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…