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?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Action Alert! Volunteers needed in South Dakota to fight abortion ban; ACLU conference in WI in the news

The ACLU of Wisconsin is gearing up for our annual activism conference this weekend. Check out some clips below of interviews with ACLU staff. More media coverage to come - stay tuned!

ACLU of Wisconsin Associate Director Renee Crawford

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ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh

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Reproductive Rights
With 40 days to go until the election, South Dakota is the scene of a major showdown over reproductive freedom, and we’re asking people in Wisconsin to help.

This fall, South Dakotans are again being asked to vote on a sweeping ban on abortion called Measure 11. Measure 11 allows politicians to interfere in the most private and personal decision that women and families can make.

South Dakota’s Measure 11 is poised to have a national impact its real purpose is to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

You can help stop this from happening. Join pro-choice Americans who are pitching in to help defeat this radical and dangerous abortion ban. The ACLU, in coalition with the Campaign for Healthy Families, is recruiting people to come to South Dakota to help talk to voters from Friday, October 3 through Sunday, October 5.

Can you join us Friday, October 3 through Sunday, October 5? It’s a big commitment, but this is a watershed moment for reproductive freedom. And your help could make an enormous difference.

That’s why we’re looking for volunteers who can arrive in Sioux Falls late Friday afternoon and stay through Sunday afternoon. You will be trained on how to talk to voters, knock on doors and do phone banking.

Travel, lodging, and most meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including vegetarian options) will be provided.

This battle can be won. Polls show that when South Dakotans know the facts many of them reject the ban. That’s why it’s crucial that we make sure voters hear mainstream views that expose an anti-choice agenda aimed at silencing women, interfering with private medical decisions, and overturning Roe v. Wade.

Please consider standing with us. We simply cannot allow South Dakota and this November's election to be a watershed moment for the anti-choice movement.

If you are interested or have questions, please email Stacy Harbaugh right away at: sharbaugh@aclu-wi.org.

Thank you for considering participating in this critical event.

Sincerely,
Stacy Harbaugh
Madison Community Advocate
ACLU of Wisconsin

Friday, September 5, 2008

Issue ad regs postponed, drug sniffing dogs in parks, homeless banned and more

Free Speech
Free speech gets muddled in between the lines of rule-making of the GAB at their recent meeting. While the board didn’t take a formal vote at their last meeting (mainly because it is still up in the air whether or not they have the actual authority to regulate issue ads), they will be working on drafting a rule concerning ads and revisit the topic at their October meeting. This subject goes to the heart of free speech, the ability of all organizations to communicate with the public about the issues they care about, and how to make campaign finance and influencing voters fair.


Privacy Rights
Here’s an article about recent sweeps of public parks by police with drug sniffing dogs. The cops made some small busts of drug users, but the article is a rare example of newspapers detailing the boundaries of people’s rights. It also shows how 1.) police lie, and 2.) open air is searchable. For more on how everyone can interact with police while asserting their rights to privacy, to remain silent and to not consent to searches, visit this Know Your Rights page on the ACLU website.


Rights of the Poor
A recent article points out that the Brittingham Park plan to get rid of disorderly loiterers is working. But the article doesn’t ask anyone where the homeless people went or if they experienced an increase of police harassment or discrimination.


Reproductive Rights
Zweifel writes a solid column about the religious right’s support for Republican V.P. nominee Sarah Palin’s daughter. The spin from Palin’s supporters articulates how Palin’s family is human, subject to mistakes and should have their private decisions kept to themselves. Zweifel notes that this perspective comes from religious right figureheads who have been telling the rest of us how to raise our children and teach them (or not teach them at all, in the case of abstinence-only education mandates) about sex. For more on how the ACLU is challenging abstinence only education, visit our reproductive freedom webpage.


Student Rights
Dane County schools update their rules to bring clarity and more modern definitions to their policies. New regs on cell phones are an improvement that recognizes the ubiquity of this personal communications technology. However, it’s as important as ever for students and parents to read their school rules in the student handbook to understand their rights and the boundaries of what is allowed. Read on to get the scoop on how students can get kicked out of school for something that even looks like a gun and a student ID experiment at Verona that would require students to have IDs visible on lanyards at all times.


Check out this upcoming event which features an excellent speaker who is a former board member of the ACLU of North Carolina affiliate and frequent speaker at ACLU national conferences:

Community lecture: “Civil Liberties and the War on Terror – Past, Present, and Future” with Erwin Chermerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, UC-Irvine School of Law
When: Friday, September 19, 12:10 p.m.
Where: UW Memorial Union Play Circle Theater
The UW Law School Office of the Dean and the Institute for Legal Studies fall 2008 workshop series will focus on “Ideas and Innovations in Legal Scholarship.” Hosted by Kathryn Hendley, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, this series features current topics shared by legal scholars in our community and from across the country. Professor Howard Erlanger will provide the welcome for Chermerinsky who will doubtlessly give an in-depth, yet accessible talk on the history of threats to civil liberties in times of war and threats to national security. Worth checking out!