We have minions?! Why didn’t I get one?

Since someone asked about it, I’ll share with you all the horrible bill called Public Expression of Religion Act(PERA) (S. 3696 / H.R. 2679). It’s being advanced by the American Legion (who has been kind of obsessed with hating us over the past few years) and a group of far-right religious groups. Sadly, it passed the house earlier this week with a vote of 244-173. Thankfully it’s not likely to reach the Senate floor before they recess for the election.

This legislation would bar damages and awards of attorney’s fees to winning parties in Establishment Clause cases. It would, for the first time ever, single out one area protected by the First Amendment and prevent its full enforcement. This prohibition would apply to all Establishment Clause cases, including those involving illegal religious coercion of public school students or blatant discrimination against particular religions.

This means that even when we win in court, we would still have to pay for our costs. Without the threat of having to pay attorneys fees or damages, there is no reason for school districts or other government entities not to push the envelope and enact blatantly unconstitutional policies. Why wouldn’t another school board with a similar mind set as that of the old Dover board try to require the teaching of intelligent design? The worst that could happen would be they’d have to stop. The ACLU and other groups like us would have to greatly reduce the number of cases we can take, if we don’t receive attorneys fees for the cases we win. (Just for the record, the Dover case cost over $1 million to try.)

But the people this would most hurt would be our clients, often times people who have had to risk the censure of their community to stand up for their rights. (By the way, the American Legion has referred to our clients as “mascot plaintiffs.” Tell that to Tammy Kitzmiller and company.)

The other side has repeatedly tried to frame this as the “anti-ACLU bill” or the “defund the ACLU bill.” Here’s what the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN) had to say:

“Because of PERA, Americans will have the opportunity to fight the systematic agenda of the ACLU and their minions to remove the vestiges of our religious heritage in this nation,” Hostettler said in a written release after House passage. “Patriots will have their day in court.”

Wow. Even more incredible is the disingenuous description of PERA Hostettler has on his website:

H.R. 2679, The Public Expression of Religion Act (PERA) is a bill inrtoduced [sic] by Congressman Hostettler that allows “establishment clause” cases to have the opportunity to be heard before a court of law.


PERA allows Americans to defend the symbols and expressions of our nation’s rich religious heritage in the sunlight of a courtroom before a judge rather than being settled outside the boundaries of America’s legal system

Last time I checked, these cases already had the chance to be tried in a court of law.

I have to end this post before my blood pressure shoots any higher.

Sara in Philly

Tyranny comes to our shores

That is not said lightly.

I’m struggling a bit to put together words about what the Senate did today on the detainee treatment and military commission bill. In one fell swoop, the Senate- preceded by the House, including my rep, Rep. Tim Holden (D-Schuylkil)- condoned torture and destroyed the ability to challenge one’s detention in court. This is unfathomable, not only for the principle of the thing but also because military reports have indicated that a majority of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are innocent.

I’ll let Glenn Greenwald get a word in here:

There really is no other way to put it. Issues of torture to the side (a grotesque qualification, I know), we are legalizing tyranny in the United States. Period. Primary responsibility for this fact lies with the authoritarian Bush administration and its sickeningly submissive loyalists in Congress. That is true enough. But there is no point in trying to obscure the fact that it’s happening with the cowardly collusion of the Senate Democratic leadership, which quite likely could have stopped this travesty via filibuster if it chose to (it certainly could have tried).

Greenwald blogged throughout the Senate debate and provides an intriguing read.

It is true that freedom-loving people face enemies today, but not all of those enemies have names like Osama and Mahmoud and Khalid. Some have names like George and Rick and Ken and Joseph and…. (Fill in the name of your choice after looking at the roll call vote.)

Andy in Harrisburg

Happy Banned Books Week!

Every year around this time in September, the ACLU joins a variety of groups, including the subversive American Library Association, in celebrating the freedom to read without censorship. The “banned” in ‘Banned Books Week’ refers to the hundreds of books that have been challenged and/or withdrawn from schools, public libraries, and bookstores.

Yes, this still happens in 21st century America. In fact, according to the ALA, the top ten most challenged books of 2005 were:

1. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley
2. Forever, by Judy Blume
3. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
4. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
5. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
6. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
7. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
8. Captain Underpants series, by Dav Pilkey
9. Crazy Lady!, by Jane Leslie Conly
10. It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, by Robie H. Harris

The ACLU of PA held Banned Books Readings in Philly and Pittsburgh this year. The Pittsburgh events featured four short video clips of Pittsburgh locals reading lines from their favorite banned or challenged book. It’s a cute montage and worth checking out. Happy Banned Books Week!

-Lisa in Pittsburgh

Happy Birthday to us! (Now, where’s the cake?)

Yep, it was one year ago yesterday that Speaking Freely officially launched to coincide with the start of the Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover trial challenging the Dover Area School Board’s decision to insert a statement about intelligent design into its 9th grade biology curriculum. Some highlights from the year that was:

Unfortunately, there were some lowlights.

There are probably highlights and lowlights I’m forgetting, so feel free to post your own. It is an honor and a privilege that you read this blog, and we appreciate the opportunity to bring forward this important information about freedom in America. I look at SF as a laboratory for working through our public message, and it provides me with an opportunity to really think through what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. Thanks.

Now go grab some cake. Jessica and Lisa are on the turn-table.

Andy in Harrisburg

Two plus two equals five, war is peace, and….

…undocumented immigrants are trying to vote.

Not to rehash what has already been stated here, but let’s rehash what has already been stated here. Cynthia Tucker has a brilliant column from Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which appeared in today’s (Harrisburg) Patriot News, about the voter ID bill from last week:

Republican leaders have discovered a grave threat to American democracy that most of us apparently had not noticed: Everywhere, in big states and small, red enclaves and blue, bustling metropolises and rural hamlets, impostors are flocking to the polls to vote under false pretenses. Apparently, the nation has been overrun by fake voters.

What else would explain the GOP’s insistence on using its power to ram through requirements that voters show government-issued photo IDs at the ballot box?

And Tucker tapped an election academic to back up her point. (Note: Said expert is not a member of Congress.)

“If you are an illegal immigrant, the last thing you want to do is show up at a polling place, …” said Thomas Patterson, an expert on elections at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. “We have enough trouble getting people to vote when they’re eligible. The idea that people are going to stick their necks out and get [a] penalty stretches the imagination.”

The citizenry needs to know what powerful politicians are trying to do with their vote. And then vote with a vengeance.

Andy in the HBG


When I was in school, a D+ would have sent me home crying to mommy. So who is the U.S. crying to in response to the Council on Global Terrorism’s recent report card, covering subjects ranging from “Combating Islamic Extremist Terrorism” to “Balancing Security and Core Values”? No better than a D+ in either of these subjects, by the way.

Five years after 9/11, the NY Times reports on a classified National Intelligence Estimate – a combined appraisal by 16 internal spy agencies – that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has contributed to the spread of Islamic extremism and that “the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.”

So having my Tom’s of Maine toothpaste summarily tossed into the trash over Labor Day by a hard-working airport security guard makes me feel like I’m back in school – watching one of those students who’s scribbling furiously, but it all comes out looking like nonsense. If our country’s not making the grade, then it’s up to us to look beyond efficiently packing our carry-ons and hold our government accountable.

It’s also up to our press and media outlets to do the same. Over 350 people rallied in Philly with the ACLU to defend the Constitution on Sept. 17, calling for government accountability and Congressional oversight to ensure that our civil liberties are being protected in a time of heightened security. And where was the press for this event? Playing hooky.

Jess in Philly

Maine Couple is Criminal and Racist?

You probably join me in my shock that Nicholas and Lola Kampf would see kidnapping their daughter and forcing her to have an abortion as an appropriate response to her telling them she’s pregnant. In addition, their rationale (or lack thereof) is reportedly fueled by racism. According to ABC News:

A Maine couple accused of tying up their 19-year-old daughter, throwing her in their car and driving her out of state to get an abortion were upset because the baby’s father is black, a Maine sheriff said Tuesday.

“This whole race-card things is ridiculous and objectionable,” said [Defense attorney Mark] Sisti, who represented both of the Kampfs for their arraignment Monday, but is now representing only Lola Kampf.

Katelyn Kampf escaped from her parents in Salem after persuading them to untie her so she could use a Kmart bathroom, police said.

If convicted, the Kampfs could face up to 15 years in prison.

I’m going out on a limb here, but I think everyone on both sides of the issue would agree that no woman should ever be forced to have an abortion. Sadly for Katelyn Kampf, her parents were the ones who tried to take away her right to decide if and when she was to become pregnant (and with whom).

Julie in Philly

Rob the vote

Here we go again.

In February, state Republicans offered a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist by requiring photo identification at the voting booth, claiming it was necessary to stop voter fraud, which isn’t happening. Governor Rendell did the right thing by promptly squashing that noxious legislation.

Yesterday the House of Representatives passed legislation to require proof of citizenship at the polls. Now, think about that. Before you get to the polls, you have to register. And in order to register, what do you need? Say it together- citizenship.

Because this bill requires proof of citizenship, not just identification, a driver’s license would not do the trick since documented immigrants and, in some states, undocumented immigrants can get driver’s licenses. So you’ll need to take your passport, which only 27% of Americans have (and I’m in the 73% who do not have a passport), or your birth certificate to vote.

Not surprisingly, this legislation, if passed by the Senate and signed by the president, would have the greatest impact on the elderly, the poor, and minorities, much like the state legislation earlier this year. Even less surprising, the bill passed on a party line vote with the Rs in favor and the Ds against.

Oh, and while we’re ticking off all of the predictables in this, supporters managed to tie in illegal immigration to their cause.

“Those who are in this country illegally want the same rights as United States citizens without obeying the laws of our land,” Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Florida Republican, said during the House debate. “We should not let these criminals defraud our election system by allowing them to vote.”

Come on, Congresswoman. That’s the best you can do? Couldn’t you find a way to tie in terrorists from France who are in same-sex relationships? The list of scapegoats is much too long to just stop at illegal immigrants.

Reuters reporter Donna Smith failed miserably in not questioning Rep. Brown-Waite on where she has the evidence that undocumented immigrants- or documented immigrants, for that matter- are trying to fraudulently vote.

America has a proud tradition of opening up the franchise to new groups, notably women and blacks, who were once denied it. It is disgraceful that, for partisan political reasons, some people are trying to reverse the tide, and standing in the way of people who have every right to vote.

NY Times editorial (subscription required): Keep away the vote

Thankfully, this has little chance of passing the Senate.

Andy in H-burg

We’re Going Commercial…

A while back I posted about the Port Authority’s refusal to run our educational bus ads in Pittsburgh, over which we are now in the middle of a lawsuit.

Well, the ACLU and the League of Young Voters decided to turn the ‘objectionable’ ad into a billboard campaign. We wanted to get the information out prior to the November elections, and it was looking like it the legal issues would not be resolved before then.

We’d much rather have given our money to the Port Authority than waste taxpayers’ money on a lawsuit, but what can you do?

Lisa in Pittsburgh