Tuesday, September 26, 2006

ACLU ONLINE SPECIAL ALERT:

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In This Issue

Call While It Counts: Tell Congress Not to Rubberstamp Bush Abuses

Special Message from John Dean: Don’t Let America Be Held Hostage By the Authoritarians

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House's "Public Expression of Religion Act" Dishonors our Nation's Tradition of Religious Liberty

Harsh Immigration and Criminal Justice Bills Before Congress

New Films Highlight ACLU Work on Censorship and Ideological Exclusion

In the States:

A Victory in First Challenge to Ohio Patriot Act

Female and Minority Custodians in New York Can Keep Benefits

New on StandUp—ACLU Comics: Abuse of Power

Join the ACLU YOU CAN HELP PROTECT OUR BASIC FREEDOMS by joining with over 550,000 card-carrying members of the ACLU. Our rights as individuals -- the very foundation of our great democracy -- depend on our willingness to defend them, and as an ACLU member, you'll be doing your part.

Click now to safeguard our Bill of Rights by becoming an ACLU member.


A Victory in Challenge to Ohio Patriot Act

In a challenge to the Ohio Patriot Act, the Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled that attorneys seeking to represent indigent clients are no longer required to sign documents swearing that they are not terrorists and have no involvement with terrorist groups.

"The Ohio Patriot Act is an assault on the fundamental liberties of all Ohioans. Hopefully, this decision is a stepping stone to reining in this overreaching and flawed law," said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link.

Since the Ohio Patriot Act was enacted on April 14, 2006, the ACLU of Ohio has been inundated with questions and requests for aide from business professionals, lawyers, academics and various private companies who have all been forced to sign the terrorism oaths.

The court specifically ruled that requiring the pledges from court-appointed attorneys fell outside of the act's definition of those who should sign the pledges.

When first introduced in the Ohio General Assembly in 2005, the Ohio Patriot Act came under intense scrutiny from civil rights, public advocacy and community groups because of concerns of racial and ethnic profiling, increased bureaucracy and ineffective practices to prevent terrorist attacks in Ohio. Recently, the terrorism oath provision has come under fire from members of the state government because it has led to increased workloads, less government transparency and widespread confusion over who is required to sign the pledges.


Female and Minority Custodians in New York Can Keep Benefits

A federal judge in Brooklyn upheld job benefits for female and minority school custodians in a case that has been in the courts for the past ten years. The ACLU represented 22 of 59 custodians who were awarded benefits in 1999.

"This decision will allow hard-working women and minority custodians in the city of New York to keep their benefits and their jobs," "For decades, women and people of color were effectively cut out of the custodian recruitment process in New York City schools. This settlement is an important and necessary way of creating equal opportunities in the workplace," said Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project.

At issue is the 1999 settlement agreement in U.S. v. New York City Board of Education on behalf of women and minority custodians. The agreement ended a lawsuit in which the Justice Department had accused the Board of Education of employment discrimination on the basis of race and sex in its recruitment and hiring of permanent custodians and custodian engineers. The agreement awarded the few women and minorities working in provisional jobs as custodians retroactive seniority and permanent employment status. Until then, the custodian positions had gone almost exclusively to white men.

In a 91-page decision, Judge Frederic Block of the Eastern District of New York called the case "a veritable tour de force of virtually every aspect of affirmative action law in the employment arena" and agreed that the awards given in the 1999 settlement were an appropriate remedy for past discrimination in employing custodians.

Click here to read the court's decision.


New on StandUp—ACLU Comics: Abuse of Power.

Matt Bors illustrates the government’s Abuse of Power and brings out the humor in a very sad state of affairs. E-mail it to friends, print it and post it everywhere, AND use it to promote the ACLU’s upcoming Membership Conference. The Conference theme? You guessed it: Abuse of Power.

Know a young person who's headed to the Membership Conference? Be sure that they check out StandUp, which has info on hotel and registration discounts as well as a Conference Promoter toolkit for anyone who wants to spread the word.

Stand Up. Because freedom can’t protect itself.


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September 25, 2006

Doonesbury Cartoon

Don't Let This Happen: Take Action on Illegal Spying and Detainee Trials Right Now

DOONESBURY (c) 2006 G. B. Trudeau. Reprinted with permission of UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. All rights reserved.

Call While It Counts: Tell Congress Not to Rubberstamp Bush Abuses

This is a make or break week for civil liberties. With mid-term elections looming, some leaders in Congress who appeared poised to stand up to the Bush Administration's abuse of power have made "compromises" that sell out fundamental civil liberties to political expediency.

As a result, there are votes due this week on un-American legislation to expand the government's power to spy on innocent citizens and to strip the most basic due process protections from U.S. detainees.

There are two things you can do right now to make the voice of liberty and reason heard in Congress this week:

1. Call your Senators and representatives

2. Ask five friends to call as well

The proposals being voted on this week by your Members of Congress are truly frightening. If Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has his way, we could see a nightmare "Big Brother" bill that combines a rubber stamp for warrantless domestic spying on phone calls and emails with new torture and detention tactics that would gut the Geveva Conventions by diluting the War Crimes Act, taking away checks on the president's power and staining our nation's legacy as the standard bearer for the protection of human rights.

Phone calls from constituents make an impact because Members of Congress know that when one of their constituents takes the time to pick up the phone and call, they mean business.

Thousands and thousands of liberty-loving people across America are calling Congress today—because they know the stakes couldn't be higher.

Please take action today. And then use our special Doonesbury eCard and ask five friends to take action.

To read more about these bills, go here.

Special Message from John Dean: Don’t Let America Be Held Hostage By the Authoritarians

Speak Out in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15-17

John DeanOver 30 years ago, I walked in to the Oval Office and told Richard Nixon there was a cancer growing on his presidency. Never, in my lifetime, did I expect to see activities in the White House that are, in fact, much worse than Watergate. No one died, or was tortured, or was kidnapped, or imprisoned indefinitely without being charged, or hidden in a secret prison because of Nixon's abuses of power. By comparison, Nixon's warrantless wiretapping was trifling. Nixon employed warrantless searches to uncover national security leaks in a handful of situations. Bush and Cheney, on the other hand, openly defy the law to undertake covert surveillance of thousands upon thousands of Americans.

Similarly, the secrecy of the Nixon White House pales in comparison to that of the Bush/Cheney White House. Had Nixon attempted to gag the body politic by portraying his critics as un-American, as Bush and Cheney have done since 9/11, the mainstream news media would have eviscerated him. Yet today they tolerate, and even encourage, such actions by Bush and Cheney. We have never before had an authoritarian, fear-mongering and media-manipulating presidency such as the likes of Bush and Cheney, which so easily bullies the American people and its representatives into compliance.

With zero Congressional oversight, the current administration has been able to abuse the powers of the executive branch so radically that our democracy is in serious danger. In lying to Congress about his reasons for going to war in Iraq, and defying the war crimes law, the president commited impeachable offenses. Instead of demanding the president comply with the rule of law, his compatriots on Capitol Hill seek to rewrite the laws to make such illegal actions permissible. It is all quite remarkable. As long as the president believes he can get away with his actions, he figures the rest of us can go to hell.

Instead, I urge you to go to Washington, D.C. October 15-17 for the ACLU Membership Conference.

That's where I am headed to join other concerned citizens for leadership discussions and workshops on a range of civil liberties issues, including the abuse of power. We will also be visiting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to let them know we want democracy, not dictatorship, in America.

Don't let America be held hostage by the authoritarians. Attend the ACLU membership conference and help restore checks and balances to our government.

Take Action: Tell Congress to Honor Our Nation's Tradition of Religious Liberty!

Over the years, the ACLU, with the support of its members, has had great success protecting religious liberty and the separation of church and state that is so crucial to the health of democracy.

Now, frustrated by our ability to defend religious freedom so effectively in the courts, our opponents have gone on the offensive with a dangerous legislative attack designed to slam the courtroom door shut in the face of those who seek to protect their religious freedom.

The so-called "Public Expression of Religion Act" (PERA), which has already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee, would bar the recovery of attorneys' fees to those who win lawsuits asserting their constitutional and civil rights in cases brought under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The ability to recover attorneys' fees in civil rights and constitutional cases, including Establishment Clause cases, is necessary to help protect the religious freedom of all Americans and to keep religion government-free. People who successfully prove the government has violated their constitutional rights would, under the bill, be required to pay their own legal fees—often totaling tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Few citizens can afford to do so. But more importantly, citizens should not be required to do so where the court finds that the government has violated their rights and engaged in unconstitutional behavior.

The elimination of attorneys' fees would also deter attorneys from taking cases in which the government has acted unconstitutionally. In many cases, religious minorities would be unable to obtain legal representation to defend them in instances when their religious freedom has been violated by the government. The bill would apply even to cases involving illegal religious coercion of public school children or blatant discrimination against particular religions.

Outrageously—but not surprisingly—proponents of the bill are purposefully misleading Congress and the American public by spreading myths that religious symbols on gravestones at military cemeteries will be threatened without passage of PERA. In fact, religious symbols on grave markers in military cemeteries, including Arlington National Cemetery, are entirely constitutional. Religious symbols on personal gravestones are vastly different from government-sponsored religious symbols or religious symbols on government-owned property.

Religious liberty and the ability to sue the government when it denies our rights are cornerstones of our democracy.

Please take action on this dangerous bill today.

Harsh Immigration and Criminal Justice Bills Before Congress

In this final week before members of Congress leave Washington to campaign for mid-term elections, Republicans are looking to score political points by pushing through harsh crime and anti-immigrant measures that undermine due process and flout the very freedoms America represents.

Just last week, the House of Representatives passed a package of "get tough" anti-immigrant measures that would, among other things: broaden the constitutionally dubious practice of indefinite detention; expand the unjust practice of expedited removal—deportation without a lawyer, hearing, or court review; authorize state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws; and make it more difficult to sue the government for violating immigrants' rights. The Senate could vote on these measures this week.

In addition to the anti-immigration legislation, there is an effort to pass several harsh criminal justice bills. This package of Judiciary Committee legislation would include new federal death penalties, mandatory minimum sentences and further restrictions on federal habeas corpus proceedings.

It is quite possible that Republican leaders will attempt to attach any or all of these bills to the must-pass Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill—daring Democrats to vote against it. But lawmakers should not undermine our civil rights and civil liberties as an election-year strategy.

Please call your members of Congress today and urge them to pass a "clean" DHS appropriations bill and oppose any attempts to attach legislation that would undermine our fundamental freedoms.

ACLU Screens Two New Films on Censorship and Artistic Expression

The IFC documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," is an unprecedented exposé of the film ratings system and its profound impact on American culture. The film underscores the need for a robust national conversation on free speech and the dangers of allowing government agencies or other groups to censor works of art and entertainment.

At a recent screening, co-host and ACLU President Nadine Strossen discussed the film and the issues with Oscar-winning director Kirby Dick, NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin, critic Owen Gleiberman and filmmakers Mary Harron and Michael Tucker. The event was also hosted by the National Coalition Against Censorship and The Independent Film Channel. You can learn more about the history of film censorship and freedom of expression, and watch IFC's video of the screening at: www.aclu.org/artisticfreedom.

This month the ACLU and NYCLU also co-hosted a screening of The U.S. vs. John Lennon. The documentary from Lion's Gate films flashes back to a time of increasingly unpopular war, a restive public, a president engaged in secret surveillance, and the world-famous musician who spoke out in protest and came under fire. The screening was followed with a panel discussion featuring Art Eisenberg, Legal Director of the NYCLU; Jameel Jaffer, ACLU attorney; Eve Cary, who represented the NYCLU and ACLU during John Lennon's deportation hearings; and Joe Treen, who wrote a series of articles about the Lennon INS hearings for Rolling Stone.

In the past and today, the U.S. government has used visa denials and deportations to suppress the freedom of ideas. For more about the ACLU's challenge to ideological exclusion go to: www.aclu.org/exclusion. And to learn more about the new documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, visit the film's web site at: www.theusversusjohnlennon.com.

These screenings were the latest in an ongoing series of ACLU film events to spark dialogue and raise awareness about fundamental civil liberties and civil rights issues. Our first screening, The Road to Guantánamo, was held in June.

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