Thursday, January 31, 2008

Press Release: Federal Appeals Court Says It's OK for School to Use Children's Books Encouraging Tolerance for Gay People

BOSTON -- Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that a Massachusetts elementary school can continue to use children's books that encourage tolerance for gay people. The ACLU cheers the decision of the court, which rejected the claims of parents who said exposing their children to such books violated their ability to direct the religious training of their children.

Noting that there has never been a federal case finding a constitutional right of parents to exempt their children from exposure to books used in public schools, the court said, "There is no free exercise right to be free from any reference in public elementary schools to the existence of families in which the parents are of different gender combinations."

"The courts have rightfully found that parents can't control which books are used in school just because they are in conflict with their personal religious beliefs," said Sarah Wunsch, ACLU of Massachusetts Staff Attorney. "School administrators and teachers can take heart from this and not be afraid to use materials that show diverse families just because a handful of parents might object."

The two families filed suit after the Lexington Superintendent released a public statement explaining the school district's position that it would not provide parental notification for "discussions, activities, or materials that simply reference same-gender parents or that otherwise recognize the existence of differences in sexual orientation."

The Court noted that "Public schools often walk a tightrope between the many competing constitutional demands made by parents, students, teachers, and the schools' other constituents... The balance the school struck here does not offend the Free Exercise or Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution."

"The ACLU supports the rights of parents to religious freedom, which includes the right to talk to their children about what they are learning in school, giving them alternative materials, and conveying their values and beliefs," said Wunsch. "Ultimately, if parents object to public education, they also have a constitutional right to send their children to private schools, to home school them, and to lobby their local school officials for changes in the curriculum. But they do not have a federal constitutional right to control the material that is taught to all students."

The ACLU of Massachusetts filed a friend of the court brief urging dismissal of the case, Parker v. Hurley, on behalf of local Lexington parents, teachers, and religious groups, as well as civil rights organizations that supported the teaching of diversity and respect for others. These groups were Lexington CARES, Lexington Education Association, Massachusetts Teachers Association, and Respecting Differences. Boston attorneys Eben Krim and Mark Batten of Proskauer Rose worked on the brief with the ACLU. An appeal was heard in December after the Court dismissed the case in February 2007.

The books at issue in the case were "Molly's Family," "King and King," and "Who's In A Family?"

A copy of the ruling is available online:
http://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/getopn.pl?OPINION=07-1528.01A

Monday, January 28, 2008

News: City takes another shot at voter ID requirement

This article in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune examines the issue of voter ID requirements, and quotes Chris Ott, Communications Manager for the ACLU of Massachusetts. Advocates say checking IDs is necessary to prevent voter fraud.

The ACLU's position is that there is little to no real evidence of fraud being committed, and that requiring an ID just prevents and discourages people from exercising a fundamental right.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Press Release: Ellsberg, Maddow to headline ACLU of Mass. Membership Conference

Amid 2008 election season, gathering will focus on "Reclaiming Our Civil Liberties," Saturday at Bentley College

BOSTON -- More than 300 people from Cape Cod to the Berkshires plan to attend the first annual membership conference of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, this Saturday, January 26, 2008, at Bentley College in Waltham. The conference theme is "Reclaiming Our Civil Liberties."

WHAT: ACLU Membership Conference: Reclaiming Our Civil Liberties
WHERE: Bentley College, Waltham, Massachusetts, Lindsay Hall, 1st Floor
WHEN: January 26, 2008, 12–6 pm

Speakers include Daniel Ellsberg, the writer, activist, and former U.S. military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, and Rachel Maddow, the Air America host and frequent commentator on networks such as MSNBC, CNN, and LOGO. Ellsberg will speak on "2008 and Beyond: What will it take to end the abuse of power?" Maddow's speech is entitled "Don't Wait for November '08!"

The conference also features ten workshops:
  • Moving Beyond the War on Drugs
  • Confronting the Surveillance Society: Real ID, NSA Spying, Warrantless Wiretapping, and Fusion Centers
  • Torture, Rendition and Guantánamo
  • Next Steps for LGBT Rights
  • Freedom of Speech and Association in the Post 9/11 World
  • Racial, Ethnic & Religious Profiling in the Post 9/11 World
  • Ensuring Reproductive Freedom
  • Which Way Forward for the Immigrant Rights Movement?
  • Blogging for Civil Liberties
  • Building and Sustaining Strong Student Groups

"Many of us concerned about the abuses of power we've seen in our country in recent years are focused on the 2008 elections. That's important, but for our conference this year, we've chosen to focus on specific issues and what individual people can do about them," said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "The erosion of our civil liberties has been so severe that it is unlikely that the next president and Congress alone will be able to undo the damage. We need the sustained involvement of concerned, committed citizens, and that is what the ACLU is working to develop."

Press Release: ACLU of Massachusetts voices concern over punishment of Brandeis professor

BOSTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts joins with other free-speech advocates and the faculty union in criticizing Brandeis University for reportedly having punished political science professor Donald Hindley for use of the word "wetbacks" in his class. Hindley asserts that he used the term to demonstrate a pejorative word that has been and continues to be used to describe some immigrants to the U.S. The faculty union has condemned the university’s investigation, which failed to provide adequate notice to the professor about the accusations against him, to interview many witnesses, or provide a process for appeal.

The ACLU of Massachusetts supports the right of all students to equal educational opportunity. Severe, pervasive, or targeted harassment of a student based on race, national origin, or ethnicity can interfere with the ability of students to obtain an education and would violate our state and federal civil rights laws. However, incidental comments by a professor in class, even if offensive to some, do not constitute illegal harassment under the law, and imposing punishment on a faculty member for occasional comments significantly jeopardizes freedom of thought and academic freedom which are so integral to a university and the quality of education that students will receive there.

Students plainly have the right to complain about a professor, to raise their complaints with a professor, organize with other students to discuss with the professor their objections, and debate what has gone on. However, faculty members also have the right to a fair process when they have been accused of wrongdoing, and Brandeis appears to have denied that process to Professor Hindley.

We are also troubled by this incident because it comes after several other recent incidents at Brandeis in which the University administration’s initial impulse has been to shut down unpopular expression rather than affirm the principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are integral to a university community. For example, the university closed down an exhibit of art by Palestinian children after complaints were made that the exhibit was not "balanced." Later, at the request of Brandeis' president, the university Committee on Exhibitions and Expressions investigated the matter and concluded that removing the exhibit was a mistake. More recently, the university was criticized for placing conditions on a speech by former President Jimmy Carter -- which he rejected -- because of complaints about his use in a book of the word "apartheid" to describe Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. Although Carter later was permitted to speak, the incident was troubling in what it revealed about Brandeis's commitment to freedom of expression.

We urge Brandeis to retract the punishment of Professor Hindley and to send two messages to the community: that all students are entitled to receive an education at the university free from unlawful harassment, and that freedom of expression and academic freedom are critical to receiving a good education.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Press Release: ACLU of Massachusetts Raises Concern About Latest Demonstration of Personal Data Vulnerability

Reported hacking of MassHealth web site illustrates problems with Fusion Center, Real ID

BOSTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts today voiced concern over reported hacking of the state's MassHealth website. On Wednesday, a hacker reportedly infiltrated the site and put up an unauthorized message.

"Though in this case there seems to be no evidence that personal information has been compromised, the hacking of an important state website is yet another illustration of a serious problem," said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

"We know that databases of personal information are a fact of modern life, but a long string of security breaches -- notably the TJX breach, as well as examples in both the private and public sector of missing laptops and storage media with thousands of people's personal information -- shows the extreme care that must be taken with personal data," said Rose.

The ACLU of Massachusetts remains highly concerned about security at the Commonwealth Fusion Center -- a massive government data-collection and sharing center in Maynard, Massachusetts -- as well as security for the proposed Real ID national identity card, which would create vast new databases of personal information, including Social Security numbers.

The Fusion Center, established by Governor Romney in 2005, has access to personal information about Massachusetts residents from both public and private sources, yet is subject to no regulation or oversight. Real ID has been criticized as a civil liberties nightmare that violates fundamental privacy rights, and as prohibitively expensive and unwieldy.

“These databases are treasure troves for identity thieves, they are vulnerable to misuse, and to date we have no reason to believe that appropriate safeguards exist or will be put into place," said Rose.

For more information about the Fusion Center, see:
http://www.aclum.org/news/ACLUM_12_12_07_Fusion_Centers.pdf

For more information about Real ID, see:
http://www.realnightmare.org/

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Letter to the Editor: Not so fast on drug testing

Sarah Wunsch, ACLU Staff Attorney, warns in a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe that drug-testing for firefighters isn't a panacea.  What's more important is tests for current impairment (regardless of cause, such as simply being tired), not evidence of past impairment.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

News: State's mandate on health coverage has avoided legal challenge so far

Norma Shapiro, Legislative Director for the ACLU of Massachusetts, weighs in on the state's plan requiring everyone to have health insurance coverage, in this article in the New Bedford Standard-Times.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Press Release: ACLU of Massachusetts Calls on Gov. Patrick to Reject Real ID Act

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts calls on Governor Deval Patrick to protect American values and reject the federal Real ID Act – a law that would create the first internal passport system in American history and endanger the privacy rights of all Massachusetts residents.

The Department of Homeland Security today issued its final regulations for the implementation of the Real ID Act, which Congress passed in May 2005 with no debate.

Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the regulations don’t fix the problems with the REAL ID and urged Governor Patrick to stand firmly against implementing the national identity card scheme in Massachusetts.

“REAL ID is a threat to Americans’ privacy and is guaranteed to be a budget-buster for the state,” said Rose. “The new regulations do not fix the substantial threats this law poses to the privacy, freedoms and pocketbooks of Massachusetts residents. Governor Patrick must stand up for American values, protect our privacy and reject the Real ID Act once and for all.”

The Real ID Act attempts to set federal standards for the issuance and appearance of state driver’s licenses and identification cards, but it goes much further. Driver’s licenses and ID cards would have to meet these standards to be accepted for “official purposes” by federal agencies, which would include boarding a commercial aircraft, entering federal facilities such as federal courthouses, and any other purposes the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security determines are necessary.

The law places no limits on whether in the future the government would require REAL ID for other uses. In time, Real IDs could be required to vote, collect a Social Security check, open a bank account, go to a Red Sox game, or access Medicaid. The private sector could begin mandating a Real ID to perform countless commercial and financial activities, such as renting a DVD or buying car insurance. Real ID cards would become a necessity, making them de facto national IDs.

If implemented, the Real ID Act could establish an enormous electronic infrastructure that government and law enforcement officials – or whoever else hacks in – could use to track Americans’ activities and movements. This vast network of interlinking databases would contain enormous amounts of Americans’ personal information – such as Social Security numbers, photos and copies of birth certificates – and would be accessible to federal and RMV employees across the 50 states and U.S. territories. In time, information captured could be used by the government and corporations to develop detailed profiles of people’s daily activities.

To date, seventeen states have rejected Real ID outright. Seven states passed binding legislation to stop Real ID (Georgia, Maine, New Hampshire, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington), and 10 additional states have passed resolutions registering their dissent (Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, North Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Illinois, Tennessee, Hawaii and Missouri).

“Executive Office of Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke and Registry of Motor Vehicles Registrar Anne L. Collins warned in testimony before a state legislative committee last June about high cost, impracticality, and hassles for RMV consumers in Massachusetts stemming from REAL ID,” said Rose. “Registrar Collins testified that ‘We’re looking at a hundred million dollars in year one for Massachusetts.’”

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley also has spoken out against the REAL ID Act.

“Massachusetts should decline to participate in this unfunded federal mandate and we certainly should not even begin to budget for implementing Real ID in Massachusetts,” Rose added.

To learn more about the Real ID Act or read about its history, visit http://www.realnightmare.org

To find out what you can do in Massachusetts, visit: http://www.aclum.org/issues/realid/say_no_to_real_id.pdf

Video: Close Guantanamo

Video from our Boston demonstration to close the Guantanamo Bay prison is available here.

"Shut Down Guantánamo" Rally in Boston Grabs Attention

Brian Corr of the ACLU of Massachusetts sent in dispatches from the Close Guantánamo event in Boston.

Noon: We're about to leave the ACLU of Massachusetts office for our Shut Down Guantánamo action. We've got quite a crew assembled at out office! The fact that the Boston Herald ran an op-ed from our director Carol Rose today — that has helped get the word out!

12:30 p.m.: I'm in downtown Boston, Mass. The rare January thunderstorm has stopped and the sun might just peek through the clouds and winter fog.

Despite the weather, we have a great turnout for our Shut Down Guantánamo march. We teamed up with Amnesty International for a solemn procession and protest vigil in downtown Boston demanding the closure of Guantánamo prison.

12:50 p.m.: With orange jumpsuits and black coffins outside Sen. Kennedy's office we're attracting stares, some questions, and some people joining us! It's great to see that people from all parts of the political spectrum have come out in support of the the rule of law and the Constitution.

1 p.m.: Great speeches from Nancy Murray of the ACLU of Mass. and Josh Rubenstein of Amnesty rallied the crowd a minute ago, and now the Raging Grannies are singing "Rummy Says."


This is really something for the middle of January in New England...

News: New Rules for Driver's Licenses Unveiled

WCVB-TV in Boston ran this story about Real ID today, and cited the ACLU.

Op-Ed: Justice delayed, denied for Gitmo detainees

Today the Boston Herald ran an op-ed by Carol Rose, our Executive Director, about the ongoing disgrace of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.  Today is the sixth anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners there.

Monday, January 7, 2008

ACLU protects your politically incorrect speech, sweeties!

On Jan. 5, Carol Rose, our Executive Director, sent this email to NPR's popular Car Talk radio program:

> --------------------------------------------
> From: Carol Rose
> --------------------------------------------
> ACLU oportects your politically incorrect speech, sweeties!
>
> Yo -- Ray and Tom,
>
> You expressed concern today that by calling
> a listener "sweetie," you might get in
> trouble with the ACLU for
> being "politically incorrect"
>
> As the Executive Director of the ACLU of
> Massachusetts, I want you to know that the
> ACLU is here to protect all speech,
> politically incorrect and otherwise --
> including yours.
>
> Here's to ensuring that the Marketplace of
> Ideas always has a place for Car Talk!
>
> Sweetly yours,
> Carol Rose
> ED, ACLU of Massachusetts


They took it in stride:

> From: Doug Mayer
> To: Carol Rose
> Subject: Re: ACLU oportects your politically incorrect
> speech, sweeties!
>
> Thanks Carol! We all agree here-- glad to know you're out there, the
> next time Tom or Ray say something that has us all looking at each
> other with severe and dubious skepticism....
>
> Best,
>
> Doug Mayer
> Car Talk