Looking for some laughs, a drink, and a chance to help a good cause?

Given that I’ve been too busy today to come up with anything particularly blog-worthy today, I thought I’d take this moment to invite you to the ACLU’s Annual Defending Freedom Event. It’s Thursday, May 11, and we’ll be featuring a slide show from Tom Tomorrow himself. (You’ll also have a chance to win a free autographed copy of his new book, Hell in a Handbasket.) We’ll also be honoring the legal team from Pepper Hamilton who donated an amazing amount of time and resources to work on the Dover intelligent design case.

Tickets are $100 each and include an open bar and hors d’oeuvres. You can reserve tickets by emailing us at info@aclupa.org. (Sponsorships are also available.) More information is available on our website.

This is one of our favorite Tom Tomorrow cartoons (what can I say, we’re a little vain).

If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll think about attending. We civil libertarians need all the levity we can get these days. (And the company’s not too bad, either.)

Sara in Philly

Double Shot Tuesday

Pardon the lame classic rock radio reference.

We keep a tight eye on what’s going on with Pennsylvania media, including the editorials of our state newspapers. PA editorial boards are often on the side of freedom, but it’s relatively rare to see one knock out two base hits in a day. The Patriot News of Harrisburg did that on Tuesday.

First on immigration

While polls suggest that most Americans oppose “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, the reality is that the country and these hard-working individuals who do much of the dirty work in this country would be far better off if the government’s policy were directed at bringing these individuals in out of the shadows.

And then on the detainees at Guantanamo Bay

The treatment of these detainees, who have been accorded neither the protection of the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war nor the traditional law-based justice of American courts, represents one of the more egregious manifestations of the conduct of the war on terror. It has particularly inflamed our allies.

While the War on Terror is novel in many respects, America deeply tarnishes its own reputation as a country of laws and justice by consigning these individuals to legal limbo. The high court needs to rescue the country from the government’s woefully mishandled treatment of prisoners.

No media outlet wants to be seen as favoring one side or another in the political arena, and the Patriot News at times annoys those on both the left and right, which probably means they’re doing their job well. But there is one side that all newspapers should be on, and that’s the side of freedom.

Andy in Harrisburg

Son of Intelligent Design

Actually, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is more an outgrowth of intelligent design. The sons of intelligent design will be “sudden emergence” or “abrupt beginnings” or some other junk science that will be pulled over the public’s eyes. If it looks like creationism, it smells like creationism, and it sounds like creationism, it must be intelligent design….or sudden emergence….or something.

Worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster – “Pastafarianism” as it is known to its adherents – began as a whimsical side dish in last year’s standoff between advocates of evolution and intelligent design. FSM, as it is known to its followers, took shape in a protest letter to Kansas officials who were embroiled in a controversy about how to teach students about the origins of life. The parody religion leapt from those pages to become an Internet phenomenon, finding fans among supporters of the theory of evolution – and receiving e-mailed threats of bodily harm from evolution’s opponents.

“I wrote the letter for my own amusement as much as anything. And it totally snowballed. Some people say I’m going to hell,” says FSM’s 25-year-old creator, Bobby Henderson, who recently moved from Oregon to Arizona, partly to escape the uproar.

It looks like the story behind the story all these months later is that proponents of intelligent design are a violent bunch. Judge Jones, the prophet Bobby Henderson…

Seriously, before anyone thinks I’m pimping for FSM, this is no disrespect to those who have faith. I’m a person of faith, for Buddha’s sake. (Believe it or not, my faith is in the goodness of human beings, aka the true self, aka buddhanature. I know, read the newspaper and the goodness of human beings doesn’t seem possible. Go ahead. Laugh.) It is disrespect, though, for the ID snake oil salesmen who try to claim that the “designer” could be anyone or anything. Fine, then make way for FSM. And don’t forget Mike Argento’s theory that cows think in spanish.

Andy in the HBG

It’s Hard Out There For a Judge

Even a conservative judge…

The York Daily Record reported that Judge Jones needed U.S. Marshalls to protect him and his family when the verdict in the Dover trial was issued last December.

Pretty incredible (and scary). The YDR article also discusses the wider trend of right-wing demonization of judges and the judicial system.

Jones, a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, decided to speak publicly about the e-mails this week in light of recent reports about threats of violence against federal judges. He said statements made by “irresponsible commentators and political figures” have gotten so extreme that he fears tragedy.

“We’re going to get a judge hurt,” he said.

Pew Poll: gay marriage opposition drops, most oppose SD abortion ban

In a new poll released yesterday, a slim majority of Americans remain opposed to gay marriage, but that number has dropped from 63% to 51% since February 2004. Equally encouraging, those who “strongly” oppose gay marriage is down to 28%, from 42% in Feb.04.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the poll is the demographic in which strong opposition to gay marriage has seen the most significant drop. It wasn’t young people. It wasn’t Gen-Xers. It was the 65+ crowd. 33% of those 65 and older are “strongly” opposed. That’s a 25 point drop from two years ago.

So Pennsylvania legislators can’t even pick their divisive wedge issues right.

The poll touched on two other topics we care about here at the ACLU. 58% of those polled are against South Dakota’s abortion ban, and Pew found an even split, 44-43, on the feds’ policy of holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without charge.

(Kudos to firedoglake, which is where I first saw the story. FDL brilliantly framed it as a warning that some will dig for a new wedge issue to divide people: immigration.)

Andy in the HBG

4th Amendment: Battered but not broken

Well, it’s nice to know that one branch of government still acknowledges the existence of the Fourth Amendment:

The Supreme Court narrowed police search powers yesterday, ruling that officers must have a warrant to look for evidence in a couple’s home unless both of the partners present agree to let them in.

Washingt Post (by way of the Boston Globe): Supreme Court imposes new limits on police searches

Meanwhile, while on the Globe site, this headline came across:
Specter takes lead on Senate lead on eavesdropping

Being the curious type, I had to take a look. The Senate is trying to make Bush’s illegal spying program retroactively legal, but, to Specter’s credit, he’s giving the administration a hard time.

“They want to do just as they please, for as long as they can get away with it,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think what is going on now without congressional intervention or judicial intervention is just plain wrong.”

Here’s more on the two competing bills:

One bill, written by Specter, would require a secretive federal intelligence court to conduct regular reviews of the program’s constitutionality. A rival approach — drafted by Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine and three other Republicans — would allow the government to conduct warrantless surveillance for up to 45 days before seeking court or congressional approval…
Specter’s bill would require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to provide a broad constitutional review of the surveillance activities every 45 days and evaluate whether the government has followed previous authorizations that are issued.

DeWine, however, wants to give the administration as much as 45 days to operate without a court warrant. If at any point the attorney general has enough information to go to the intelligence court, he must.

Under that approach, Specter said the administration can still “roam and roam and roam, and not find anything, and keep roaming. … I think that’s wrong.”

Andy in Harrisburg

Where have you gone, Bill Buckingham?

A nation turns its lonely eyes away from you.

Yesterday I talked with someone who played a role in the Dover intelligent design debacle. We were talking about another issue not related to ID, but we did share our thoughts on how much quieter things have been for this person in the last four months than they were the previous year.

As if on cue, today an article from Tuesday’s York Dispatch was forwarded along about Dover’s most famous theocrat, former school board member Bill Buckingham. Here are some of the juiciest tidbits:

(H)e still doesn’t believe in the constitutional separation of church and state….

“He (Judge John E. Jones III) accused me of lying under oath and I didn’t lie under oath,” he said. “And if he’s saying I lied, he’s a liar. I did not lie under oath. I was a policeman for 10 years. I’m not that dumb. I did not lie under oath.”

He said Jones doesn’t know the law very well(.)

That last bit is just laughable. How can anyone who claims that separation of church and state is a “myth” accuse a federal judge of not knowing the law?

Mind you, B-Buck was on a school board that was pushing for the use of David Barton’s book The Myth of Separation. Barton’s book has been widely derided for questionable use of quotes by the Framers and maybe even flat-out inventing history that doesn’t exist. For example, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty wrote this analysis of Barton’s work:

Barton claims that 52 of the 55 signers of the Constitution were “orthodox” Christians and many were “evangelical Christians.”

Barton does not cite any authority to support this assertion. Indeed, the weight of scholarly opinion is to the contrary…

Barton makes much from a statement attributed to John Quincy Adams to the effect that the principles of Christianity and civil government form an “indissoluble bond.”

John Quincy Adams as the source of this remark is less than certain. The lack of quotation marks around Adams’ supposed statement in its secondary source rendering leads one to believe that the statement is not attributable to him….

Barton says that John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, desired that we should “select and prefer Christians” for office.

There are many problems with trying to leverage this statement into something more than it really is. While voters can choose their candidates for any reason they deem fit, the Constitution explicitly disallows any official religious test for public office (Article VI). In fact, that prohibition on a religious test is the only place that the Constitution even mentions religion.

Meanwhile, back to B-Buck, in the YD article he says, “Honestly, we thought we were doing something good for the students.” Really? How is destroying the quality of their education “good for the students”?

As plaintiff Barrie Callahan said at the post-decision press conference, watch your school boards.

Andy in H-burg

Ain’t Nothing But A (FOIA) Party

In response to last week’s disclosure of spying on peaceful TMC activities in Pittsburgh, the FBI claimed that they were in the process of investigating individuals rather than groups. Of course, if you actually read through the released documents, it is clear the FBI’s ‘justification’ (such as it is) is downright silly.

They gave us a good idea, though. Let’s all start filing individual FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests and see what they really have on individual citizens. So we decided to host a series of individual ‘File Your Own FOIA Request’ trainings across Pennsylvania.

We have upcoming trainings in Philly on March 22nd and Pittsburgh on March 29th, with more to follow in other parts of the state.

I’m kind of curious to file one for myself. Not that I have an exaggerated sense of self-importance…I don’t think I pose a great threat to the United State government. Then again, neither does the Thomas Merton Center.

Maybe it’s kind of like your birthday. You think no one cares enough about you to get you something, and then SURPRISE!

Lisa in Pittsburgh


I think I’ve mentioned before that I like to reassure myself every once in awhile that other states are crazier than ours. Here’s a great example. It’s from Oklahoma (okay, I realize its shooting fish in a barrel to find something wacky in Oklahoma, but give me a break, it’s a Friday.)

Ten Commandments bill OK’d
By John Greiner
The Oklahoman

March 13, 2006

State senators passed legislation today to help county officials who want to display the Ten Commandments on public property but fear lawsuits if they do. The purpose of the legislation is to provide financial resources so the American Civil Liberties Union does not intimidate county officials who want to erect a display of the Ten Commandments, Sen. James Williamson said.

Haskell County commissioners erected an 8-foot-tall granite slab displaying the Ten Commandments last year. The county has been sued by the ACLU on behalf of a disabled veteran.

The legislation would apply only to a display of the Ten Commandments and only if it is constitutional under U.S. Supreme Court guidelines, said Williamson, a Tulsa Republican who is running for governor. It would not apply to displays of other religions, he said.

I particularly enjoy the last part about how it doesn’t apply to other religions. Yeah, that’s SO constitutional.

Sara in Philly

marriage "protection" (from what?!) moves out of committee

Yesterday, the PA House State Government Committee voted 15-13 to move HB 2381, the Marriage Protection Amendment, to the full House for a vote. A motion to table the bill so that the committee could hold hearings on the legal implications of the bill was narrowly defeated (14-14). Seems that our reps see no reason to do their homework before amending the constitution. (!)

HB 2381, as described in early posts, states that

Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this Commonwealth, and neither the Commonwealth nor any of its political subdivisions shall create or recognize a legal status identical or substantially equivalent to that of marriage for unmarried individuals.

Putting asside for a moment the fact that, in the words of Rep. Steil (R-Bucks) “the constitution is to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the governed against the government, [not] to define the rights of one individual to another individual.” (i.e. this language doesn’t belong in our constitution. Putting that asside, that “legal status identical or substantially equivalent” language could prove disasterous for many, many people (not just LGBT folks) who may lose health benefits, pension rights, hospital visitation privileges, etc, etc… But, we wouldn’t want to find out what that language really means before it’s inscribed in our constitution, would we? Guess not.