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In This Issue
Join Us at the ACLU Membership Conference This Summer

House Leadership Standing Up To Bush on Spying

Bush Veto Shows Callous Disregard for Human Rights

Congress Must Act to Keep the Internet Free from Censorship

FBI Audit Exposes Widespread Abuse of Patriot Act Powers

Voting Rights: New Partnership Addresses Voter Disfranchisement

Victory! Texas School Board Agrees To Stop Teaching Unconstitutional Bible Class In Public Schools

Lawsuit Charges Grossly Inadequate Medical Care at State Prison In Nevada

MD School Vouchers Disproportionately Benefit Religiously-Run Schools


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Victory! Texas School Board Agrees To Stop Teaching Unconstitutional Bible Class In Public Schools

An agreement was reached in Odessa, Texas, to stop teaching a course in its public schools that unconstitutionally promotes a particular interpretation of the Bible. The agreement settles an ACLU lawsuit filed in May 2007 that was brought on behalf of eight Odessa parents and taxpayers who argued that the course, created by a religious organization, violated their constitutional right to religious liberty by promoting specific religious doctrines to children in their community.

“It is unacceptable for government officials to decide which religious beliefs are true and which are not and then use the public school system as a means of proselytizing children,” said Dr. T. Jeremy Gunn, Director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

The lawsuit challenged the school board’s decision last year to teach a controversial Bible course created by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), a private group that promotes its own particular interpretation of the Bible.

Under the agreement, Ector County schools may not teach the current course after this school year. If the board decides to offer a different Bible course in the future, the course must follow strict legal standards for objectivity and may not be based on the NCBCPS curriculum.

>> Read more about the case.

Lawsuit Charges Grossly Inadequate Medical Care at State Prison In Nevada

The ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit last week against the director of Nevada’s Department of Corrections and other top state officials in Nevada. The lawsuit comes after the recent release of a medical report that documented how gravely ill prisoners at Ely State Prison are routinely denied treatment for excruciatingly painful and potentially fatal medical conditions. The report also revealed what Dr. William Noel, the medical expert commissioned by the ACLU to investigate medical conditions inside Ely and author of the report, called "a pattern of gross medical abuse."

The lawsuit charges that the prison in Ely lacks the most basic elements of an adequate prison health care system and deprives prisoners of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.

On the heels of the report’s release last December, ACLU attorneys proposed a series of basic reforms that would have dramatically improved prison health care at Ely, including complying with nationally recognized standards for correctional health care. The proposal was rejected by the Board of State Prison Commissioners.

"The level of medical care provided at Ely is as horrific as any we have ever seen at any of the prison systems that we track across the country," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. "And while we had hoped that working collaboratively with the Department of Corrections and the governor’s office would lead to the resolution of some of the most pressing issues at Ely, it simply has not."

>> Learn more about the conditions at Ely State Prison.

MD School Vouchers Disproportionately Benefit Religiously-Run Schools

A hotly-contested bill before the Maryland legislature would siphon off millions of dollars from the State’s coffers to subsidize private and religious schools. The misnamed “Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers in Maryland Tax Credit” or BOAST bill would effectively enact private school vouchers, especially for religiously-run schools.

Poll after poll confirms that most Americans want their tax dollars spent to ensure that all children attend safe and clean schools, with smaller class sizes and better teacher training. Voucher programs, in contrast, do nothing to address these pressing needs.

It is unfair to students in public schools, and Maryland taxpayers, to divert public money that is urgently needed in public schools for basic education and facilities maintenance statewide to private schools and undefined extracurricular programs. Additionally, Maryland continues to face a structural budget deficit and is expecting another downturn in revenue estimates.

Similar to other states, the Maryland State Constitution requires that the State provide a “thorough and efficient free school system” of public schools. The ACLU of Maryland believes that a quality public school education is vital to ensuring a strong democracy, which is especially important since the vast majority of students in the state are educated in public schools.

>> Learn more about the “BOAST” bill.

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March 14 , 2008

Join Us at the ACLU Membership Conference This Summer


You’ve seen the headlines. The current administration vetoes an anti-torture bill, and continues to push for an illegal wiretapping program. After six years, detainees at Guantànamo Bay are still being held without the benefit of the most basic legal and human rights. Many state and local governments continue to run roughshod over our constitutionally protected liberties on issues ranging from free speech to voter rights. If you want to get involved in the restoration of our most fundamental rights, the ACLU Membership Conference is the place for you

Join us in Washington, D.C. June 8-10 to stop the abuse of power!

>> Register or learn more about the conference

House Leadership Standing Up To Bush on Spying

Join

Thanks to the hard work of ACLU members and activists, key members of the House introduced compromise legislation on FISA yesterday. While the ACLU has concerns about aspects of the new bill, it is important to note that the House is standing up to the executive branch and its demands to engage in unchecked wiretapping on US soil.

"We see the House’s new FISA bill as a positive step towards reining in the powers of the flawed Protect America Act rushed through Congress this past August,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “This is a clear rejection of the Senate’s problematic approach.”

Even with administration officials issuing ominous warnings, the American people are prevailing. House leadership -- at least for now -- is finally standing up to Bush fear mongering.

Here are just a couple highlights of what we recently accomplished together:

  • On Monday, we delivered our "Keep Standing Up to Fear Mongering" petition with more than 50,000 signatures to House Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer and representatives who stood up to President Bush.

  • Last week, our Calling for Freedom campaign generated tens of thousands of phone calls to Congress.

  • Congress still has not passed Bush’s spying bill and in fact, House leadership introduced a better bill. The president threatened to veto the compromise bill, but the House is planning to vote on it today anyway.

But the fight is nowhere near over yet. The House is expected to vote on their compromise bill today. Now's not the time to get complacent. We need to keep the pressure on Congress to continue standing up to Bush's incessant demands for telecom immunity and his veto threats.

>> Learn more about FISA.

Bush Veto Shows Callous Disregard for Human Rights

Racial
ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner was in Guantánamo this week to observe the hearings of three Guantánamo detainees.
Read his observations.

In a brazen move signaling a callous disregard for human rights, President Bush last week vetoed the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act largely due to a provision that would have applied the Army Field Manual on Interrogations to all government agencies, including the CIA. The manual prohibits specific acts of torture and abuse, including waterboarding. During recent congressional testimony, CIA Director Michael Hayden admitted the agency has waterboarded detainees.

"It is fundamentally un-American when our president vetoes laws against torture," said Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "The president's veto sends a message to the world that despite Congress' actions, our country will continue to engage in this inhumane and heinous conduct when we should be affirming unequivocally and in one voice that torture and abuse will stop and never happen again. No one is above the rule of law, including the president. Congress should hold firm and persist in trying to get an anti-torture bill signed into law."

>> Learn more about the ACLU’s work to oppose torture.

Congress Must Act to Keep the Internet Free from Censorship

Urging Congress to act to safeguard free speech on the Internet, the ACLU testified this week before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Net Neutrality, the principle that protects our ability to go where we want and do what we want online.

The creation and dynamic growth of the Internet is in part the result of strong Net Neutrality protection. All of that changed in 2005, when the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) suddenly repealed longstanding Internet non-discrimination principles with the blessing of the United States Supreme Court.

"Restoring meaningful rules that protect Internet users from corporate censorship is vital to the future of free speech on the Internet," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. "Congress should act to protect the rights of all Internet users to send and receive lawful content free of censorship from government or business."

The 2007 censorship of NARAL Pro-Choice America highlights why Internet service providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to discriminate. In that situation, Verizon Wireless claimed that it was free to block text messaging that it disapproved of because neutrality rules that apply to voice transmissions do not apply to data transmissions. By its own words and actions, Verizon Wireless has made the case for why neutrality rules must be restored to apply to all broadband ISPs.

Fredrickson noted that ISPs have free speech rights but those rights do not give them an additional right to censor the speech of people using their services to access the Internet.

>> Learn more about Net Neutrality.

FBI Audit Exposes Widespread Abuse of Patriot Act Powers

A report released yesterday by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General on the FBI’s use of National Security Letters (NSLs) reveals a systemic, widespread abuse of power.

The National Security Letter provision of the Patriot Act radically expanded the FBI's authority to demand personal records like Web site visits and e-mail addresses without prior court approval. The provision also allows the FBI to forbid or "gag" anyone who receives an NSL from telling anyone about the record demand.

Remarkably, the report notes two instances where the FBI, on its own initiative, issued NSLs to get sensitive information after the FISA court had already rejected its requests. There are currently bills in both the House and Senate that would narrow the scope of the FBI’s NSL authority and bring the statute back in line with the Constitution.

"There is a pressing need for stricter guidelines and more robust oversight. The Inspector General’s report shows what happens when the FBI is asked to police itself," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU's National Security Project.

The ACLU has successfully challenged the NSL power in two separate lawsuits. In one case, involving an Internet Service Provider, a federal court in September struck down the NSL provision of the Patriot Act, declaring unconstitutional its gag orders, which forbid recipients of NSLs from telling anyone about the record demand. The government is currently appealing the decision. In addition, the ACLU filed a lawsuit last June to enforce its Freedom of Information Act request to force the Department of Defense and the CIA to turn over documents concerning those agencies’ use of NSLs. That lawsuit is pending.

>> Read more about NSLs.

Voting Rights: New Partnership Addresses Voter Disfranchisement

ACLU

The ACLU and BlackElectorate.com's "Business and Building" Community announced last week the launch of a partnership to raise awareness of the devastating effects of felony disfranchisement on this country’s African-American community. The partnership fuses the strengths of each organization -- the ACLU’s longtime involvement in states which set policy on this issue and BlackElectorate.com’s broad audience and close ties with African-American leaders -- to give this issue greater visibility within the black community in this historic election year.

“The people of Texas went to the polls last week, but over half a million Texan citizens were unable to vote due to a felony conviction,” said Laleh Ispahani, Senior Policy Counsel with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “Over 165,000 of those disfranchised Texans are black. Disfranchisement runs contrary to fundamental precepts of democracy, human rights, and of giving people a second chance, a chance at true rehabilitation.”

In the United States, one out of every seven - or 1.4 million - African-American men is disfranchised and cannot vote due to a felony conviction. This rate is nearly seven times the national disfranchisement rate of one in 41 adults.

The ACLU and BlackElectorate.com have developed a multi-faceted, nationwide plan to raise awareness of this critical voting rights issue that includes targeted projects in California, Florida and Mississippi; the recruitment of prominent African-Americans to address this issue at rallies, conferences and in public service announcements; and the launch of a large-scale guerrilla, viral, and street campaign to engage youth that features street teams, t-shirts, music, videos, and the ACLU documentary, “Democracy’s Ghosts.”

>> Learn more about our critical voting rights work.

American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street, 18th Floor
New York, New York 10004-2400
Geraldine Engel and Lisa Sock,
Editors

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