Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Activist conference teaches members how to get active, pulpit politics, banned books and more

A big thanks to everyone who attended and helped with the ACLU of Wisconsin statewide activist conference this weekend. We're working on getting pictures and materials posted to our website. Also stay tuned to Cap City Liberty for more media coverage of the event.

Here is the ACLU Technology and Liberty Project Director, Barry Steinhardt, in his excellent interview on WPR's Joy Cardin show.

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In this interview, ACLU of Wisconsin's Associate Director, Renee Crawford talks about what issues will be addressed at the activist conference and why they are important.

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Free Speech
I woke up this morning to my radio alarm clock and heard NPR’s Lynn Neary talking about the Depression-era California Dust Bowl. I thought it was another story about fears of economic collapse, but it was actually about the banning of The Grapes of Wrath. It’s Banned Books Week and people across the country are celebrating the right to read (check out this story about Banned Books Week activities in Rock County). The NPR story is worth a listen – especially the part about what the librarian said when she risked her job in fighting the book ban. The story is timely: despite the Internet rumor about an attempt by Alaskan Governor and current Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin to ban books in Wasilla, challenges to controversial books and art are something that require constant vigilance.

Check out this ACLU comic on book burning (there is also a link to download a printable PDF) or boost your civil liberties savvy with this “Ban This Booklist.” There is more on artistic freedom on the ACLU Banned Books Week 2008 website.

Separation of Church and State
A West Bend pastor is claiming free speech rights to endorsing John McCain for President during a recent sermon. This action was one of 33 examples of pulpit politicking. A challenge from the IRS may be imminent.

Most people don’t know about the nuances of tax law and why nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations are supposed to also be non-partisan. The idea is that a tax-exempt status is reserved for groups that exist just for education and social welfare. As soon as an organization goes from generally educating their public to telling them who to vote for, the organization’s purpose changes. Endorsing a candidate throws an organization into another tax classification. Churches that cry foul need to either give up the privilege of being tax-exempt or pay up on the expenses and taxes that other groups that endorse candidates have to pay. The conservative Alliance Defense Fund doesn’t see it that way, however, and this election year will see another dispute over politics in the pulpit.

Voting Rights
The ACLU of Wisconsin makes the news again for its work to change the state law and enfranchise citizens on parole or probation from felony convictions. With recent challenges to the Statewide Voter Registration System, we know that weeding out felons from other citizens is costly and time-consuming. If people are able to be out of prison, why can't they be able to vote?