Speak out for free speech

Meet Joseph Yamrus of Northampton County. One of our recent clients, Mr. Yamrus is a 64-year-old retired trucker and Army veteran who doesn’t like politicians talking about troop withdrawal while we’re at war. He decided to demonstrate his feelings by flying his flag upside down – a recognized sign of distress. (You can guess where this is going.) Sure enough, he was charged with “insulting” the US flag.

ACLU volunteer attorney Gary Asteak represented Mr. Yamrus, and the district attorney dropped the charges. (More on the case can be found here and here.)

But now Mr. Yamrus – who lives alone with his wife – is being harassed by unidentified people who have stolen his flag (he replaced it), who make prank phone calls, and who drive by the house screaming insults and obscenities at this retired couple. It takes a lot of bravery to stand up and demand one’s rights. It is an act of cowardice to harass an old retired couple with anonymous phone calls and screamed obscenities.

You can write a letter to the local papers in the Lehigh Valley to express your support for Josephy Yamrus and his stand for freedom of speech. You can send letters to the editor to the Morning Call (Allentown) at letters@mcall.com or to the Express-Times (Easton) through this form.

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As media converges, first editorial rolls in

From what I’ve found so far, there is one newspaper that has editorialized on the Hazleton decision. More will probably come forth in the coming days.

The Times Leader of Wilkes Barre recognized that Judge Munley made the right call:

Judge James Munley did on Thursday what he had to do – uphold the U.S. Constitution.

Frankly, his decision on Hazleton’s anti-immigration law was a foregone conclusion from the time testimony was presented during a nine-day trial in March.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Speak out in support of fair treatment of immigrants

The Hazleton decision is an eloquent affirmation of the rights that protect all people under our Constitution. To add my one of my own favorite quotes from the decision:

We cannot say clearly enough that persons who enter this country without legal authorization are not stripped immediately of all their rights because of this single act … The United States Supreme has consistently interpreted [the 14th Amendment] to apply to all people present in the United States, whether they were born here, immigrated here through legal means, or violated federal law to enter the country.

Thank you, Judge Munley. But unfortunately, your court alone cannot protect due process rights in this country. Anyone who’s ever taken bong hits (for Jesus or not) or run a red light knows that our laws often express our ideals more than our reality, and they’re an important recourse when injustice is afoot. But the day-to-day decency and regard for our neighbors (be it those next door, or those across the borders) requires more than laws. It requires our voices and our actions.

On June 3, hundreds attended a rally in Hazleton on June 3 in support of Mayor Barletta and his anti-immigrant legislation. A Peruvian-born newspaper publisher (an American citizen) was harrassed at the event and escorted away by police for his own safety. More rallies of this kind are being planned across the state throughout the summer and early fall.

Lacking comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level, and with rising frustrations at the local level, we need to take action to protect the rights of immigrants. I’m talking about those of us who care about the constitution, due process and fair treatment of those living within our borders, and who oppose actions that lead to discriminatory treatment of our friends, co-workers and neighbors.

So, if you think this Hazleton decision is a good thing, speak out. Our state and our country need your voice to be heard as much as we need Judge Munley’s.

Jess in Philly

"The genius of our Constitution"

Expect posts throughout the day and tomorrow in reaction to the Hazleton decision. I just read a few of the latter pages of the decision and found this quote particularly powerful:

The genius of our Constitution is that it provides rights even to those who evoke the least sympathy from the general public. In that way, all in this nation can be confident of equal justice under its laws. Hazleton, in its zeal to control the
presence of a group deemed undesirable, violated the rights of such people, as well as others within the community. Since the United States Constitution protects even the disfavored, the ordinances cannot be enforced.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Withholding evidence doesn’t pay, to the tune of $101 mill

Whoa, two people and the estates of two others in Boston were awarded a $101 million judgment for being wrongly convicted and serving nearly 30 years in prison. The FBI sat on documents that would have cleared the men.

I like this:

US Justice Department lawyers have argued that the FBI was not liable because it had no obligation to share internal documents with state prosecutors or defense lawyers, and that the state prosecuted the four men after conducting an independent investigation.

The government’s position is, in a word, absurd,” Gertner said. (my bold)

Andy in Harrisburg

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Three sentences summarize importance of emergency contraception

Last week Erin Varner of Crisis Center North in Pittsburgh had an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about access to emergency contraception for rape victims. In one short paragraph, she summarized why the passage of PA House Bill 288 is so important for rape victims.

When victims of any other crimes are injured, they receive the highest standard of care available when brought into a hospital. Gun shot, stabbing and choking wounds are surgically repaired, bandaged and the patient is provided with follow-up care. Victims of rape are not guaranteed the highest standard of care.

Unfortunately, there are some powerful lobbyists who feel that hospitals should have an exemption that allows them to only follow the law if they feel like it. Science has proven that emergency contraception does not cause an abortion, but there are some radicals who still think that rape victims don’t deserve the best care scientifically possible.

And these are the same radicals who think it’s OK to discriminate against gay foster kids.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Tribute to Harper Lee, "Mockingbird"

Today’s Patriot News of Harrisburg has a great op-ed on one of my all-time favorite novels- Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The author captures well the ties between the novel and today’s struggles.

Lee’s work is representative of the larger struggle of people who are different in some way from those in power — a different race, a different sex, a different sexual orientation, a different class — trying to grab their piece of the pie. Despite the wonders of democracy, a constant struggle between the status quo and the marginalized will always endure. To Kill a Mockingbird implores us to give a voice to the marginalized in this struggle.

The fight that Atticus Finch boldly took up in To Kill a Mockingbird continues every day in much less visible ways — the players may change, but the game remains the same. Seneca Falls, “I have a dream,” a gay-pride parade, Hurricane Katrina — all are part of the same struggle. The battle to get and hold onto power in a democracy — the quest for a voice — is the most basic freedom to express, but often it becomes the hardest battle to win.

Andy in Harrisburg

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