Friday, January 29, 2010

ACLU of Wisconsin Applauds the Passage of the Healthy Youth Act

The ACLU of Wisconsin applauds the passage of the Healthy Youth Act, the legislation that will raise state standards for public school human growth and development instruction. The Healthy Youth Act will give Wisconsin teens the tools they need to make healthy and responsible life decisions by providing comprehensive sexuality education that is age appropriate and medically accurate.

“Our state legislators looked at the facts about current teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates in Wisconsin and took action in support of educating students,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh. “Armed with the facts about reproduction and how to protect themselves from risk, the Healthy Youth Act will help young people make healthier choices."

The Healthy Youth Act will better honor equal protection, free speech and freedom of religion in our public schools. Students have the right to ask their teachers questions about reproduction and teachers should be able to answer them with age appropriate facts. Human growth and development curriculum on relationships and reproduction should recognize equality in gender and sexual orientation. Our schools should also respect religious diversity and this legislation ensures that curriculum will not promote a bias against religion. All parents will have the right to inspect teaching materials at any time and will continue to be able to take their children out of portions of the curriculum with which they disagree.

Comprehensive sexuality education enjoys a broad base of support including major medical organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society of Adolescent Medicine, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, and the Institute of Medicine. Comprehensive sex education is also supported by major educational organizations including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association. More than 85 percent of Americans support school-based sexuality education programs that teach students how to use and where to get contraceptives.

The ACLU of Wisconsin has approximately 8,000 members who support its efforts to defend the civil liberties and civil rights of all Wisconsin residents. For more on the work of the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at ACLUMadison and ACLUofWisconsin. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today and help us fight for civil liberties in Wisconsin.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Healthy Youth Act Passes the State Senate on Party-Line Vote

The Healthy Youth Act has passed the state Senate! Raising the state standards on human growth and development curriculum to be more comprehensive and fact-based is one step closer to law in Wisconsin.

On an 18 to 15 party-line vote, the Senate passed a bill that is very similar to the Assembly version. A unanimous amendment added language that would teach students about statutory rape laws and sex offenses. The bill will go back to the Assembly for a vote and then on to the Governor to sign.

The Healthy Youth Alliance, a coalition of individuals and organizations including the ACLU of Wisconsin, encourages voters to contact their Senators to comment on how they voted.

Carpenter, Coggs, Erpenbach, Hansen, Holperin, Jauch, Kreitlow, Lassa, Lehman, Miller, Plale, Risser, Robson, Sullivan, Taylor, Vinehout, Wirch

Cowles, Darling, Ellis, Fitzgerald, Grothman, Harsdorf, Hopper, Kanavas, Kapanke, Kedzie, Lasee, Lazich, Leibham, Olsen, Schultz

The Healthy Youth Alliance maintains that the Healthy Youth Act is a commonsense measure to improve the health of young people throughout Wisconsin. The bill requires Wisconsin schools that choose to teach sex education provide students with comprehensive information about healthy relationships and preventing unintended pregnancy and STDs.

If schools teach sex education, it must include medically accurate and age-appropriate information about abstinence, birth control and barrier methods to prevent unintended pregnancy and STDs. They must also teach teens about the life skills they need to say no to sex, to insist on contraception, and to communicate with parents and other trusted adults about these issues.

Thanks to all the ACLU members and supporters who called in with their support! Stay tuned to Cap City Liberty or to our Twitterfeed for more action alerts on civil liberties related issues in Wisconsin.

Today is Data Privacy Day - It's About More Than Your Credit Card and Social Security Number

Today is Data Privacy Day and it is an opportunity to remind everybody that while we enjoy the ever-changing and evolving technologies available to us, from Facebook to medical record sharing, we should always know that our data and our information belongs to us. Any searching or sharing of our information needs our permission.

A year ago, Wisconsin Senator Erpenbach took the lead on authoring a resolution recognizing Data Privacy Day (PDF) in Wisconsin. We now have an official statement about what data privacy means to our state government. In this statement, and in the continued educational work of the ACLU of Wisconsin, privacy rights are more than protection against credit card fraud and identity theft: it is a practice of safety, protection and practices for everybody.

"Privacy rights need to be defended year-round," said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. "Today is a great day to recognize how we can protect ourselves against identity theft, encroaching surveillance and data insecurity."

Nationally the ACLU has been in the center of courtrooms, legislative hearings and the media to show what is wrong with public video surveillance, why the Real ID program doesn't secure our identities and should be overturned, and how government surveillance technology is outpacing legal restraints to abuses of power.

Read more about the work that the ACLU is doing nationally to support privacy rights. Aspects of privacy rights that we work on include biological technology privacy (our DNA is our own), consumer privacy (don't spy on what I buy), Internet free speech and privacy (make those Facebook photos private!), medical privacy (sharing electronic records is great for doctors, but shouldn't be searched by non-medics), students rights (with cell phones and their non-directory information), and workers' privacy (from camera surveillance to lack of protection of personal records).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Action Alert: Call Your State Senator NOW and Say YES to the Healthy Youth Act!

Take action today in support of the Healthy Youth Act! The comprehensive sexuality education bill is scheduled to be voted on by the state Senate Thursday/tomorrow which is the last step before it is signed into law by the Governor!

Tweet this alert or put it in your Facebook status update: Call your Wisconsin State Senator NOW and say YES to the Healthy Youth Act

Where do I call?
The hotline to contact your state Senator is 1-800-362-9472. The hotline is open during regular business hours. You can also find your Senator's contact information on-line.

Who is my state Senator?
Look up your Senate rep on-line with your address.

What do I say?
Tell your Senator that you support the Healthy Youth Act (SB 324), which would raise the state standards on human growth and development classes in our schools.
***Remember to leave your name and address so they know you are a constituent.
***You can read more about what the ACLU of Wisconsin said about the bill on our blog.

Why now?
By a 4 to 3 vote, the Senate Education Committee passed the Healthy Youth Act (AB 458 version) this morning. This excellent news means that the bill is scheduled for a full floor vote in the Senate tomorrow (Thursday, 1/28). The state Assembly already debated and passed their version - the Senate will take it up for debate and if passed is expected to be signed into law by Governor Doyle.

Read more on the increase in sexually transmitted disease and infection rates in Wisconsin, especially among teens.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Closing Guantánamo: A Deadline Missed

Today an important deadline was missed. One of the most shameful chapters of American history was to have been brought to a close with the shuttering of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. President Obama's executive order to close the prison within a year (PDF), made on his second full day in office, was a bold act that signaled a strong commitment to breaking away from the unlawful policies of the Bush administration.

Sadly, the prison is still open. President Obama has recently reaffirmed his commitment to closing the facility, and that is encouraging. Yet, at the same time, it is worrisome that when Guantánamo finally does close, it appears that some of its most shameful policies will continue on U.S. soil, potentially reducing the closure to a symbolic gesture.

The administration has admittedly run into significant obstacles to closing the prison. Congress, awash in fear-mongering and claims of "Not in my backyard," helped turn Guantánamo into a political football by blocking transfers of detainees cleared for release to the U.S. and launching a failed attempt to block the Justice Department from prosecuting detainees in federal court. But the administration is also to blame, as it has essentially discouraged other countries from accepting detainees by refusing to accept any into the U.S., fought the release of cleared detainees even up to the Supreme Court, and declared recently that it won't release detainees to Yemen. The notion that Americans are made safer by continuing to detain prisoners who have been deemed appropriate for release simply because they come from certain countries will only serve to inflame those who believe that the U.S. has lost respect for the rule of law.

It is vital that the failure to meet the closure deadline does not give in to a sense of inertia or inevitability that the prison will be open for a long time to come. But it is also just as important that when Guantánamo is finally closed, it is closed right. That means that along with closing the facility, we must also put an end to its illegal policies like indefinite detention. Unfortunately, the latest indications from Washington don't bode well.

Last month, the Obama administration announced its intention to purchase the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois for the purpose of holding some of the detainees currently remaining at Guantánamo. However, all indications are that some of the detainees who would be sent to the Thomson prison would be held under a policy, unchanged from the Bush administration, of indefinite detention without charge or trial. The Obama administration may have inherited the problems of Guantánamo from the Bush years, but by continuing the prison's lawless policies on U.S. soil, it would take undisputed ownership of them.

In deciding how to handle detainees, the administration should conduct a thorough review of each case. Detainees against whom there is no credible evidence should be repatriated back to their home countries or resettled elsewhere where they won't be tortured. Detainees against whom there is evidence of terrorist activity should be tried in federal courts. The American criminal justice system is more than capable of trying terrorism suspects while protecting both sensitive security evidence and fundamental rights. The federal courts have successfully prosecuted more than over 200 terrorism cases, including those of "Blind Sheik" Omar Abdel-Rahman for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussoui for conspiring in the 9/11 attacks.

No one disputes that the government has the right, under the laws of war, to detain prisoners captured on the battlefield until the end of hostilities. But the Bush and Obama administrations have defined their powers to do so far too broadly. They have used such authority to pick up and detain prisoners from around the globe who they deem engaged in the "war on terror," essentially defining the "war zone" as the entire globe. Moreover, the "war on terror" will never come to a public, decisive end, so the duration of the war is essentially forever, opening up the possibility that America would detain individuals for the rest of their lives without giving them their due process rights. But even for those detainees at Guantánamo for whom the laws of war would ordinarily apply, the unique situation demands that they be charged or released after so many years of imprisonment without the protections of domestic and international law.

Guantánamo must close, and when it finally does, celebration will be in order. But the illegal policies embodied by the prison must disappear along with it. This moment in time presents a crucial opportunity to turn the page on the tragic policies of the past and firmly reclaim our moral authority. Continuing the failed policies of Guantánamo, on U.S. soil or elsewhere, would be an error of historic proportions.

Cross-posted from the ACLU's Blog of Rights to Daily Kos and Huffington Post.

Please join the ACLU today and help us continue the fight for accountability in government and an end to abuses of power.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Racial Profiling and Knowing Your Rights Continues King's Debate on Justice

The ACLU of Wisconsin celebrated Martin Luther King Day with a very successful Know Your Rights/Racial Profiling workshop in Racine. The workshop was part of Voces de la Frontera’s Martin Luther King Day Celebration at the Memorial Hall.

About 60 people of all ages learned from ACLU of Wisconsin staff and volunteers how to flex their rights and spot racial profiling. Importantly, attendees also learned how to take action if they are a victim or a witness of police discrimination. The workshop focused on how to handle police encounters such as being stopped on the street or in a car. Many of the participants are now eager to pass the knowledge of their rights onto the rest of their community.

We also debuted our new Know Your Rights bust cards - part of a initiative to make region-specific bust cards listing local community organizations that can assist with law enforcement concerns.

Other speakers helped to put current issues of racial profiling into context. Attendees were focused as Geraldine White, affiliated with the Racine Branch of the NAACP, spoke about her years with the civil rights organization, ths Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and some of the life-changing events that she witnessed there with Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Maggie Piery, longtime ACLU of Wisconsin volunteer and a student at UW-Parkside, shared her experiences speaking to law enforcement and community at the Office of Justice Assistance Traffic Stop Data - Racial Profiling listening sessions last month.

Contact us if you'd like to host a Know Your Rights/Racial Profiling workshop.

- Submitted by ACLU of Wisconsin intern, Sharon Cross

More Support for Medical Marijuana, Lobby Day on Jan. 20

The state legislature is back in session today and while they are busy doing their regular session work like renumbering acts and debating about campaign finance reform, Rep. Mark Pocan sent out an acknowledgement and a little reminder about how New Jersey quickly passed a reform bill to decriminalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

New Jersey was the 14th state to change their state law on medical marijuana when their Governor signed their bill last night. Wisconsin could be next if legislative leadership wasn’t afraid of the issue. But despite polling that shows that the people strongly support decriminalizing medical marijuana (for instance, the Sheboygan Press just published their supportive editorial today - about 8 in 10 are supportive according to the most recent ABC poll), Democratic leadership in the state Assembly and Senate must be listening to the criticisms of the bill from committee Republicans like Rep. Leah Vukmir and long-time marijuana opponents like Dr. Michael Miller from the Wisconsin Medical Society (who said at the hearing that people who want to legalize “reefer” shouldn’t “confuse compassion with medicine”) have said they aren’t enthusiastic to get this bill to the floor for a vote.

People who support the decriminalization of cannabis for medical purposes will be gathering at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Wednesday, January 20th to lobby their legislators on the topic. The event will start at noon on the second floor rotunda for a memorial tribute for activist Mary Powers who worked to legalize this relatively cheap and effective medicine for her illness until the day she died. Members of Is My Medicine Legal Yet will be asking legislators to support AB 554 and SB 368, the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act either in person or via telephone and are asking people to call in statewide at (800) 362-9472 (Who Are My Legislators?)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Should Felons Be Allowed to Vote? Yes Says Conservative Waukesha Blogger

Reposted from the Wigderson Library & Pub blog and published on January 14, 2010 in the Waukesha Freeman opinion page. Wigderson has been maintaining his conservative blog on local and state politics since 2004 and has been a guest commentator on greater Milwaukee radio and television shows.

Should felons be allowed to vote?
We’re in another election cycle, and I’m in training. I am asking everyone I know about the candidates, talking to the professionals, reading the Web sites, and getting antsy waiting for the first campaign finance reports. It is a fun time to be a political writer.

Unfortunately, for far too many of us, elections are just another day on the calendar. Worse, they are just days that remind them that while society pretends these people should be among us, they are really secondclass citizens.

Over 42,000 Wisconsinites will not be allowed to vote this spring. They are not illegal aliens. They are not underage. They are not in prison.

They are people who were convicted of felonies, but are now free. If, as a condition of their release, they remain under the state’s supervision, such as probation or parole, they are not eligible to vote. They are free in most respects, but not in the most fundamental way.

In the state Legislature right now is a bill that would grant these freed felons the right to vote in Wisconsin, the same right in at least 18 other states. Supporters of the bill are trying to round up the necessary votes to win.

It should not be that difficult. After all, the Democrats are in control of both legislative chambers. But there are some Democrats who fear what their Republican opponents will do with this issue in October and November.

Some Republican legislators, too, are willing to give the idea a chance. But they have legitimate concerns about whether it is proper to allow felons to vote, even if they are not in state custody.

From a practical point of view, we need to ask ourselves if it’s really worth it to prosecute someone for doing what we tell the rest of our citizens is the responsible thing to do.

The state of Wisconsin spent $22 million on a voter database. Trying to match the list to the list of released felons ineligible to vote proved nearly impossible, with election officials resorting to unreliable paper lists to try to keep felons from voting.

If someone is actually caught, the case is then referred to the district attorney for prosecution. At a time when the state is cutting back on staff in district attorney offices, do we really want them to put this as a priority? Or would we rather have them spend more time prosecuting real criminals?

Yes, I can hear the critics already. “But it’s vote fraud. Of course the DAs should make it a priority.”

Is it really vote fraud? Fraud would imply an attempt to deceive for personal gain. Our situation, that of a felon trying to be a responsible member of society by casting a ballot, to gain a stake in the direction of our society, is hardly fraud.

Fraud would be the alleged stuffing of the voter rolls by groups like ACORN. Fraud would be the cases where someone might vote two or three times. These are actions that diminish the legitimate votes and harm democracy.

Asking a felon to vote does not diminish legitimate votes. Asking someone who is no longer incarcerated by the state to vote does not harm democracy. Asking a felon to vote only makes that person a better, more responsible citizen.

We know that in those states where we can measure the progress of felons that do vote they are half as likely to re-offend. We can argue the cause and effect, but there is a relationship, and we would be fools not to recognize it and take advantage.

Democrats in the legislature are debating whether they have the votes to pass the voting rights bill. Admittedly, the timing is terrible, as the first prisoners are coming out now under the early release program. Nobody wants to be seen as soft on crime.

However, it appears that they are close to having enough support to put the bill on the legislative agenda. If that happens, Wisconsin Republicans should remember 14 Republican governors have already allowed this change in their states. Republicans can support the change in the law here, too.

James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stand Up For Women's Rights in Health Care Reform

Negotiations on the final health care bill pick up speed this week. As you may know, anti-choice forces in Congress have used this legislation as a vehicle for advancing their agenda.

We must make sure that the final bill will protect reproductive freedom, not put it in peril.

Tell Sen. Russ Feingold, Sen. Herb Kohl and your state legislator in the House to protect women’s access to abortion in health care reform.

Health care reform should improve people’s lives. That’s why we have to make the most of our last opportunity to insist that health care reform should improve women's health and lives -- not interfere in their ability to get the health care they need.

Representative Bart Stupak and other architects of the severe restrictions on women’s health in both the House and Senate bills are campaigning hard, threatening to derail health care legislation altogether if anyone tampers with the severe restrictions they forced into both bills. Even our allies in Congress are feeling pressure. That’s why it’s so urgent that you take action today.

Both bills stigmatize abortion coverage and ignore the reality that abortion services are basic health care for women.

Tell your members of Congress that Stupak-style restrictions must not be part of any final legislation that goes to President Obama’s desk.

Anti-choice forces are working round-the-clock to keep severe abortion restrictions in the health care bill. We have to work just as hard to get those restrictions out.

Negotiations on a final bill are happening now. Please act immediately to insist on health reforms that will protect reproductive freedom, not put it in peril.

Thank you for standing with us.
Vania Leveille
ACLU Legislative Counsel

Immigration Rights Rally in Madison - Jan. 19

FYI - Immigration rights rally announced:

"Yesterday We Dreamed, Today we Act: March in Support of CIR - ASAP and the DREAM Act" will be held on Tuesday, January 19th. This event is being organized by different high school and college student groups. The goal of the event is to support the recent immigration reform bill introduced by the Congressman Luis Gutierrez (CIR - ASAP) and the DREAM Act.

The schedule is as follows:

4:30pm - We will gather at the Library Mall (711 State St).
4:45pm - We start to march from the Library Mall to the Capitol.
5:30pm - There will be a press conference outside of the Capitol.
6:00pm - People will start moving to the Humanities building
6:30pm-8:00pm - There will be a celebration party with music, food in Room 3650 of the Humanities building (432 East Campus Mall)

The Madison Student Coalition

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Race-Based Mascots Ban Gets State Senate Hearing

The Wisconsin Senate Education Committee is about to start their hearing today on a bill that would improve the discrimination complaint process communities can have to challenge the use of race-based mascots. The ACLU of Wisconsin will be there to submit testimony on why we oppose the use of race-based logos, mascots and nicknames in public schools. We will also be tweeting live from the hearing: follow the updates at ACLUMadison on

We've blogged before about the race-based mascot bill when it got a hearing in the state Assembly committee last year. Nearly 40 public school districts across Wisconsin continue to use logos for their sports teams that are based on race or ethnicity. Nicknames, like Chiefs or Chieftains, Indians, Red Raiders, Redman, and Warhawks, and school-approved mascots and logos have been a common feature at sporting and pep events attended by generations of enthusiastic students. However, the use of discriminatory mascots should be challenged.
The ACLU of Wisconsin points out that:

1. All public schools in Wisconsin are required to provide all students with an adequate, nondiscriminatory education. Race-based nicknames, logos and mascots are inherently discriminatory and shouldn’t be endorsed by a public school.

2. There should be a fair and adequate process for the Department of Public Instruction to review complaints from community members about race-based mascots. As the use of race-based mascots is government speech (not individual speech), the First Amendment does not apply. The government is responsible for addressing discriminatory practices such as the use of race-based mascots and the Department of Public Instruction is the appropriate agency to mediate local conflict resolution.

3. Having schools with mascots that are not based in racial or ethnic stereotypes will not only end this particular discriminatory practice, but will be a positive step toward equality and an embrace of good sportsmanship, respect for others and fair play.

For these reasons the ACLU of Wisconsin supports SB 25 on race-based nicknames, mascots and logos and encourages the Senate Education Committee to support this bill. Ending the use of race-based mascots won’t end all discrimination in our public schools, but it is an important step forward.

You can read the bill online (SB 25).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Madisonians Fast for Witness Against Torture - Will Obama Really Close Gitmo?

Yesterday, some Madison peace activists gathered to recognize the anniversary of the start of detentions of alleged terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. Some of these activists are fasting to bring attention to the lack of progress President Obama and Congress have made in closing Gitmo. Even if you aren't fasting, you can take action on this issue today.

For why she is choosing to fast, Janet Parker explains:
I am taking part in the Witness Against Torture fast this week to focus attention on our government’s policies of illegal detention, torture, outsourcing of torture, and drone killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to call for a change in these policies. Our fast to resist the crimes and abuses of the “War on Terror” began yesterday, January 11, the date eight years ago that Guantánamo was first used to detain prisoners illegally and indefinitely.

The fast will continue until January 22, the day in 2009 when President Obama announced that he would close Guantánamo within a year. That year is almost over, and there are still more than 200 men being held at Guantánamo, many of whom have been cleared of any crime. By international law, these men should never have been held without charge, nor should they have been tortured. We call on the president to make good on his promise of last January to close Guantánamo, to release those men that have already been cleared, and to process other prisoners through fair trials and sentencing under US and international law.

The disgraces of the U.S.’s “War on Terror” include outsourcing torture by sending prisoners to “black sites” around the world where they can be held and tortured out of the public eye. This attempt to sweep torture under the rug by moving it to other nations does not reduce our government’s culpability, nor does it correct or undo the travesties that have unfolded on US-controlled soil at Guantánamo. And citizens who know that torture is wrong should not be silenced by this tactic of outsourcing. We need to continue to be vigilant in defense of prisoners and others harmed by the wars our government is waging in our names and with our tax money.

My fasting this week is one way that I choose to speak out against my government’s illegal and tremendously damaging violent actions, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Guantánamo, Iraq, and here within our country. If readers would like to join the fast, please read more at and contact us locally at Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, 608- 250-9240. You can also read my fellow faster Bonnie Block's perspective that she shared with the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice blog.

Janet Parker
Madison, Wisconsin

You can read Janet's full statement on the Capitol Times website.

For a good summary of where we are after eight years, check out Truthout's fair criticism of Obama's stalling and "guilt by nationality." The ACLU posted their "eight years and counting" blog yesterday which includes this video "Justice Denied: Voices From Guantanamo" in which former detainees tell their stories of being captured and sent to Gitmo without trial.

Tell President Obama during this Gitmo anniversary week that action needs to be taken to close Guantanamo and end indefinite detention now.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Madison Group to Begin 11-Day “Fast for Justice” on Behalf of Guantánamo Detainees

Madison Group to Begin 11-Day “Fast for Justice”
on Behalf of Guantánamo Detainees
Candlelight Vigil and Capitol Procession Will Be Part of National Protest

To speak out against the continued imprisonment of detainees at the U.S. facilities in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, protestors in Madison, WI, will gather at 4 pm, January 11 at First United Methodist Church to participate in a candlelight vigil and procession around the Capitol.

The protestors, organized by Madison Pledge of Resistance, will join groups holding similar events around the country that day in response to a call to action by New York-based Witness Against Torture ( Witness Against Torture is organizing an 11-day fast in Washington, DC, with a nonviolent action of civil resistance planned for January 21.

January 11 will mark eight years of detention for the men in Guantanamo. On January 22, one year will have passed since President Obama signed an executive order mandating the close of the detention facility by January 22, 2010. The President has conceded that the deadline will not be met.

Regarding her own motivation to participate, Bonnie Block, a leader of Madison Pledge of Resistance, said:
I am participating in the Fast for Justice as a witness to, and a renewal of, my commitment to work for an end to all forms of torture. I do so because the Guantánamo prison has not closed and torture is being outsourced to other repressive governments. I do so because this nation continues its military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, is sending killing drones over Pakistan, and financing the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Gaza. I believe these policies are akin to torture because they too result in the destruction of human life. I think that is unconscionable and unacceptable so I feel compelled to protest.
While some members of the Madison group plan to fast for 11 days, participants are invited to join the candlelight procession and vigil whether or not they are able to fast ― or to fast at a level and for length of time that is comfortable for them. Organizers are also asking protestors to write letters to President Obama and their legislators calling on them to “shut down Guantanamo, try the men we have evidence against, and release those who should be released.”

Details of the planned Madison Fast for Justice events are as follows:
Monday, January 11, 4:00 p.m. - Gathering at First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Ave., followed by a procession around the Capitol and candlelight vigil

Saturday, January 16, 4:00 p.m. - Protestors reconvene for fellowship and reflection at the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice office at 122 State St., Room 405

Friday, January 22 - Final gathering at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 322 East Washington for participants to break their fast together.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Felon Disfranchisement is Voting Rights Violation - Appeals Court Says Justice System "Infected" With Racism

There is news in the area of voting rights for formerly incarcerated people. On January 5th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that felon disfranchisement is a direct violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The court case, Farrakhan v. Gregoire, overturned previous court decisions on barring ex-felons from voting as judges said that the vast racial disparities in the criminal justice system in the State of Washington were a significant, institutional barrier to the right to vote for people of color.

The ACLU filed an amicus brief in the case because in the state of Washington, as well as in Wisconsin and around the country, taking away a citizen’s right to vote based on a past conviction has a racially discriminatory effect in a system that locks up a disproportionate number of minorities.

The court found among many other things that the state of Washington's criminal justice system was "infected" with racial discrimination. That’s a strong statement. The numbers of disproportionate minority incarceration don’t lie: In Washington, three percent of the population is African American, but 29% of their offenders are black. In Wisconsin, around five percent of our population is African American while 39% of our offenders are black.

Worst case scenarios are in Kentucky and Virginia where people never get their right to vote back, even after finishing their parole and probation. The ACLU of Virginia was among the organizations that demonstrated this week and called for an executive order to end the discriminatory policy.

The reasons for disproportionate minority incarceration are complicated, but denying ex-felons the right to vote is un-American and anti-democratic. Plain and simple. You can read the court’s opinion and you can find the ACLU amicus brief online. The ruling got some coverage in the Seattle Times and in the Seattle PI.

Our Wisconsin state legislature will start its January session on the 19th and it is a good time to remind them about how important this issue is for voting rights in our state. Call your state legislator today and remind them why the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act needs to be passed immediately. If you would like to volunteer for this issue, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin. Find out more about the ACLU's work on voting rights.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cap Times: Sexually Transmitted Disease Rates Spike, Education Needed

On January 5, 2010, the Capitol Times ran a story on the epidemic rates of sexually transmitted disease and infection in Wisconsin. The article offers explanations for why STIs are spiking, especially among teens, and it looks at the cultural clash between pro-education and abstinence-only proponents.

The numbers are shocking. The article states that:
“One in four teenage girls in the U.S. has an STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In Wisconsin, the rate of four of the most commonly reported STDs among teens jumped 53 percent between 1997 and 2007. Females and minorities, especially African-Americans, have been hit hard. And these are numbers that have been reported; actual cases may be much higher. But it remains a hidden epidemic, not just because many STDs have no symptoms, but because of the stigma and politics that complicate efforts to fight them.”
It isn’t a coincidence that this spike in STI rates neatly matches the increase in federal funding for abstinence-only education in public schools. In 1996, Title V of the Welfare Reform Act (called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) set aside federal matching funds for states – schools could get much needed funds, but they had to teach abstinence rather than comprehensive sexuality education. No education equals no tools to understand how pregnancy works and how STIs are spread. In Wisconsin, Governor Doyle rejected abstinence-only money, but our public schools still aren’t treating education about STIs as a core public health need.

But with a new Obama administration, help is on the way. Last month, Congress approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010. In signing this bill, President Obama will eliminate funding for existing abstinence-only programs, fund comprehensive sex ed, and even establish and fund the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) within Health and Human Services (HHS) which will treat sex ed as a part of protecting our nation’s public health.

This long-awaited step will be the nail in the coffin of abstinence-only: its ineffective withholding of truth to young people, its wasted tax-payer money, its thinly-veiled religious indoctrination in our public schools and its sexist reliance on ancient gender stereotypes. Proponents of abstinence-only education are going to fight back against this defeat with a vengeance, but Wisconsin is set to battle ignorance with education. It’s called the Healthy Youth Act. It would raise state standards for sex ed to be complete, medically accurate, peer-reviewed and age-appropriate. And it will finally be federally funded. Now is the time for Wisconsin legislators to pass this bill.

This crisis of teen reproductive health is huge. It’s cultural. It’s financial. It’s systemic. But any public health care worker will tell you that for all the talk about health care reform and tax-dollar funded Medicaid programs, the first step in having healthy teens and a healthier country is education. Tell our state legislators to pass the Healthy Youth Act immediately in 2010.

Take action on the Healthy Youth Act! Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin have set up a web page with details on the bill, tools to contact your legislator, and write a letter to the editor. Please take action on this issue today.

We blogged about the Healthy Youth Act on World AIDS Day, after the state Assembly passed the bill, and when the bill was first introduced.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Public School Legislative Action Needed Now!

On January 6, 2010 the ACLU of Wisconsin’s executive director Christopher Ahmuty sent the following statement to members of the Wisconsin Legislature and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. He urged them to move beyond a perceived impasse on legislation to aid the Milwaukee Public Schools. Ahmuty’s statement:

"Some media, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and, report that after a January 5th marathon hearing on Milwaukee Public Schools, the Wisconsin Legislature is unlikely to come up with a fix for the district’s woes any time soon. As someone who attended the hearing for eight hours, I believe the media reports misrepresent the current situation.

"While the prospect of a mayoral takeover of MPS should be dead, that doesn’t mean that the Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and legislative leaders can’t or won’t display the kind of leadership on education that both opponents and proponents of mayoral control would welcome. Mayor Barrett, in particular, can still deliver for MPS and parents and students across Wisconsin by agreeing to legislation that would address the core issues we all face.

"The school funding formula adopted by the Legislature in 1992 is a shambles and needs to be replaced. Public schools need the resources to provide an adequate education to their students. Different districts have different needs. Poor rural and urban districts (including Beloit and Racine as well as Milwaukee) have challenges that wealthier districts do not face. A new formula can help districts with concentrations of poor students, English language learners, and special needs without harming districts with more advantaged students. A good way to enhance Governor Doyle legacy on educational issues might be to revisit the 2004 recommendations of Doyle’s Task Force on Educational Excellence for additional measures that would help districts across the state.

"A proposal by State Senator Spencer Coggs and State Representative Tamara Grigsby could be modified to include provisions on funding that will help districts statewide, not just Milwaukee. Barrett and legislative leaders could be statesmen, if Barrett recognizes the needs of districts statewide, just as legislators must now recognize the urgent needs of MPS, not for control, but for support from all segments of the public and all parts of Wisconsin."

You can read the ACLU's testimony from the hearing (PDF) or read our press release (PDF) on-line.

We've blogged before about the reasons why the Mayor shouldn't take over the Milwaukee Public Schools. We also tweeted live from yesterday's hearing.

The ACLU of Wisconsin was quoted on the subject in OnMilwaukee. Coverage of the hearing and the mayoral takeover issue also included Milwaukee Public Radio, TMJ4, WisPolitics, the Milwaukee Business Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, WISN, the La Crosse Tribune, and got a mention on Madison's Channel 3000.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Too Many Cameras on Madison's State Street?

On January 1st, the Wisconsin State Journal published an article on the success of the use of surveillance cameras on State Street in downtown Madison. The ACLU of Wisconsin expressed an initial concern with the cameras, mostly because of the ubiquity of surveillance and the need for continued vigilance on the potential for abuse of surveillance tools. The spread of the use of surveillance cameras downtown was suggested for local business too.

Since then, police say that cameras have greatly helped with fighting crime (no percentage decrease in crime was noted in the article, but a murder that got a lot of press was mentioned to have been solved). We commented on the article in an interview yesterday with WORT FM’s In Our Backyard:

It’s true that surveillance cameras can be excellent tools in identifying perpetrators who break laws. But there are also reports from across the nation (and in the UK where CCTV surveillance is huge) about the abuse and misuse of cameras. If someone used a panable, zoomable surveillance camera to spy without cause or warrant into one of the residential apartments along State St., how would residents know they were being watched? Ideally Madisonians trust police and business owners to do the right thing. But our community needs more assurance that surveillance cameras aren’t at risk for abuse.

And while we are talking about privacy and technology, is anyone else freaked out about the full body scans they are putting in airport security checkpoints? Travelers on the news are being quoted as saying that they would welcome scanners to feel safe on airplanes, but at what point will smart terrorists find a way to get explosives past even this technology? Where will American’s breaking point be where humiliation at the airport is too much to consider giving up privacy as the price of safety?

No to Mayoral Takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools - Hearing Today

We've blogged before on why the Milwaukee Mayor should not take over the Milwaukee Public Schools. Today a hearing is being held at the MPS headquarters to get public comment on this issue and ACLU supporters will be there to voice their concerns.

You can follow the live Twitter posts from the ACLU. Follow ACLUofWisconsin on Twitter today.

According to ACLU Executive Director Chris Ahmuty, the proposal to give MPS governance to the mayor is just another scheme that won’t remedy Wisconsin’s failure to provide an adequate education to far too many of Milwaukee’s children.

Rather than spending time and effort to push through a controversial takeover program, the governor, mayor and state legislators need to comply with the state Constitutional obligation to ensure that all Milwaukee children have the opportunity to obtain a meaningful, adequate education.

Persons who are genuinely concerned about student performance need to evaluate what programs and services help students succeed, and what special programs and services are needed for children living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, limited English proficient children, and children with disabilities - and then ensure that MPS has the resources to implement those programs.

They also must address the reality that thousands of Milwaukee children attend taxpayer-supported private voucher schools – most of which perform no better than MPS. Yet neither the takeover proposal nor any other plan has been offered to improve education for those 21,000 Milwaukee children.

The primary constitutional responsibility for the education of Milwaukee’s children rests with the State of Wisconsin. The state needs to put adequate resources into the public school system to provide the educational services and supports those children need. It needs to ensure that the per-pupil funding for Milwaukee Public Schools students is at least comparable to that of suburban districts. It needs to phase out voucher and charter schools that are not performing, and impose the same accountability requirements on any schools that remain. Those are the reforms that will help Milwaukee students succeed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

State Legislative Leadership Afraid of Decriminalizing Medical Marijuana

It was reported in the La Crosse Tribune and in the Pierce County Herald today that the Democratic legislative leadership in both the state Senate and Assembly aren’t really excited about the proposed medical marijuana bill that got a hearing last month (AB 554/SB 368). This is disappointing in light of the national trend of more progressive policies being passed regarding decriminalizing cannabis for medical purposes (check out the Top 10 Medical Cannabis Stories from 2009 compiled on the Examiner blog by Is My Medicine Legal Yet organizer Gary Stork).

The ACLU of Wisconsin testified at the eight-hour hearing on December 15 that individuals have a right to make their own decisions regarding medical treatment free from governmental prohibition. This legislation would free health professionals and patients to determine the most effective course of treatment for chronic pain and suffering.

We also made the point that while this bill is about decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes in Wisconsin, the ACLU has long supported alternatives to the failed policies of the “War on Drugs.” The criminalization of drug users has not only hurt chronically ill people and their families. But our current drug policy has led to unimaginable levels of incarceration, massive violations of civil rights and enormous fiscal costs.

The ACLU supports a drug policy that honestly and realistically seeks to promote public health and safety through regulatory policy that will benefit society, preserve individual freedom and better serve the needs of individuals. This legislation is a step in the right direction for public health.

But despite polling that suggests that public opinion is very much in favor of regulating cannabis for medical use – the bill’s sponsors said that the people are way ahead of their legislators on the issue – our state’s legislative leadership don’t seem to be willing to let the issue get a floor vote.

In states like California and Michigan, public referenda let voters get a direct voice in taking medical cannabis out of the drug war. Wisconsin could be a leader in this issue, but only if we have legislative leadership to take a step toward ending punitive drug policies that take away patients’ treatment options and deny basic individual rights.

Find out more on the work the ACLU is doing nationally on drug law reform. The ACLU of Wisconsin was Tweeting live from the hearing – you can follow us on Twitter for more news and updates on civil liberties issues. Read our blog post on the introduction of the medical marijuana bill in Wisconsin.