergency contraception can't cause an abortion (surely because we're still living in conditions similar to ancient Greece, where it was dangerous to perform abortions or they, too, would've continued confusing how EC actually works) and obviously opted out of adhering to the "teaching of men but not women" and worshipping Apollo. Clearly, justifying the right to refuse medical treatment holds up when an ancient oath that really isn't used anymore or taken literally is your justification.

I guess another oath that should remain forever the same is a woman's vow to obey and serve her husband in marriage. Woulds't thou concur, Dr. Harrison? Sadly, the answer is probably yes.

Darlene Bender, who appeared on Donny's show, will be one of several speakers at a press conference for the Pennsylvania Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies (CARE) Act on September 13.

Julie in Philly

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Greatness....reduced one Hazleton at a time"

Have you ever seen that Daily Show bit where Jon Stewart leans his head way back and blurts out, "Ooooh, snap!"? That's how I felt reading today's editorial in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:
Proving that every Main Street in America can have its own demagogue, Mayor Barletta has championed an ordinance that is all about punishing immigrants, ostensibly illegal ones, although inevitably all come under the same cloud of suspicion.
(snap, err, snip)
Hazleton is a million miles from the America that once welcomed the "poor and huddled masses" -- and profited hugely by their presence. Mr. Barletta, who appears to have greater political ambitions, is buoyed by the support he has received around the country, but then America has never been short of nativists. They know a friend when they see one.

For once such poison seeps out, there is no containing it to those who are illegal. As Post-Gazette writer Milan Simonich reported Sunday, a legal immigrant from the Dominican Republic, a U.S. citizen for 18 years, has endured taunts to "go back where you came from."

If that anti-foreigner attitude prevails, America can forget competing in the global market and its greatness will be reduced one Hazleton at a time.

I think Lou just got punk'd. Actually, unlike that show, what's happening in Hazleton is no practical joke, and it's sad to watch.

Andy in H-burg

"Only" two-thirds of Finns believe in "evolutionism"

Science magazine recently did an analysis of polling on evolution, which found that only 40% of Americans accept that humans evolved from a lower species.

Apparently, NewsRoom Finland was disappointed in the Finnish results in the same analysis:
With only two thirds saying the theory of evolution is a tenable explanation of the origin of species, Finns are more sceptical about evolutionism than people in many other European countries as well as in Japan.

Oh, to have such problems. Our friends at the National Center for Science Education and at Panda's Thumb would be doing cartwheels if 65% of Americans believed in evolution.

Here is Panda's Thumb's take on the new data.

Andy in Harrisburg: Close to Dover but a world away...Finland, anyone?

Friday, August 25, 2006

I may live to regret this, but...

Okay, it's a Friday afternoon, and I got nothin' for you. Nada. Zip. Bupkis. So if you have questions you've been dying to ask the ACLU of PA, now's your chance.

Sara in Philly

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Can I See Some I.D.?

Alas, the FDA has approved over-the-counter sales of emergency contraceptive Plan B!! Woo-hoo!! While this is a HUGE victory for many women, those 17 years old and younger will still require a prescription for this perfectly safe medication (for ALL age groups).

Not surprisingly, the anti-choice folk have their panties in a bunch over this. And it's not just that women will be able to purchase the medication. It's also that men over age 18 can also access Plan B.

Opponent Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said Plan B's wider availability could give women a false sense of security, since it isn't as effective as regular birth control. Wright also worries that adult men who have sex with minor girls could force the pills upon them. From the CWA press release:

"Any adult male who is having sex with a minor could walk into a pharmacy, buy the drug, and coax the girl into taking the pill.... The FDA's irresponsible action today takes those rights out of a parent's hands and gives them to ill-intentioned perpetrators."

So, let me get this right, Wendy: you, as a concerned woman of America, are fearful that Plan B's over-the-counter availability will enable male sex offenders to help their young female victims prevent a pregnancy by offering them Plan B? Or, by forcing the pills down their throat? Or, by crushing them up and hiding them in applesauce? I guess it's important not to focus on men actually committing the crime in the first place. Because...?

Non-prescription sales will hopefully begin by the end of this year. Plan B will be available behind the counter only at pharmacies to help ensure that photo identifications are being checked. Maybe, as an additional feature, pharmacies could also announce to the entire store over their PA system that the woman in aisle 3 has had unprotected sex and is now purchasing Plan B. I mean, women, you have your Plan B - you want privacy too?! Blasphemy.

For more information on Plan B and today's action, please see the FDA page.

Julie in Philly

What would Oliver Stone say?

This is just too good not to pass on. I really don't believe it's more than a clerical error, but it sure is an interesting coincidence. From this morning's NY Times:

"Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.

The omission is inadvertent, said Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, which administers the grants. 'There is no explanation for it being left off the list,' Ms. McLane said. 'It has always been an eligible major.'

Another spokeswoman, Samara Yudof, said evolutionary biology would be restored to the list, but as of last night it was still missing."

Without the listing, students majoring in that field cannot apply for the grant money.

Apparently more than a few scientists found the omission suspicious. Again from the NY Times: "'It's just awfully coincidental,' said Steven W. Rissing, an evolutionary biologist at Ohio State University."

Although I don't really believe that the major was deliberately removed, it's really no surprise that scientists are feeling a bit paranoid in the current anti-science climate. The issue of intelligent design is probably best known, but there are many other examples of governmental assaults on scientific inquiry and academic freedom. For more information about this very serious issue, check out the ACLU's 2005 report, Science Under Siege.

Sara in Philly

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

School Boards, These Days. . .

After realizing that 13 percent of its female students were pregnant last year, an Ohio school board decides to reconsider using their out-dated (developed circa 1987!), abstinence-only sex "education" program. Apparently, the school was not fulfilling their duty by teaching that "bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents, and society" or emphasizing the "importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity" (points #6 and 8, respectively, out of the 8-Point Definition of Abstinence-Only Education defined by the federal government). From the local NBC affiliate:

An Ohio school board is expanding sex education following the revelation that 13 percent of one high school's female students were pregnant last year.

There were 490 female students at Timken High School in 2005, and 65 were pregnant, WEWS-TV in Cleveland reported.

The new Canton school board program promotes abstinence but also will teach students who decide to have sex how to do so responsibly, bringing the city school district's health curriculum in line with national standards.

According to the Canton Health Department, statistics through July 2005 showed that 104 of the 586 babies born to Canton residents in Aultman Hospital and Mercy Medical Center had mothers between the ages of 11 and 19.

Thus far, research proving that these programs aren't effective at preventing unintended teen pregnancy hasn't been enough for the federal and state governments to stop pouring millions of tax dollars into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. As the national standard, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been implemented in schools across the country, the federal government spending over $1 billion to do so since 1996.

Pennsylvania received $6,731,542 in federal funds for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the fiscal year 2005. I wonder how many pregnant teens we have in our schools???

For more information on this issue, visit Advocates for Youth and the ACLU's section on abstinence-only programs.

Julie in Philly

Monday, August 21, 2006

You've got a friend in Pennsylvania...sort of

Work for the ACLU and you learn to have a thick skin. But this doozy from Friday's column by Dimitri Vassilaros of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review is about as appalling as they come:
But Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a news release that "You might as well just paint a target on every foreigners' (sic) forehead or a sign saying 'please treat me differently.' " Um, OK. Actually, that sounds like a dandy idea. (my bold)

Great. So now we have a columnist from a major Pennsylvania newspaper endorsing the physical marking of those from other countries. Makes you all warm inside, doesn't it?

But this isn't about race. (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

We always encourage people to answer this kind of speech with speech of their own. Here's the LTE page for the Trib.

Andy in H-burg

Snakes on a Plane

You know you've really made it when you are lampooned in popular culture. From the NYTimes review of Snakes on a Plane:
The filmmakers don't overplay the political angle, though they do squeeze in a Middle Eastern snake and a scene of an F.B.I. agent sneering about the A.C.L.U.

Does that sentence strike anyone else as funny? What would constitute overplaying the political angle--the Middle Eastern snake declaring jihad and taking over the cockpit?

The review continues:
Mostly, though, what they give us is the chance to win, not with righteous morality, but with an old-fashioned swagger that says, much like the film itself, Hey, we may be stupid, but we rock.

Good. I feel we could really use a little more of that right now.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Friday, August 18, 2006

Guest Blogger: Stephen A. Glassman

Diversity key to equality for ALL
PHRC offers historical view on immigration debate

By Stephen A. Glassman
PA Human Relations Commission

There has been much in the news recently about illegal immigrants and efforts on the national, state and local levels to restrict their access to both private and governmental services. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is concerned by both the content and the tenor of these arguments, particularly here in Pennsylvania. As Chairperson of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, I feel it is important for the Commission to weigh in on this important issue.

The Commission enforces Pennsylvania's laws that prohibit both governmental and private discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and commercial property, education and public accommodations. The public accommodations provisions include services provided by the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions, as well as by the private sector. The protected classes contained in our state's anti-discrimination laws include, among others, race, color, ancestry and national origin. The Commission also is responsible for addressing situations involving racial and ethnic tension, and for promoting equal opportunity and good will among all who visit or reside in Pennsylvania.

As a law enforcement agency, the Commission does not, of course, condone or support illegal immigration. The Commission, however, does view the current policy debate on immigration through a specific historical lens. The Commission just celebrated its 50th anniversary. In 1956, if you were African American, Jewish, a woman, or from any number of non-European countries, you had difficulty finding employment, were excluded from renting or owning a home in many neighborhoods, and were often forced to attend schools that were either physically segregated or educationally inferior. Daily life activities, that we now take for granted, were denied to many through ignorance, rudeness, overt hostility and humiliation or, often, outright exclusion.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has sought to insure that a person's race, skin color, national origin, or ancestry did not result in such patently unfair discrimination. Unfortunately, those who are different from the majority, who are the most disenfranchised and the least able to protect or speak for themselves, are the ones most likely to become the targets of discrimination. Immigrants are simply the current target, whether they are Hispanic, Asian, African, or Middle Eastern. They are not the first. They will, unfortunately, not be the last.

The Commission's assessment of various legislative initiatives and, more pointedly, our assessment of the tone and tenor of much of the public debate, suggests that the impetus for action comes from the same type of prejudice and fear that has had such demonstrable and unfortunate consequences in the past. Much of the proposed legislation and public debate is centered on punishing both those who are here illegally and those who provide them with employment, food and housing. Inevitably, these laws will unfairly ensnare many individuals who are living here legally and will encourage aggressive behavior against anyone perceived to be an illegal immigrant.

Reform, to be truly effective, must be broader in its approach; punitive action, alone, will not solve the problem. It will simply encourage people to "obey" these new laws by treating anyone who looks or sounds "foreign" as if they are also "illegal." This is not only bad social policy. It is also unlawful under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and other state and federal laws.

States and municipalities should not be focused on passing legislation concerning the rights of illegal immigrants. This is a uniquely federal issue which should be dealt with on the national level. Current federal legislation likely already preempts or prohibits the passage of state or local laws relating to this issue.

If state and local legislators must get involved, they have a duty to clearly articulate the precise problems which need to be solved. The Commission believes that a thorough analysis of the health, safety, economic, social, and cultural consequences of most of the legislative proposals being made on illegal immigration in Pennsylvania will show that they may in fact be unconstitutional and are likely to do more harm than good. This is also true for the various "English Only" laws being proposed in Pennsylvania.

These laws have been presented in conjunction with legislation that intends to discourage illegal immigration. This is an unfortunate and inappropriate association, as restrictions on the use of languages other than English will be detrimental to all residents, including many people who are American citizens and/or who are legally residing in Pennsylvania communities. Puerto Ricans, for example, are US citizens by birth and their official language is Spanish.

Legitimate concerns about immigration reform ought to be addressed. But they should be discussed in an environment that is founded on shared democratic principles of respect and inclusion. This Commonwealth was founded and has prospered on such principles. If, as it appears, the focus is on the status of those immigrants who have not arrived in this country through a legally approved process, any legislative action should be clearly limited to address this concern on the narrowest terms possible and on terms that minimize possible adverse consequences on a Commonwealth full of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants who are here legally.

It is also imperative that any new legislative action include provisions that would penalize those who, under the guise of seeking to comply with the new laws, intentionally or unintentionally engage in discrimination against individuals simply because of their ancestry or because they may look or sound like they were not born here.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission continues to lead Pennsylvanians in our collective struggle to achieve equal rights for all. In doing so we recognize that, at its core, this continuing struggle involves learning to appreciate, respect, and value the contributions of others -- not only those who are most like us, but also those who are most different from us.

Reax to ACLU v. NSA

The reactions to yesterday's monumental ruling against the abuse of power in the NSA warrantless surveillance program are rolling in. Last night Keith Olbermann had constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley, a prof at George Washington University. Turley called it "a very thoughtful opinion" and also said
Despite what Alberto Gonzales says, that the authority is clear, no one else seems to be able to see it.

Calling pundit attacks against the judge "distasteful," Turley added
Every time a judge rules against the Administration, they're either too Democratic or too tall or too short or they're Pisces.

You can see the video here (you have to use Internet Explorer). Turley also had some choice words for Arlen Specter's "whitewash" bill.

Meanwhile, of course, The Old Gray Lady chimed in:
(W)ith a careful, thoroughly grounded opinion, one judge in Michigan has done what 535 members of Congress have so abysmally failed to do. She has reasserted the rule of law over a lawless administration and shown why issues of this kind belong within the constitutional process created more than two centuries ago to handle them.

NY Times editorial: Ruling for the law

And then there's the LA Times:
The president and Congress should spend more time following the law and less trying to find creative ways to break it.

LA Times editorial: Bush: Unconstitutional, Again

Andy in H-burg

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"A landmark victory against the abuse of power" NSA eavesdropping program ruled unconstitutional
A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy.

"Today's ruling is a landmark victory against the abuse of power that has become the hallmark of the Bush administration," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "Government spying on innocent Americans without any kind of warrant and without Congressional approval runs counter to the very foundations of our democracy. We hope that Congress follows the lead of the court and demands that the president adhere to the rule of law."

ACLU v. NSA federal court decision

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

ACLU and Illegal Immigration

I thought I'd address some of the comments on the previous posting about the Hazleton a case.

One person asked about the ACLU's stance on illegal immigrants. The ACLU does not support illegal activity. That said, ALL people in this country--no matter what their status--have certain Constitutional and human rights. In fact, decisions spanning more than a century, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution's guarantees apply to every person within U.S. borders, including "aliens whose presence in this country is unlawful."

It's worth noting that the Bill of Rights NEVER uses the word citizen--it uses the word "person." This wasn't an accident. (The word "citizen" is used in other parts of the Constitution.)

Of course, the federal government can find, arrest, and deport people who are here in violation of the federal immigration laws, provided they do so in a way that comports with the Constitution -- for example the Fourth Amendment's prohibitions on searches and seizures and the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process -- and other federal laws. Similarly, the federal government can make, and has made, many lawful immigrants, as well as undocumented people, ineligible for certain welfare programs. However, there are legal and policy limits even in this area; we provide elementary education, emergency medical care, and other services to all persons regardless of status.

As for those who say people should learn English when they come to this country, they might want to do some research on a little island called Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, and they just happen to speak Spanish.

(Thanks to Omar Jadwat at the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project and our staff attorney Mary Catherine Roper for help on this!)

Sara in Philly

The Great American Melting Pot

This is great. It's "Bring Your Daughter to Work Day" here at the Harrisburg office....not really, but my three-year-old daughter is with me. We're listening to "Kids' Stuff" on Sirius, and what just came on a minute ago? "The Great American Melting Pot" from Schoolhouse Rock.
My grandmother came from Russia
A satchel on her knee,
My grandfather had his father's cap
He brought from Italy.
They'd heard about a country
Where life might let them win,
They paid the fare to America
And there they melted in.
What good ingredients,
Liberty and immigrants.

They brought the country's customs,
Their language and their ways.
They filled the factories, tilled the soil,
Helped build the U.S.A.
Go on and ask your grandma,
Hear what she has to tell
How great to be an American
And something else as well.

Meanwhile, reactions from the street about our lawsuit are being documented by the media. Here's one of my favorites:
Waiting downtown for a bus, Lena Zizzo, of McAdoo, said she supports the ordinance because illegal immigrants should "stay where they belong."

"Why should they come and take everything away? You don't see me going to Puerto Rico or Guam. Deport the whole lot of them. Chances are, they're no good," Zizzo said.

In a nutshell, that sums up everything that's wrong, from a community standpoint, with the Hazleton ordinance (or Barletta's Bull, as I call it). It has brought out the worst in people and divides the community through race-baiting. Does this lady realize that both Puerto Rico and Guam are part of the United States? Geez, Louise....

The Times Leader: Citizen reaction to suit as varied as the population

Andy in H-burg

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Another front on the war on civil liberties and civil rights

With the onslaught of attacks on civil liberties that has resulted from the so-called "War on Terror," it's easy to overlook some of the other damage done to civil liberties and civil rights over the past five years. From the Boston Globe:

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is quietly remaking the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights, according to job application materials obtained by the Globe.

The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds.

This and other changes in the division have had devastating effects. Just one example: Under a 1994 law, the Department of Justice the power to investigate and bring suit against any town or city whose police were routinely abusing their authority. Prior to 2000, the Civil Rights Division actively investigated police departments suspected of activities such as racial profiling. (In fact, the first major police reform case they were involved in was the Pittsburgh police department, which the ACLU of PA and the NAACP initiated.)

Under the Bush administration, however, the Civil Rights Division abruptly changed course, dropping many investigation, and in fact, joining with its former adversary the City of Pittsburgh to get the city out of the consent decree that mandated oversight of the police department, over the objections of the ACLU and the NAACP.

So what is the Civil Rights division up to these days, then? According to the same article, "The division is bringing fewer voting rights and employment cases involving systematic discrimination against African-Americans, and more alleging reverse discrimination against whites and religious discrimination against Christians."

Sara in Philly

Santorum staffers give a hand to Hazleton Mayor's website

If you check out the Small Town Defenders website, you'll be greeted by a smiling Mayor Barletta promoting his small town Illegal Immigration Relief Act. As you know, Sen. Santorum is also a supporter of anti-immigrant efforts, but who would suspect that two of his own staffers contributed to getting Mayor Barletta's smiling display of bigotry up on our World Wide Web? According to a July 12 article in The Citizens Voice, published a day before the ordinance passed,
Eric Miller, a member of Santorum's campaign staff, created and registered at the request of Santorum's deputy campaign manager Luke Bernstein, Hazleton solicitor Christopher Slusser confirmed.

The article also reports that Barletta is a regional campaign coordinator for the senator. Good to know things are comfy cozy - for some - up in Hazleton.

Stay tuned, though. The ordinance, which penalizes businesses that "aid and abet" undocumented immigrants by, for example, renting to them or providing them goods and services, is soon to be challenged by the ACLU and a coalition of public interest groups.

Jess in Philly

Monday, August 14, 2006

Pennsylvania's image problem

On top of the international attention from the intelligent design fiasco, this can't help Pennsylvania's image across the pond. Gina, a shift manager at the Blue Comet diner in Hazleton, told the BBC this about immigrants:
"They all come over here and take the jobs, and they get everything for nothing, while we have to work hard for everything that we have," says Gina

BBC: US town's battle over immigration

The First Amendment is now strictly commercial...

We're in the middle of an inane battle with the Port Authority bus system right now in Pittsburgh.

For almost nine months, we have been trying to nicely convince the Port Authority to run an educational advertisement that explains the voting rights of ex-offenders in PA. Being nice didn't work, and we finally filed suit against them last Thursday.

Pennsylvania law changed in 2000 to allow ex-felons to vote, even if they are on probation or parole. The information has been slow to disseminate, though, and many ex-offenders mistakenly think they do not have the right to vote.

So the ACLU partnered up with the League of Young Voters (Education Fund) to try and run a few ads on bus routes in areas with high concentrations of ex-offenders. We received some grant money to cover the cost advertising, and were ready to roll.

BUT the Port Authority repeatedly refused to run our ads, claiming that they only accept commercial advertising (questionable on First Amendment grounds anyway). Even beyond that, anyone who rides the bus in Pittsburgh knows their claim is not really true, and you can check out some supposedly 'commercial' ads run by the Port Authority here.

It looks like this has dragged on long enough that we will not be able to run the ad prior to the November elections, even if we win. Personally, I could think of better things to do with taxpayers' money than fight running an educational, non-partisan ad, can't you?

More on the case here.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Friday, August 11, 2006

Suit against University of California to proceed

Earlier this week, a federal judge allowed a lawsuit brought by a Christian school against the University of California to proceed to trial. According to the AP, "students from Calvary Chapel Christian School [will be able] to pursue their claim that the public university system discriminated against them by setting admission rules that violate their freedom of speech and religion."

The alleged violations? According to a USA Today article,
"The university rejected some class credits because Calvary Chapel relies on textbooks from leading Christian publishers, Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book. A biology book from Bob Jones University presents creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution. The introduction says, 'The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second.'

UC says such books would be acceptable as supplementary reading but not as the main textbook.

Interestingly, the lead attorney for the Calvary Chapel students is Wendell Bird, the attorney who unsuccessfully argued Edwards v. Aguillard before the Supreme Court. In that case, the court found the practice of giving equal time to creationism in public schools to be unconstitutional.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Privacy is SO last decade

Of all the issues I've tried to explain to non-ACLUers, often the hardest is the right to privacy. It often seems to be just something you feel at a gut level--either the idea that the government has a list of phone calls you've made either creeps you out or it doesn't.

Since the revelation about NSA warrantless wiretaps, I cannot tell you the number of times I've heard "I haven't done anything wrong so why should I care?". People are similarly unconcerned with the vast array of data private companies are gathering on individuals. This data collection has become all the more ominous lately, given that many companies seem to have no compunction about turning data over to the government, and laws like the PATRIOT Act make it easier for the government to compel those who may be reluctant to do so.

Well, today's article in the NY Times about AOL's posting of web search records for over 650,000 individuals on its website certainly helps make it easier to talk about privacy issues.(Incidentally the records were taken down, but not before the information was copied). Individuals were identified only by a unique identifier number, rather than names, and their entire search history for the past three months was listed. Despite the lack of names, the searches alone were enough for two NY Times reporters to track down the identity of one woman.

No. 4417749 conducted hundreds of searches over a three-month period on topics ranging from "numb fingers" to "60 single men" to "dog that urinates on everything."

And search by search, click by click, the identity of AOL user No. 4417749 became easier to discern. There are queries for "landscapers in Lilburn, Ga," several people with the last name Arnold and "homes sold in shadow lake subdivision gwinnett county georgia."

It did not take much investigating to follow that data trail to Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow who lives in Lilburn, Ga., frequently researches her friends’ medical ailments and loves her three dogs. "Those are my searches," she said, after a reporter read part of the list to her.

For some really interesting commentary on the AOL release of data and the ease of identifying individual identities through data-mining searches, check out these entries from Bruce Schneier and David Berlind at Between the Lines. (You should also check out Berlind's original posting on the release of the data. It provides some disturbing (and sometimes amusing) portraits of some of these search patterns revealed in the data.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

'Fess Up to Your Confusion!

Guest blogger: Julie Petrella, Director, Duvall Reproductive Rights Project of the ACLU of PA

It never ceases to amaze me how confused people - doctors included - get about emergency contraception (EC). It doesn't help that there are plenty of people spreading incorrect information about the medication on shows like "The View" on ABC-TV!! I pray (and I'm not particularly religious) that the majority of us, especially doctors and other medical professionals, are not getting information from places like "The View." However, I'm not so sure my prayers are being answered.

When recently asked about the provision of EC to rape patients at his hospital, the Director of an Emergency Department responded, "You mean RU-486?" Folks, what is wrong with his response??? Well, if you are just as confused as this doctor (and it's okay to be confused), I will be happy to tell you: EC is a form of contraception that can be used up to 120 hours after having unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. It is also known as the morning-after pill. EC is different from the abortion pill or RU-486 because it cannot terminate a pregnancy. RU-486 terminates an established pregnancy.

As my interns and I are finishing up our survey of PA hospital emergency departments and preparing advocacy efforts for the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies (CARE) Act, I hope that people will 'fess up to their confusion. Don't try to pretend that you know what EC is and how it works if you don't know. We want to find all you confused folk (including doctors!) so we can help you get the facts straight. If you don't give us that opportunity, we can't enlist your help in supporting the CARE Act. And, if we can't get your help supporting the CARE Act, then we can't help survivors of sexual assault receive comprehensive medical care (including EC) in emergency departments. And, if we can't pass the CARE Act, then we are putting sexual assault survivors through the additional trauma of denying them the option to prevent a pregnancy from their rapist. (Deep breath)

You see, the CARE Act will be up for a vote this fall. It is critical that you contact your legislator to ask that s/he support this important piece of legislation. So, you better be honest with yourself now about your understanding of EC. It may be up to you to make sure that your legislator doesn't make the same mistake that the Director of an Emergency Department did! Visit for more information about the CARE Act. I invite you to send me an email at if you're ready to make that first step and admit to your confusion.

If you've already passed EC 101, please help me educate others. Some opportunities for you to advocate for the CARE Act are waiting for you. I also hope you'll attend the CARE Act Press Conference and Rally on Wednesday, September 13, 2006 at 11:30am at The Rotunda in the Capitol, Harrisburg, PA. Make it a priority to ensure that you, your friends, and the people who make our laws know the difference between EC and RU-486 so we can assist sexual assualt survivors, not put them through more trauma.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Rally 'Round the Constitution Sept. 17!

Let me guess - you've been sitting around for days now, wondering how you could properly commemorate the 219th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution in Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1787. (It's like I'm a mind reader, isn't it?) Well, fret no more, my fellow civil libertarians.

The ACLU is sponsoring a rally on Sunday, Sept. 17, at 2:30 p.m. on Independence Mall in Philadelphia to defend the Constitution, which has taken its fair share of knocks over the past few years. Our main speaker will be John Dean, former White House counsel and author of Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush. Over the next few weeks we'll be adding more speakers, and possibly a musician or two.

We're also looking for other groups to co-sponsor (we've already signed up the Pittsburgh Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and the ACLU of Delaware). If you're involved with an organization that might be interested, send us an email at

Hope you'll join us. We're working on arranging busses from around the state to bring people to the event. If you live outside the Philadelphia area and would like be kept posted on the availability of busses from your area, please let us know at

Bring friends, signs, and your outrage!

Sara in Philly

The Battle of Gettysburg

(Hanover) Evening Sun: Charges dropped against abortion rights activist
Sending love out to ACLU-PA staff attorney Paula Knudsen and volunteer attorney Steve Rice on this one. Adams County is not a constitution-free zone.
A man arrested during a January pro-abortion-rights rally in Gettysburg questioned the constitutionality of the borough ordinance he violated, his arrest and the charges against him.

So Adams County Assistant District Attorney Shane Crosby in court Tuesday withdrew two of the charges against Bruce Kerr Davis, essentially killing the constitutionality challenge at the criminal level.

Paula Knudsen, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Davis is considering challenging the ordinance's constitutionality at the civil level.

Davis, 53, of York, still faces a single charge of disorderly conduct. And he will return to district court for a hearing.

I'd like to comment more, but since this is in the midst of litigation, we'll leave it be.
Knudsen cited 18 cases from across the country to support her argument.

After the constitutionality challenge was eliminated, George addressed Knudsen, "I guess that makes your visit to Adams County moot."

But Knudsen said she was - and still is - looking forward to arguing the case.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Andy in Harrisburg

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Just the facts....please, the facts!

After six years as an activist and almost two years with the ACLU of PA, I've come to the conclusion that my biggest pet peeve in the dialogue around social issues is the use of misinformation. If you pay attention, this is certainly nothing new, but I have yet to figure out how to keep from being aggravated by this tactic. Sure, people can disagree. You think eating contests make for great television? Hey, go knock yourself out. But don't tell us that such contests are good for the digestive system and consistently draw more viewers than 60 Minutes.

Which brings us to The View, the much-maligned all-female morning show on ABC. (Aside: I've never really understood the fury of those who are anti-View. It's not high-quality television, but there are shows of a similar format out there that are worse (see: anything on Fox News) and don't draw nearly the ire that The View does. Why? Is it residual patriarchal feelings bubbling to the surface?)

Anyway, yesterday the topic of emergency contraception came up in light of the FDA's possible move to approve its availability over-the-counter to those over 18. When I started this entry, I thought I would explain why Ms. Hasselbeck gave misinformation to thousands of nationwide viewers but then realized that I could not convey the facts as well as Julie Petrella from the Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project. Here's what Julie said after I asked her what, exactly, the deal is with EC and how it works:
Yesterday, on ABC's The View, thousands of viewers were provided misleading information about emergency contraception (EC). Elisabeth Hasselbeck's emotionally-charged opinions dominated what was supposed to be a discussion about the FDA's failure to make a decision on whether or not to grant emergency contraceptive Plan B over-the-counter status. Contrary to the medical community's definition of pregnancy, Hasselbeck shares the anti-choice view that "life begins at conception." What's so frustrating about this non-scientific definition is that it is impossible to prove when conception actually occurs. And, what's even more frustrating about the debate over how EC works is that people who believe that "life begins at conception" focus on the very slim possibility that EC may inhibit a fertilized egg from implanting into a woman's uterus. This is only one of several ways in which scientists have hypothesized that EC works-it may delay ovulation, inhibit ovulation, inhibit fertilization, or inhibit the implantation of the fertilized egg. The exact way in which EC works really depends on where a woman is in her menstrual cycle.

Elisabeth's focus on how EC may prevent implantation is misleading because it is only one of the possible explanations of how EC prevents pregnancy. By not presenting the whole picture, she can then make her transition into saying that EC causes abortion-which it does not. Elisabeth, it's fine for you to share your view on The View. In fact, that's what you get paid to do. However, it's not okay for you to mislead viewers by leaving out information that does support that view, particularly on an extremely contentious issue. I hope that the co-hosts revisit this and allow time for the other women on the show to share their--hopefully more informed--perspectives.

And when this misinformation is out there in the ether, it emboldens those who would like to deny EC to those who need it, including victims of rape.

Andy in the HBG

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Back to school, back to bigotry

This was posted on the American Family Association of PA's website:

As summer progresses and we begin to see "Back to School" signs in the store windows, why not consider investigating your school to see if it is allowing the wrong message to be conveyed about homosexuality. Is your school conveying the message that 'gay is okay.' Click here for a tool that can be used to help in this investigation. This Risk Audit Survey was developed by Columbus, OH-based Mission America.

Is your school considering a 'diversity' or 'tolerance' curriculum? Many such curricula are very biased and seek to normalize the homosexual lifestyle. If your school is truly interested in addressing a bullying problem, they need to check this middle and high school curriculum from Dr. Warren Throckmorton, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Campus Counseling Services at Grove City College.

If you have the time, read the Risk Audit Survey. (Warning: may cause excessive eye rolling, head shaking, and an increase in blood pressure.) Some of the more outrageous quotes:

"[It's erroneous] that homosexuality is a viewpoint and should be protected by "free speech" constitutional protections. Like smoking, it is actually a high risk behavior. Schools should no more permit homosexual behavior to be presented to children as 'normal' and 'acceptable' than smoking or drug abuse should be presented to children as 'normal' and 'acceptable.'"

"Objections to homosexual behavior actually save lives and improve mental and physical health."

On the issue of tolerance: "Homosexual advocacy takes the idea of being kind and civil and perverts it."

At the end of the survey, the authors list target school districts by state. In Pennsylvania, the list includes the Erie, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia school districts.

If you hear of a school in your area that's being targeted by this anti-gay movement, please let us know at

Sara in Philly

Victory for science and students in Kansas

Apparently the citizens of Dover, PA are trend-setters. Yesterday Kansans voted out enough pro-intelligent design folks to create a 6-4 evolution-supporting majority on the state school board. This will likely lead to a reversal of the current Kansas science standards, which now recommend teaching alternatives to evolution.

According to the NY Times, one of the school board members (a former teacher!) who was voted out had described evolution as "an age-old fairy tale" and "a nice bedtime story" unsupported by science.

Now this is a trend I can support.