ACLU Week in Review

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Kathryn Bigelow at Time 100 Gala 2010

Kathryn Bigelow, director of Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, at Time 100 Gala 2010

May 11 – May 15
On the heels of our very successful annual meeting in Philadelphia, the ACLU of Pennsylvania is once again gearing up to host a big event. On Wednesday, May 20, we will celebrate the first full year of marriage equality in PA with an anniversary party in honor of our courageous plaintiffs. You can find details about where to get tickets below. Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, colleagues at the ACLU of Southern California launched an inquiry into what they point out are “dramatic disparities” in the hiring of women as film and television directors. The ACLU cites statistical evidence from various studies and anecdotal accounts from more than 50 female directors. More on that and some other ACLU stories making headlines this week are below.

Where are the female film directors?

A.C.L.U., Citing Bias Against Women, Wants Inquiry Into Hollywood’s Hiring Practices

Grumblings that Hollywood is a man’s world have percolated for decades and are borne out in grim figures: Women directed only 4 percent of top-grossing films over the last dozen years. Now this apparent truism is being challenged as a violation of civil rights. On Tuesday the American Civil Liberties Union asked state and federal agencies to investigate the hiring practices of major Hollywood studios, networks and talent agencies for what the organization described as rampant and intentional gender discrimination in recruiting and hiring female directors. read more…

ACLU Accuses Hollywood Of Discriminating Against Female Directors

The Directors Guild of America says networks and studios are to blame for the “deplorable” dearth of female directors in Hollywood, following a call by the American Civil Liberties Union for an investigation into the industry’s “systemic failure” to hire female directors. read more…

Celebrate the freedom to marry in Pennsylvania!

Anniversary_EmailHappy 1st Anniversary! Celebrating the Freedom to Marry in Pennsylvania

On May 20, 2014, the freedom to marry for all was finally achieved in Pennsylvania. This historic moment was a result of the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s lawsuit, Whitewood v. Wolf. You’re invited to celebrate the one-year anniversary of marriage equality with the ACLU of PA, as we honor our courageous plaintiffs and thank our supporters who made this victory possible! Buy tickets…

Chick-fil-A T-shirts

Bangor Area schools chief says students bullied others with tweets

Bangor Area schools chief Frank DeFelice has defended the suspension of 10 high school students who used Twitter to criticize two students who wore Chick-fil-A shirts during a Gay-Straight Alliance event. The students were suspended for bullying and for using smartphones during school hours, DeFelice said, as the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania continues an investigation. read more…

Agenda for Women’s Health

ACLU-PA Takes Lead In Campaign For Women’s Health

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of legislators came together in Harrisburg to introduce a legislative Agenda for Women’s Health. Lately, when I hear lawmakers use the phrase “women’s health,” it makes me cringe. How have lawmakers across the country justified passing completely unnecessary regulations that require abortion clinics to have hospital-grade elevators and driveways large enough to accommodate an ambulance – a move clearly (and successfully) designed to close dozens of clinics? These regulations are necessary to protect “women’s health,” of course. Why are state legislatures rushing to require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, when complications from abortion are extremely rare and hospitals are already required to treat patients experiencing a medical emergency? Well, it’s a matter of “women’s health.” read more…

Lethal Injection Drugs

ACLU Seeks Records Over Suspect Lethal Injection Drugs

On Friday the ACLU of Nebraska filed an open records request to determine if Nebraska’s recent acquisition of drugs to be used in lethal injection was lawful. A 2013 Federal Circuit Court ruling determined that these drugs are subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight and importation rules and that states must obtain such drugs legally through licensed, inspected dealers. read more…

ACLU-PA Takes Lead In Campaign For Women’s Health

By Julie Zaebst, Project Manager, Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project

facebook.Justice4.StandWithPregnantWorkers.2015Yesterday, a bipartisan group of legislators came together in Harrisburg to introduce a legislative Agenda for Women’s Health. Lately, when I hear lawmakers use the phrase “women’s health,” it makes me cringe. How have lawmakers across the country justified passing completely unnecessary regulations that require abortion clinics to have hospital-grade elevators and driveways large enough to accommodate an ambulance – a move clearly (and successfully) designed to close dozens of clinics? These regulations are necessary to protect “women’s health,” of course. Why are state legislatures rushing to require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, when complications from abortion are extremely rare and hospitals are already required to treat patients experiencing a medical emergency? Well, it’s a matter of “women’s health.”

You can understand my skepticism when the words “women’s health” come out of a politician’s mouth.

But the package of bills unveiled in Harrisburg is different. The legislation was developed by the bipartisan, bicameral Women’s Health Caucus, with the input of advocates (including real women! And real experts in women’s health!) It recognizes that women’s health and well-being are impacted by a range of issues, from economic fairness and family-friendly workplace policies to real access to reproductive and comprehensive health care. In a departure from what we’ve often seen in Harrisburg, the legislation proposes evidence-based strategies to address real health issues that women across Pennsylvania face every day.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is excited to be a leader in the Campaign for Women’s Health, a statewide advocacy coalition supporting this package of bills. We know that advocates are tired of fighting senseless proposal after senseless proposal to restrict access to abortion care, when their families and communities have real health needs the legislature could address. This campaign gives advocates the opportunity to rally around legislation that would make real improvements in the health and well-being of women across the state right now. In fact, last legislative session, three bills that were a part of the Campaign for Women’s Health were signed into law. This includes a bill that prohibits municipalities from punishing victims of crime, including survivors of domestic violence, for calling for emergency services.

I’m looking forward to more legislative successes this session – and to being able to keep a straight face when Pennsylvania lawmakers utter the words “women’s health.”

You can learn more about the Campaign for Women’s Health and how to get involved at

ACLU Week in Review

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

ACLU Police Hiring News Conference 26

May 4 – May 8
This week marked two massive victories for the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the ACLU’s national office. In the commonwealth, we reached a settlement with the city of Pittsburgh in our case alleging discriminatory hiring practices in the Pittsburgh Bureau’s of Police reflected by low numbers of African-American hires. Then, the ACLU’s national office celebrated a landmark victory for privacy, after a federal appeals court ruled unanimously that the mass phone-records program exposed two years ago by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is illegal because it goes far beyond what Congress ever intended to permit when it passed Section 215 of the Patriot Act. In addition to making headlines, the Philadelphia chapter held it’s annual meeting which featured an excellent keynote address from the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project director, Ezekiel Edwards. Check out those stories, a recap of the Philly chapter meeting and more below.

Settlement reached in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s settlement with ACLU aimed at improving police hiring practices

A $1.6 million settlement agreement between the city of Pittsburgh and five rejected police candidates, announced Thursday, aims to remedy a hiring system that allegedly shunned blacks with tarnished backgrounds, while winking and nodding at blemished whites. read more…

Pittsburgh police, accused of racial bias, will revamp hiring

The Pittsburgh Police Department has agreed to revamp its hiring practices in order to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed discrimination against African-American job applicants, Mayor Bill Peduto said on Thursday. read more…

Victory against mass survaillance

Why Today’s Landmark Court Victory Against Mass Surveillance Matters

In a landmark victory for privacy, a federal appeals court ruled unanimously today that the mass phone-records program exposed two years ago by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is illegal because it goes far beyond what Congress ever intended to permit when it passed Section 215 of the Patriot Act. read more…

ACLU of Maryland defends rioting students

ACLU asks schools to not suspend, expel students involved in riots

A coalition of youth and juvenile justice advocates called on the city school system Thursday to refrain from suspending or expelling teenagers arrested in last week’s rioting in Baltimore. read more…

T-Shirt backlash

ACLU involved after 15 Pa. students suspended over Chick-fil-A T-shirt backlash

Parents and students say a Pennsylvania school district suspended about 15 students who took to social media during schools hours after two classmates wore Chick-fil-A shirts during a Gay-Straight Alliance event. read more…

Reggie Shuford recaps the Philly meeting

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“Some of you were with me Wednesday night at our Philadelphia Chapter annual meeting, listening to Ezekiel Edwards – the director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU’s national office – give a passionate and mesmerizing keynote talk on mass incarceration in America. I’m sure some of the concepts Zeke covered are somewhat familiar to you – the staggering racial disparities in the prison population, the unnecessarily punitive laws that have locked up a generation of nonviolent offenders, the ways in which we’ve outsourced our mental health, economic, and educational shortfalls to the prison system. I have to be honest: even having worked on issues related to criminal justice for the majority of my career, I sometimes find the statistical enormity of the problem dispiriting and overwhelming. But those moments are fleeting. There is too much work to do. We’re determined to end our state’s and our country’s addiction to incarceration in this decade, and we’re spearheading a remarkably eclectic coalition – conservatives ranging from Rand Paul to the Koch brothers to Newt Gingrich have joined progressives in publicly advocating for criminal justice reform in America. I really do believe that, with enough focused effort from extraordinary people like Zeke and our team here in PA, with ACLU members spreading the good word and, yes, with enough resources at our disposal, we can meet the ACLU’s nationwide goal of reducing the American prison population by 50% by 2020, the ACLU’s 100th birthday.”

Vox: Why it’s so important to film police

Taking photographs and videos of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is your constitutional right. That includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties. Unfortunately, law enforcement officers often order people to stop taking photographs or video in public places, and sometimes harass, detain or even arrest people who use their cameras or cell phone recording devices in public. Know Your Rights When Taking Photos and Making Video and Audio Recordings

ACLU Week in Review

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Deb & Susan Whitewood

Deb & Susan Whitewood attend a rally outside of the Supreme Court same-sex marriage hearing.

April 27 – May 1
In what turned out to be a very busy week for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, we counted two free speech victories and filed a new lawsuit. We started the week responding to an incident in Plum Borough School District, where a principal allegedly told students they would face criminal prosecution for talking about an improper student-teacher relationship on social media. Then we got a ruling from federal court in our favor, striking down Pennsylvania’s “Re-victimization Act” or, as some have called it, the “anti-Mumia law.” We rounded out the week filing a lawsuit on behalf of an atheist group who were repeatedly denied the right to post ads on the sides of local buses, advertising space that is often claimed by church groups.

Plum Burough High School

Plum Borough School District responds to ACLU free speech questions

The Plum Borough School District superintendent today sent a letter to parents, students and the American Civil Liberties Union explaining the district’s reasons for holding assemblies Friday to warn students to be careful in their social media posts concerning the arrests of three teachers. read more…

Audio and transcript of Plum HS meeting with police & school officials

SCOTUS Debates Freedom to Marry

Marriage Equality Advocates Cautiously Optimistic As Same-Sex Marriage Arguments Head To US Supreme Court

Same sex marriage takes center stage today as the US Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the issue, and marriage equality advocates are cautiously optimistic. “For equality to be guaranteed no matter where we are in America would be tremendous,” says Helena Miller. She married Dara Raspberry in Connecticut five years ago. But when they moved to Pennsylvania in 2011 to be closer to family, their marriage was not recognized. So the couple joined 23 other plaintiffs in the Whitewood lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s governor, and won. read more…

Atheists Sue NEPA

Atheists sue Lackawanna County transit system over refusal to run ad

A Northeastern Pennsylvania transit system permitted churches to advertise on the sides of its buses but then refused to allow a group that doesn’t believe in God to place an ad containing the word “atheists,” fearing it would offend riders, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday. read more…

Atheists challenge Pennsylvania bus system’s exclusion of ads that mention or discuss religion

… it looks like the Lackawanna policy is pretty clearly unconstitutional, and the plaintiffs in Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society v. County of Lackawanna Transit System (M.D. Pa. filed Apr. 28, 2015) have a winner. read more…

Victory For Free Speech

Federal judge strikes down anti-Mumia law

A federal judge in Harrisburg today struck down the state’s Revictimization Relief Act, ruling that it was “manifestly unconstitutional” because it violated the free-speech rights of prisoners and of reporters and others who rely on that speech to do their work.

U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner enjoined the law, passed by a state lawmakers angered that Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for murdering a Philadelphia police officer, gave a commencement address. Conner ruled that the hastily passed law violated the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. read more…

ACLU Week in Review

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

April 20 – April 24
With a decision on the freedom to marry coming from the Supreme Court later this year, the ACLU released ‘Supercut: Pop Culture’s Journey Toward Marriage Equality’ to look back at some of the most influential LGBT moments in film & television history. Meanwhile, ACLU affiliates were busy demanding answers from Maryland’s governor in the wake of yet another police-involved killing, taking on a bike-stop program in Florida that has been targeting African-American riders at a high rate, and pushed for expansion of the types of voter ID accepted in Wisconsin.

Police-Involved Death

ACLU to ask Hogan for changes after Gray death

Friday afternoon, the ACLU held a news conference asking Maryland’s governor to change the systematic failures in the Baltimore police department following the death of Freddie Gray. read more…

Biking While Black

ACLU calls for stop to Tampa’s bike stop program as police chief defends it

Flanked by top union officials, police Chief Jane Castor told the City Council on Thursday she “vehemently” disagrees with a Tampa Bay Times investigation questioning why black riders have gotten 80 percent of bike tickets written by more…

The Nightly Show introduces a new segment

Voter ID Expansion?

ACLU pushes for expansion of acceptable voter ID types

Following the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Wisconsin’s voter ID law, thereby upholding it, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin aims to expand the list of identification acceptable on Election more…

Using ‘Artivism’ to Combat Abortion Stigma

By Marah Lange, MSW Intern, Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project

In my time as an intern at the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project, I have considered ways I could connect my work to my experience as a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Since attending Abortion Out Loud: Lifting the Scarlet A last fall at Haverford College and hearing Louise Melling, Director of Center of Liberty and Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU, speak about the impact of abortion stigma in the legislature and more broadly, I have been eager to play my part in fighting stigma.

Last week, the 1 in 3 Campaign gave me that chance in the form of “artivism.” As a grassroots organization, the 1 in 3 Campaign is dedicated to creating a platform where women can share their stories in an effort to “build a culture of compassion, empathy, and support for access to basic health care”. Since 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime, each will undoubtedly have a different set of circumstances surrounding their experience and sharing those stories is powerful.

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These images are part of an “artivism” display at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice to help support the 1 in 3 campaign.

To support this campaign, I and many other student activists across the country posted real stories of women and their abortions in busy public spaces on our campuses. It was my intention for these stories to spark conversation among fellow students and to shed light on the fact that many women will make the decision to have an abortion and that is okay. I am hopeful that this small attempt at fighting stigma will have an effect on my campus and that those who observed the display will carry the stories with them as social work professionals and advocates moving forward.

To see the full display, please visit the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice.

ACLU Week In Review

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

ACLU homepage

April 13 – April 17
Big news this week coming from the mother ship! For the first time in six years, the main website for the American Civil Liberties Union has been given a facelift. The new site (pictured right) has a fresh, modern feel, and even comes with a store where you can purchase brand new ACLU gear.

ACLU Gets a Makeover!

Check Out the New hasn’t had a redesign since 2009. It’s an enormous site – over 40,000 pages and dozens of different types of content (from cases to blogs to Know Your Rights to press releases to FOIA documents and many more). We aimed to completely rethink the design to improve user experience and do a better job telling the story of the ACLU’s work. The design process strove to incorporate key elements of our identity: inclusivity, fearlessness, participation, transparency, and accessibility. By creating a site that connects with these core values, we hope to reach and engage with new audiences who care about protecting and defending civil liberties. explore…

PA Senate Advances DNA Collection Bil

Bill would lower hurdles to collect suspects’ DNA

The state Senate is advancing a plan to expand law enforcement’s ability to collect people’s DNA once they’re arrested for certain crimes, but before they’re convicted. read more…

RFRA In Action

Business Owners Must Serve Gays But they don’t have to like it.

A case involving the owner of Geno’s Steaks shows that the compromise between religious liberty and non-discrimination laws is hiding in plain sight, in the right to free speech. Business owners should be free to express their religious beliefs, and their preference to not serve gays, but should not be allowed to actually deny service. ACLU of Pennsylvania Deputy Legal Director, Mary Catherine Roper weighs in. read more…

Centre County Cellphone Scandal

Pair of Centre County judges seeks to destroy cellphone evidence

Two Centre County judges whose cellphone records showed they exchanged text messages with prosecutors trying cases before them want the evidence destroyed, claiming it will ruin their public images. “It is highly inappropriate to sue people for investigating public corruption, and to make matters worse, the people suing here are the judges and the district attorney who are the subjects of the investigation,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. read more…

Hunger Strike at Ohio Supermax Prison

ACLU Seeks Probe Amid Hunger Strike at Ohio Supermax Prison

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for an independent investigation into conditions at Ohio’s super-maximum security prison amid a long-running hunger strike. The protest at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown began March 16 to draw attention to recreation and programming restrictions, including a ban on religious gatherings, imposed after an assault on a corrections officer. A prisons department spokesman said five inmates of about 40 who began the strike were still refusing meals Monday. read more…

ACLU Week In Review

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania


April 6 – April 10
In case you missed it, a lot of the ACLU’s attention has been focused on immigrants this week. On Monday, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking to obtain documents related to the health care of “unaccompanied minors” held in Catholic Charities-operated facilities. Then, on Tuesday, the ACLU of Massachusetts defended a legal ruling that granted 100 immigrants being held in detention the right to fight for their freedom. The week ended with some really exciting news out of our national office regarding a certain viral video featuring a pretty profane comedian. Also, ACLU-PA is asking our supporters to contact their state representatives to take action in support of Governor Wolf’s moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania (links below).

Reproductive Health Care for Immigrants

Why the ACLU is suing over Catholic groups and abortions for undocumented immigrants

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit this week to find out whether teenagers who are being housed in Catholic Charities–operated facilities have access to contraception and abortion. read more…

Immigrant Detention

ACLU to Defend Limits on “Mandatory” Immigration Detention

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts will defend a legal ruling that has allowed more than 100 Massachusetts detainees to argue for their freedom in the past year. At an “en banc” hearing on Tuesday, April 6, at 9:30 am, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit heard arguments in two cases–one of which was argued by the ACLU of Massachusetts–in which district courts rejected the government’s interpretation of a “mandatory” immigration detention provision. read more…

Body Cameras on Private Property

ACLU warns public over newly passed Georgia bill

The ACLU of Georgia is cautioning the public over legislation allowing police to use body cameras on private property, saying the measure could infringe on the rights of innocent citizens in their own homes. read more…


– In February, Governor Wolf took the decisive step of implementing a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania until a study of the death penalty initiated by the state Senate is released.

Now some members of the state House of Representatives are howling over the governor’s decision and have introduced a resolution to make their point. Urge your state representative to support the moratorium and oppose the House resolution!

Webby Award Nomination

– The ACLU’s video “Lewis Black Says F#%! Voter Suppression” has been nominated for a Webby Award. The Webby Awards are the most important and well-recognized awards for the Internet, with over 1,000 member judging body. The video “has been selected as one of the five best in the world in its category,” Online Video: Best Individual Performance, and is competing against videos created by College Humor and Funny or Die. While the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences is solely responsible for selecting the winner, there’s also a chance to win the Webby People’s Voice Award, which is voted for by the public. Check out the video below and VOTE HERE

Supreme Court Decision in Young v. UPS Highlights Need for Change in Pennsylvania

By Marah Lange, MSW Candidate, University of Pennsylvania


Last week, women across the country celebrated when the Supreme Court ruled in support of pregnant workers in the case Young v. UPS.

When Peggy Young was pregnant with her now 7-year-old daughter, her doctor recommended she not lift more than 20 pounds. What happened next takes place all too often: UPS, her employer at the time, refused to provide her temporary accommodations, as it typically did for other workers, including people with disabilities, people with on-the-job injuries, and even people who had lost their commercial drivers’ licenses as a result of DUI convictions.

Despite Peggy’s willingness to keep working with simple modifications to her job, she was forced to take unpaid leave and go without income during a time when she needed it most. So Peggy went to court.

Last week’s Supreme Court decision sent Peggy’s case back to the lower courts, which originally ruled in UPS’s favor. And more importantly, it signaled to all employers that if they are accommodating most other workers with injuries or disabilities while refusing to accommodate most pregnant workers who need it, they are likely violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

While this ruling is a significant victory, many pregnant workers may continue to face difficulty requesting and receiving temporary accommodations or successfully challenging employers that discriminate. For example, women in smaller workplaces, women who are new to their jobs, and workers with limited bargaining power may not know their employers’ accommodations policies or the accommodations their co-workers have received.

That’s why 13 states, including Peggy’s home state of Maryland, have passed legislation to strengthen protections for pregnant workers. Now it’s time for Pennsylvania legislators to step up to the plate. The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would strengthen protections for pregnant workers and help ensure that women aren’t put in the unnecessary and unsafe position of choosing between the health of their pregnancies and their jobs. This is especially critical for women working in low-wage jobs and for the 41 percent of families in which women are the primary breadwinners.

In order for women to have the freedom to make reproductive decisions for themselves and their families – like decision to have a child while working – temporary and reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers are a must.

Marah Lange is an MSW Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. She currently interns for the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.