Volunteer Spotlight: Todd M. Darby

Todd M. Darby

Todd M. Darby

Hometown:
Philadelphia, PA

School:
Recent Graduate of Claflin University; Aspiring Lawyer

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I am a development volunteer; I assist the development staff with a wide variety of tasks, such as stuffing envelopes, scanning documents, working on spreadsheets, and played a part in preparing sections of the annual report.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
It is closing in on three months soon.

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I had previously coordinated with the ACLU of South Carolina on events at my alma mater, Claflin University. While at Claflin, I kept up to date what ACLU-PA was doing in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. I admired the work that the ACLU-PA was doing, especially over the last two years. Since graduating in May, I’m back home in Philadelphia and I wanted to play a part in moving your work forward, so I applied to be the Development Volunteer.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?
It’s important because I know that I’m playing a part in helping the ACLU of Pennsylvania be successful. I help out with the daily functions of development, which in turn moves the organization forward. The ACLU of Pennsylvania works on issues that are most prevalent to myself and my community, and I am making an impact, both directly and indirectly. Pennsylvania is my home state, Philadelphia is my home town, and I love giving back to my community.

What civil liberties issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
Criminal law reform, disabilities rights, and freedom of speech are the top three. They are important to me because my family, friends, and I have all had these rights infringed upon during my lifetime.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I am currently in a LSAT Prep Class – I take the test in October. I volunteer with my church and am an Eagle Scout. I also volunteer with kids and the elderly. I enjoy live music, visiting museums or art galleries, travel, and last but not least, spending quality time with friends and family.

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer

Questions about the Pope’s Philadelphia visit? We have (some) answers

Pope Francis in St Peter's square - Vatican (credit: Alfredo Borba)

Pope Francis in St Peter’s square – Vatican (credit: Alfredo Borba)

Many people have contacted us with questions about the Pope’s upcoming visit to Philadelphia September 26-28. The ACLU-PA and other groups are monitoring plans for the Pope’s visit. Here’s the latest information we have.

  • So far, there are NO plans to check IDs for people walking around or entering and leaving Center City. If we hear of such a thing, we will sue.
  • There WILL be a secure fence with check point entrances, but it looks like that will be just around the Parkway and some office buildings beside the Parkway. You should be able to walk everywhere else.
  • There WILL be a ban on cars and very restricted public transit in Center City.
  • The ACLU-PA is calling on the city and the Secret Service to give the public more information about the security plans.
  • The city has promised that Philadelphia will not foot the bill for this event.
  • If you want to PROTEST during the Pope’s visit, you should apply for a permit NOW. If you have any trouble or questions about protesting, call the ACLU-PA at 215-592-1513.

Volunteer Spotlight: Kaziah White

Kaziah White

Kaziah White

Hometown:
Boulder, Colorado

School:
Student at Haverford College, majoring in Anthropology with a concentration in Peace, Justice and Human Rights.

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I’m an intern at the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project, and in that role I’ve had a number of different tasks—drafting messaging toolkits on policies that affect reproductive freedom, reaching out to other organizations in the field of reproductive health to tell them about our new campaign, Your Body, Your Rights, and visiting pharmacies in Philadelphia in order to map emergency birth control access.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I began at the end of May, and I’ve interned here throughout the summer!

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I’ve heard about the ACLU for years and the instrumental role that the organization plays in protecting civil liberties within the United States. When I heard about the Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project within the ACLU, I was amazed by all the work that Duvall has done to protect reproductive rights and wanted to get more involved.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?
Volunteering at the ACLU of Pennsylvania has given me a chance to learn about the many issues that Pennsylvania faces today, while also helping to make a difference in reproductive rights. That’s been a pretty amazing experience!

What civil liberties issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
I’m most passionate about reproductive freedom, and about overcoming the various barriers that stand between people and access to the health care that they need.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
When I’m not volunteering at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, I’m a full-time student at Haverford College!

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer

Rethinking School Discipline

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On Wednesday, July 22, the White House hosted Rethink School Discipline, a national convening and conversation on improving school discipline policies and practices. At the meeting, participants discussed new tools and resources to be released by the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, an interagency initiative launched by the Administration in 2011, along with data and research that underscores the need for further action. School leaders across the country came together to share best practices used to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by fostering safe, supportive, and productive learning environments that keep kids in school and out of the juvenile justice system.

Harold Jordan, ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Senior Policy Advocate, participated in the summit representing the Dignity in Schools Campaign. He also severed on the planning committee for the event.

Also participating were community stakeholders, including parents, advocates, national professional associations and teachers’ unions, and advocates of discipline reform. In all, about 200 educators were in attendance, including 3-person teams from 43 school districts across the country.

Learn more about the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s school discipline work!

Volunteer Spotlight: Bill Fedullo

Bill Fedullo

Bill Fedullo

Hometown:
Philadelphia, PA

School:
Philosophy/English double major at Swarthmore College, class of 2016.

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I’m an intake worker, which means I call people who feel that their civil rights have been violated. Based on what those people tell me, I write up reports that are sent to our attorneys. Our attorneys then decide what action, if any, we can take.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I worked here in the summer of 2014, and returned this summer.

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I’m family friends with one of the attorneys who was working with the ACLU on the Whitewood v. Wolf case. When I told him I was looking for a volunteering opportunity at a legal non-profit, he put me in touch with the ACLU.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?
So many rights that today we take more or less for granted – the right to be in an interracial relationship, to read the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, to express inflammatory political opinions – were won and maintained with the support of the ACLU. It’s really exciting to be a part, however small, of that tradition of legal activism.

What civil liberties issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
I care a lot about freedom of expression; after all, it’s what keeps liberal democracies, well, liberal and democratic. I also am really interested in efforts to make the United States a place that sends fewer people to prison for silly reasons. Additionally, I’m really proud of the ACLU’s past and continued efforts to make my LGBT friends and neighbors full and equal citizens under the law.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I write, read, do some theater, and spend an unhealthy amount of time arguing politics.

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer

ACLU Week in Review

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

17th annual picnic

July 13 – July 17

With the 4th of July in our rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to the next big event of the Summer – The 17th annual ACLU picnic in Pittsburgh! This year’s event promises to be the best yet as we take time to reflect on what an amazing year it has already been for civil liberties in Pennsylvania. Find more details about the picnic and check out some ACLU-involved stories from around the country below.

Department of Justice urged to look into SC shooting

ACLU, NAACP urge DOJ to investigate Walter Scott’s shooting death

The ACLU of South Carolina joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and over two dozen South Carolina leaders in urging the Department of Justice to open an investigation of the North Charleston Police Department to uncover any pattern or practice of racially discriminatory policing. The letter also requests that the DOJ open a criminal civil rights investigation into the shooting death of Walter Scott on April 4, 2015. read more…

KY County Clerk denies same sex-couple a marriage license

Federal judge hears arguments in ACLU same-sex marriage case

A federal judge on Monday heard arguments about a county clerk who is refusing to issue marriage licenses following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Davis on behalf of two gay couples and two straight couples who were denied marriage licenses. The couples named in the suit are April Miller and Karen Roberts, Shantel Burke and Stephen Napier, Jody Fernandez and Kevin Holloway, and L. Aaron Skaggs and Barry W. Spartman. read more…

PA inmate denied the right to marry

Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Inmate Denied Ability to Marry

The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project filed a lawsuit today on behalf of an inmate whose attempts to get married have been thwarted by both the Fayette County Register of Wills and the State Correctional Institute (SCI) in Fayette. read more…

Blocking NSA’s dragnet program

ACLU sues to block extension of NSA dragnet program

The temporary extension of the National Security Agency’s bulk phone records collection authority by the secretive court that oversees US government spying should be revoked, since a federal court ruled the program unconstitutional, according to the ACLU.read more…

ACLU-PA Greater Pittsburgh Chapter 17th Annual Picnic – THURSDAY, July 23th (Rain or Shine!)

PICNIC TIME!

Join us to celebrate a great summer and great people. We’ll provide beverages and grilling items (hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, etc.) We ask you to bring a side dish, snack, drink or dessert or, if cooking isn’t your thing, a $10 donation to help cover costs of food. (Kids five and under eat free.) Click here to RSVP and let us know that you’ll be coming and what you can bring.

Pennsylvania’s Anti-Discrimination Laws are in Need of a Makeover

By P. Griffin Sneath, Secretary, South Central Chapter of the ACLU of Pennsylvania

P. Griffin Sneath

P. Griffin Sneath

As a young American, I strive to get an education so that one day, I can work hard to earn a living and provide for my family. I value the opportunity to push myself forward with quality work performance, determination, and the right qualifications. But, because of the lack of protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians in the current anti-discrimination laws, people like me face being fired for their gender identity or expression, or for who they love.

As the law currently stands, I could be denied a mortgage someday because of my sexual orientation. I could be denied a job I was best qualified for just because of who I love. It is possible that someday I could be denied care at a hospital because I married someone of the same sex. And, my transgender friends have to fear being evicted from their apartments someday–not for not paying their rent, but for their gender identity or expression.

As I prepare to apply for college this fall, I should be able to look upon my future without having to fear the setbacks that I could potentially face when I join the workforce. I should not worry about whether or not I will receive care when I am sick.

In a few years, I will make choices about where to live and to work. Pennsylvania is my home, and I believe I have plenty to give back to the commonwealth after I finish my higher education. But will I really want to live in this state knowing that everything I’ve worked for could be denied because the law doesn’t protect me from discrimination?

There are currently statewide anti-discrimination laws that protect many Pennsylvanians, but none explicitly list sexual orientation and gender identity or expression under their protections. Some municipalities do have LGBT protections, but these only cover 30% of Pennsylvania’s population. This oversight in statewide legislation makes it perfectly legal outside select municipalities to fire, refuse to hire, deny a mortgage or a lease, and deny other public accommodations and services for people just because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. I am confident that most business owners and employers will hire employees based on their characteristics that truly matter in the workplace–dedication, hard work, and quality performance–and not on an employee’s sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. But, some will continue to only employ and serve Pennsylvanians who are protected by current anti-discrimination laws–that is, unless we modernize the laws to include LGBT people. It is time we find the middle ground by giving LGBT employees a chance to be held to the same standards as their straight counterparts under the law.

I believe that I should always treat others as they wish to be treated. I would like to see individuals judged for their work, and not for who they love or how they identify and express themselves. I believe it is time for the Pennsylvania legislature to update current anti-discrimination laws that protect Pennsylvanians to include those who are LGBT. I ask Pennsylvania to make sure that people like me have a chance at achieving the American Dream through hard work and dedication–just like everyone else.

In addition to his duties as Secretary for the South Central Chapter, Griffin has a high school internship with the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg office. He is also the son of Cyndi Sneath, ACLU-PA board member and one of the clients in the ACLU’s landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

Viral Photo Highlights Need for Action In Support Of LGBT Youth

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

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“I’m homosexual and I’m afraid about what my future will be and that people won’t like me.”

Sadly, this quote didn’t come from a gay person several decades ago, during a time before most people realized that they had gay people they knew and loved in their lives. It isn’t even from several years ago. The quote is from a young boy, captured in a haunting photograph from Humans of New York with a look of pained anguish on his face, as if he is holding back a well of tears.

In the days since the image was first posted, it has received more than 620,000 “Likes” on Facebook and has been shared nearly 60,000 times. Responses, overwhelmingly positive, have poured in from individuals from across the world, including Ellen DeGeneres and Hillary Clinton.

This week, the U.S. Senate will be presented with a rare opportunity to act to ensure that LGBT students across the country are able to obtain a quality public education that is free of discrimination. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) will be offering the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or SNDA, as an amendment on the Senate floor. The need for these protections could not be clearer.

As moving as the response to this photo has been, the fears voiced by this boy are reflective of a tragic reality impacting far too many LGBT young people in schools across the country. Discrimination, harassment, and even physical violence continue to play far too large a role in the lives of LGBT students. A nationwide 2013 survey of nearly 8,000 students found that more than 30 percent of LGBT students reported missing at least one entire school day in the past month because they felt unsafe.

Too often, it is the schools themselves that are the problem. The ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia have filed a lawsuit, on behalf of a transgender student, against the Gloucester County School Board for adopting a discriminatory bathroom policy that segregates transgender students from their peers. The policy effectively expels trans students from communal restrooms and requires them to use “alternative private” restroom facilities.

SNDA, which is modeled closely on Title IX, would provide critical, explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBT students in federal law. When schools discriminate against LGBT students — such as denying trans students access to restrooms that reflect who they are or barring students from bringing a same-sex date to a school dance — or allow instances of serious harassment to go unaddressed, SNDA provides important legal remedies, including a private right of action, to hold schools accountable.

Schools found to be in violation of the law would also risk losing their federal funding. A half century of civil rights laws have demonstrated that these kinds of enforcement tools are most effective in preventing discrimination from occurring in the first place as well as getting schools to appropriately respond when students are being discriminated against or harassed. At the end of the day, the goal is to create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students, not lawsuits (important and necessary as they sometimes are).

While we continue to celebrate a landmark Supreme Court victory for the freedom to marry, we cannot lose sight of all the important work that remains. It is mindboggling to think that there is still no federal law that explicitly protects LGBT students in our nation’s public schools. By supporting SNDA, senators would make clear that LGBT students should be able to look forward to futures full of promise, not live in fear over whether they will be accepted and loved for who they are.

This article is cross-posted at the ACLU’s Blog of Rights

Learn more about the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s LGBT Nondiscrimination work!

Poor and Need Help? Please Pee into this Cup

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

One of our ongoing challenges at the ACLU is explaining the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, nuances of constitutional law to the public. Take government-run drug testing.

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In the run up to passing the state budget, a state House committee passed legislation that would require applicants for public assistance to submit to a questionnaire for the purpose of flagging them for drug testing. Those who are flagged would then be required to take a drug test. One positive test would lead the person to a referral for drug treatment while maintaining their assistance. A second positive test would ban the person from assistance for a year.

We dealt with a similar bill with similar arguments last session that required school teachers to be drug tested. That bill passed the House but was not considered in the state Senate. This issue really is the worst combination of legislative sausage: Legislators can score cheap political points due to the ignorance of the public and the public’s hostility to poor people on assistance while making terrible law.

Here’s the most common argument for a bill like this: “Private employers drug test their employees. Why not for welfare?” Another argument we’ve heard is that there are government workers who are drug tested–police officers, highway workers, the military–so people who get public assistance should, too. I don’t expect the general public to understand the twists and turns of the Fourth Amendment. But legislators who write the law have an obligation to know better.

Let’s review the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Essentially, if you have an expectation of privacy, the government cannot search you without suspicion, i.e. probable cause, that you’ve committed a crime and without an order (a warrant) from a court of law.

To drug test someone, the government would have to secure a biological sample- like urine or blood- from the person. We feel quite strongly that a person has an expectation of privacy in her biological samples. That is not a wild-eyed, radical notion.

The arguments of supporters are not comparable to drug testing for assistance. First, a private employer is not required to follow the Fourth Amendment. (Drug testing by private employers gets into another argument about privacy in the workplace and the foolishness of the failed War on Drugs. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

Second, the government can drug test police officers and highway workers as a condition of employment only because they fall into the narrow public safety exception to the Fourth Amendment. The police and highway workers drive vehicles as part of their work, and the police are armed. Applicants for assistance and public school teachers don’t fall into that exception.

The purpose of the questionnaire in House Bill 1380 is to establish suspicion to justify the drug test, thus avoiding the Fourth Amendment problem. But states that have tried the applicant screening approach have found that so few of the people who are flagged actually test positive that it really cannot be argued that the screening even creates suspicion.

Meanwhile, the creators of one of the screening questionnaires that states are using has said that their questionnaire was intended as a therapeutic device, not to create suspicion to deny people employment or public assistance.

The legislation before the state House does a real disservice to people in poverty and to constitutional law. Our hope is that leaders in the General Assembly will resist the urge to score political points and let this one die quietly on the vine.

Learn more about HB 1380

Andy Hoover is the legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. His mobile phone is decorated with an ACLU sticker that says, “Get a warrant.”

Volunteer Spotlight: P. Griffin Sneath

P. Griffin Sneath

P. Griffin Sneath

Hometown:
York, Pennsylvania

School:
Senior at the Central York High School in York, PA

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I serve as the Secretary for the South Central Chapter of ACLU of PA. Most of my volunteer time goes to tabling local events, composing the meeting minutes, doing chapter paperwork, and attending the chapter’s board meetings once a month.

As of July, I began a high school internship as the Harrisburg office. I am working on chapter business, assisting Jamie Pauls, Chapter Relations Manager, with paperwork and gathering supplies for the other chapters, and shadowing different aspects of the work of Andy Hoover, Legislative Director.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I have volunteered with the organization since 2012, attending tabling events and chapter meetings with my mother, Cyndi Sneath, Treasurer, ACLU of PA. I joined the chapter board as Secretary in September 2013.

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I first heard about the ACLU of Pennsylvania at a young age during Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in 2006 (my mother was a plaintiff in the lawsuit). However, I took a true interest at an older age when I read about the ACLU in my 9th Grade Civics textbook and the work organization has done to protect the rights of citizens guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?
The ACLU actively seeks to protect every citizen’s constitutional rights; if it were not for organizations like the ACLU that stand up for citizens, I worry that we would not have the necessary protection to prevent the violation of our rights. I want to do anything I can to support the ACLU as they protect the very freedoms I enjoy.

What civil liberties issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
I am also very interested in the protection of LGBTQ Rights. I believe that the primary source of opposition to same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ community comes from a religious interpretation. I support the First Amendment right to partake in religious beliefs. But, those rights shall not extend to violate the rights of another individual. Therefore, I feel using religious beliefs to ban same-sex marriage and prevent LGBTQ protection is a violation of the rights of LGBTQ individuals guaranteed by the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I am also interested in the teaching of creationism, intelligent design, and other forms of religion in public schools. As a biology student, I am fascinated by the level of misunderstanding by intelligent design proponents on the theory of evolution by Natural Selection, and scientific theories in general. It is interesting that there is a notion that ID deserves equal time in a biology classroom, considering that ID has virtually no scientific consensus among biologists relative to that of Darwin’s Natural Selection. I respect an individual’s right to utilize their religious freedoms and endorse ID; but, I do not support that endorsement taking place in a place of government, including the public school science classroom.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
Outside of the ACLU, most of my activities are academic. I am often studying for upcoming tests and working on projects for my Advanced Placement classes. I am the president of my Model United Nations Club, run Track and Field and Cross Country, play trombone in Marching Band and Jazz Band, and do other volunteer work for National Honor Society. I also participate in Science Olympiad and review articles for Scientific Journal Review Club throughout the school week.

When I am not working on academics, I work at Target as a cashier. I also spend time with my family, read political articles, and run when I find a little bit of down time!

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer