Apr 19, 2014 fbook icon twitter icon rss icon

ACLU

11Judge In Indiana Forces State To Recognize Gay Marriage Of Dying Woman

Signaling possible changes on the horizon for marriage equality in Indiana, a federal judge ruled Thursday that the state must recognize the out-of-state marriage between two women. The decision only applies to the marriage of Niki Quasney and Amy Sandler who were married in Massachusetts. 

Quasney has stage 4 ovarian cancer and the couple asked U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young to issue a temporary restraining order that would force Indiana to recognize the marriage. Young agreed.

“We are so thankful that we can move forward and concentrate on being with each other. Our time together and with our daughters is the most important thing in the world to me,” Quasney said in a statement quoted in the The Journal Gazette of Ft. Wayne, Ind.

The couple’s attorney, Paul Castillo of Lambda Legal, a national gay rights group, said the judge likely issued the ruling because of Quasney’s terminal illness. 

“No one can determine for sure how much time Niki has left. And it was certainly important to the couple to be recognized as married during the time she has remaining,” he said. “It was more of an urgency issue.”

The restraining order was sought because that process moves faster than others according to Castillo. 

The quick decision though won’t affect the other lawsuits regarding gay marriage already pending in the state. Indiana law currently defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

That shouldn’t be the case according to Midori Fuji, an Indiana woman who lost her wife to ovarian cancer a few years ago. Although the couple had been married in Los Angeles in 2008 Indiana wouldn't recognize their marriage. Fuji had to pay $300,000 in estate taxes after her wife’s death — something a heterosexual widow would not have had to do. She filed a lawsuit against the state with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union in March and wrote a letter telling her story for the legal organization’s website.

Fuji’s case was one of three lawsuits regarding gay marriage filed in Indiana that month according to the Indianapolis Business Journal. The state’s Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he would defend against all challenges to the state’s marriage laws.

The restraining order issued for Quasney seems unlikely to change that. Spokesman for the attorney general’s office, Bryan Corbin, said as much in a statement after the ruling.

“County clerks still are prohibited by law from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” he said.

It is unclear when decisions will be written for the pending cases.

Sources: The Journal Gazette, ACLU, Indianapolis Business Journal

   
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11Teen Wins $70,000 Settlement After School Searches Through Her Facebook

The Minnesota teenager who was forced to tell school officials her Facebook password was awarded $70,000 in damages.

The trouble began two years ago when Riley Stratton, then 13, posted on her Facebook that she hated a school monitor because she was mean. Stratton made the comment out of school time.

The Minnewaska Area School at which she was a student was alerted, and Stratton was given an in-school suspension.

Later, Stratton went back on Facebook and asked who had told on her. School officials have construed the move as potentially threatening to other students.

"I was a little mad at whoever turned me in 'cause it was outside school when it happened," Stratton said on Tuesday.

Stratton's attorney, Wallace Hilke, took the case pro bono with the American Civil Liberties Union. In the lawsuit, Hilke claimed that officials had violated Riley's constitutional rights by viewing her online accounts.

"She wasn't spreading lies or inciting them to engage in bad behavior, she was just expressing her personal feelings," Hilke stated.

After the incident, Stratton was again brought before school officials in response to another complaint, this time from a parent who complained that Stratton had engaged in an online conversation "of sexual nature" with her son.

The sixth-grader was forced to tell school authorities her Facebook password so they could check her private messages.

"I was in tears," Stratton recalls. "I was embarrassed when they made me give over my password."

The girl's mother, Sandra Stratton, said that although the school had informed her of the complaint, she had not been told that her daughter was expected to surrender her password.

After the incident, Stratton fell behind on schoolwork because, as the lawsuit describes, she was "too distraught and embarrassed to attend school."

In addition to paying $70,000 in damages, Minnewaska Area Schools have agreed to rewrite their policies, which now stipulate that signed consent must be obtained from the student's parent. Additionally, the new rules state that electronic records and passwords created off-campus can only be searched if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they will uncover violations of school rules.

Sources: http://www.startribune.com, http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Photo Sources: http://www.startribune.com, http://likesreviewer.com, http://www.lakesnwoods.com, http://www.kare11.com, http://wjon.com

11The Outdated Law Protecting Your Online Privacy Is Older Than The Web Itself

Fun fact: the main law protecting your online privacy rights is older than the web itself.

It's true. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was implemented in 1986, three years before the World Wide Web was conceived in 1989. And while technology has evolved at unfathomable speeds since 1986, the ECPA remains largely unchanged.

So, how good of a job can a law do at protecting your online privacy if it was written before the web even existed? Not a very good one. In fact, the ECPA is the main reason so much of your online information can be legally accessed without a search warrant. Here’s a quick list of some of the digital information the ECPA grants the government the right to search without your consent:

- Emails and text messages over six months old

- All private social media messages over six months old

- Search queries

- Documents stored online

The liberties granted to the government when it comes to obtaining online information concern a number of advocacy organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) allows the government to intercept and access a treasure trove of information about who you are, where you go, and what you do, which is being collected by cell phone providers, search engines, social networking sites, and other websites every day,” the ACLU writes on its website. “The Founding Fathers recognized that citizens in a democracy need privacy for their ‘persons, houses, papers, and effects.’ That remains as true as ever. Today's citizens deserve no less protection when their "papers and effects" are stored electronically.”

In a 2011 interview, technology author Daniel J. Solove spoke on America’s current stance on cyber security. Solove believes the dynamic is “wrongly skewed towards the security side.”

“Privacy is often cast as a right of particular individuals while security is cast as a broad social interest,” Solove said. “When privacy is balanced against security, security often wins because the well-being of the many outweighs the interests of one person. But this is a faulty way to see privacy. Privacy is a societal value ... Privacy is not only about the individual, but it involves the extent and nature of government power ... In a free society, we shouldn't have to wonder before we do anything how some bureaucrat will view it."

Sources: ACLU (2)

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11ACLU Wins Lawsuit Over Harassment Of Buddhist Student By School Officials

A settlement has been reached between a western Louisiana school and the American Civil Liberties union in a lawsuit claiming a Buddhist six-grader was harassed at school for his religious beliefs. 

Negreet High School, in the Sabine Parish School District, was accused of harassing the student because he is Buddhist, and routinely having Christian beliefs pushed on the child by school officials.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the child’s parents, Scott and Sharon Lane, and their three children, has been won in the U.S. District Court in Shreveport, Louisiana.

One of the main things the lawsuit alleged was that a teacher at Nagreet High School “declared that Buddhism was stupid,” reports ABC News

School officials also allegedly suggested the student should transfer to another school with “more Asians,” reports the ACLU.

The school was also accused of “regularly incorporating Christian prayer into classes and school events and scrolled Bible verses on an electronic marquee in front of the school.”

The actions by the school were seen by the ACLU as violating the separation of church and state.

One of the defendants in the suit, science teacher Rita Roark, was accused of teaching students that “the earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is ‘impossible,’ and that the Bible is ‘100 percent true.'”

A test Roark administered included a fill-in-the-blank entry referring to religion: “Isn’t it amazing what the ______ has made!!!!”

With the filing of the lawsuit came harassment to the Lane household.

Crank calls to their home and work were common.

Sharon was accosted while doing yard work:

“Three people wearing KKK-type white hoods drove by her and shouted, ‘You fucking nigger Asian-loving bitch.’”

The victory in the lawsuit means there are now prohibited practices on file, including that school officials won’t discourage or encourage religious activities; they won’t assign readings from religious texts, absent a non-religious educational purpose; and they won’t express their personal beliefs in class or at school events.

"No child should feel that a teacher is trying to impose religious beliefs, and this agreement ensures that this will no longer be the case at Sabine Parish schools," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "We're glad the school board worked with us to bring this matter to a quick and amicable resolution."

The Lane’s son transferred to another school in Many, Louisiana. An award of $4,000 was given to Sharon Lane to cover past transportation costs she incurred with getting her son to school there. The school board has also agreed to provide bus transportation going forward for him as he attends his new school.

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11Elko County Jail To Charge Inmates For Meals, Doctor Visits

The ACLU is very upset with the Elko County Jail after they have
proposed to charge inmates for food, doctor's visits, and booking.

The Elko County Jail houses 120 inmates and is almost always at capacity.

At $85 per day between food, services, housing, and utilities for
inmates, taxpayers are paying $10,000 per day and millions of dollars
a year, according to Sheriff Jim Pitts, reports Elko Daily Free Press.

Pitts' proposal to offset costs to the prisoners is seen as not only a
fiscal concern, but he believes it is "unjust for law-abiding residents
to pay the full price for incarceration."

"These guys shouldn't have a free ride," Pitts said. "Society
shouldn't be paying for their wrongs."

Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU Nevada, does not agree.

"I was aghast that anyone was even thinking of doing this," Story
said. "It is unconstitutional -- cruel and unusual punishment. There is
no value in trying to punish them further than the sentence that they
are already serving,"

The new policy states that Elko County inmates will be exempt from the
fees if they work at the jail or are incarcerated for less than 24
hours. Any inmate found innocent will be reimbursed, reports the Las
Vegas Sun.

Fees for inmates services will be deducted from their commissary
account. Should an inmate not have any money they will incur a
negative balance, and that balance will remain on their "account"
if they are released and return to jail later.

"It has nothing to do with them getting out of jail, but if they ever
come back with any money, that will be applied to what they owe us,"
Pitts said. "All I'm doing is taking my cut first, before they buy
their candies. They need to pay for their food first before they get
their dessert."

As for the doctor visit costs...

Pitts said the fees to go to the doctor are to help offset the
increase in inmates faking illnesses.

"Once they hit our jail, they're sick. And then when they get into the
cells they talk to each other," Pitts said. "They say, 'Oh, you got
aspirin for that? Or you got a prescription for that?' So everyone in
that cell ... (claims to have) the same disease."

The cost of the doctor visit will be $10; a prescription will cost an inmate $5.

The county commission has approved the general request to charge
inmates. The final details are now being worked out.
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11Flashing Headlights to Warn of Speed Traps Now Legal in Missouri

A judge in Missouri ruled that motorists can now legally flash their headlights to warn other drivers of speed traps. The right to do so, federal judge Henry E. Autrey ruled, is protected by the First Amendment.

The lawsuit stems from a 2012 incident in which Ellisville resident Michael Elli was pulled over by an officer who noticed that Elli was blinking his headlights, warning other drivers “of RADAR ahead.” Elli himself had just passed through the speed trap.

Elli pleaded not guilty on the charge; if convicted, he faced up to $1,000 in fines and points on his license.

At a hearing last year, Ellisville officials claimed that “flashing headlights could interfere with a police investigation.”

Autrey, however, refuted the point by ruling that flashing headlights is simply a reminder for people to bring their driving “in conformity with the law – whether it be by slowing down, turning on one’s own headlamps at dusk or in the rain, or proceeding with caution.”

Although the charges against Elli were dropped, the American Civil Liberties Union sued on his behalf, claiming that his First Amendment rights had been violated.

Numerous other towns and cities across the country have laws that prevent drivers from warning other drivers of speed traps. The ACLU has expressed hope that the Ellisville ruling will send a strong message to lawmakers throughout the country.

Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU, said that headlight flashing prompts people to drive responsibly. He noted that “people really do slow down when you flash your lights at them, and that’s safer for everyone.”

 

Sources: Fox News, www.consumerist.com

Photo Source: www.wptv.com

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11Tamesha Means Sues Catholic Bishops Over Basic Neglect that Led to Infant's Death

Mercy Health Muskegon in Michigan is a Catholic hospital whose religious directives demand that an unborn baby’s life be protected by all means possible, even if it comes at potential risk to the mother.

In December of 2010, when Tamesha Means’ water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy, she rushed to this hospital, only to be denied accurate information and care, and to be exposed to dangerous infections. Turned away not only once but twice, Means returned to the hospital two days after the initial visit. This time, when she began to deliver the baby, she was admitted, but the infant died mere hours later.

Means now finds herself at the center of a lawsuit filed in federal court. She, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is suing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which runs Mercy Health Muskegon, for the treatment she and the unknown number of women around the country have received at Catholic hospitals.

“I’m thinking about women all over,” Means has said of the lawsuit. When, in 2012, she was informed that four other women had had similar experiences at Mercy, Means said she “felt worse than when it was happening to me.  Something needed to be done.”

Dr. Douglas W. Laube, an obstetrician at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, describes Mercy Health’s treatment of Means as “basic neglect”, and adds that “it could have turned into a disaster, with both baby and mother dying.”

In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Means describes her experience when she first arrived in December 2010, with her water prematurely broken. “I was told to go home,” she says.

When she returned to the hospital a second time, Means says “they sent me home with no answers.  I was begging. ‘You guys have to help me. I am in a lot of pain. I can’t keep going home like this.’”

While this is yet another instance of a clash between religious rights and medical care, the case is unique in that Means is not suing the hospital, but rather the larger organization behind it.

Currently, about one in every six hospital beds in America is Catholic. In some regions, this number is growing as they ally with non-Catholic medical groups.

As Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the civil liberties union, has said, “This isn’t about religious freedom, it’s about medical care.”

After delivering the baby and learning of its death, Means, a mother of three other children ages two to 13, stayed in the hospital for two days. Describing the painful process of leaving without her child, she says, “Before we could get on the elevator, we were stopped by one of the nurses and were told, ‘You need to call a funeral home or someone to come pick up your baby.’”

Sources: Cosmopolitan, The New York Times

Photo Source: https://www.aclu.org 

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11Minnesota Homeowners, ACLU Challenge Law Limiting Which Property Owners Can Rent Out Homes

Winona, Minnesota homeowners and the American Civil Liberties Union are teaming up to fight a town ordinance that they argue strips homeowners in the area of equal property rights.

The ordinance being challenged restricts the amount of rental licenses granted to 30% of houses on any given block in the town. While the city of Winona argues that the ordinance prevents blocks from being entirely inhabited by often college-aged renters, homeowners say the policy illegally limits what individuals are allowed to do with their properties.

“To me it’s getting beyond what elected officials are supposed to do — starting to dictate who can rent, who can’t rent, who can do this, who can do that,” said Winona homeowner Ted Dzierzbicki. “They’re not the kind of laws that benefit and protect people. It’s more to do with somebody having a bug about something and trying to get a law towards it.”

The 30% block rental cap was instituted in 2006. It was the first law of its kind at the time. Three other towns have passed similar ordinances since. Before the rule was instituted, the Dzierbicki’s rented their house out for roughly $1,000 a month. This helped cover their $800 monthly mortgage payment that they now have to pay themselves.

Everybody has to look at these types of laws and realize at some point in time it’s going to affect them,” Dzierbicki said. “Some of these people that live close to the university that were behind this concept of trying to protect their neighborhood, when they pass on, what are their kids going to do with their house?  How are they going to get rid of their house?”

The League of Minnesota Cities supports the rule. A lower court upheld the ordinance and said it was a “good faith attempt to address real problems.” The Minnesota Court of Appeals says they will issue a ruling on the case within 90 days.

Sources: Watchdog, ACLU

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11Michigan Rejects Request From Resident For "WAR SUX" License Plate

A Michigan court has ruled that resident David DeVarti should not be allowed to put a license plate reading “WAR SUX” on his car. Why would a court choose to forbid a relatively harmless license plate message, you ask?

Because the plate would be offensive to children.

In a filing in Grand Rapid Court, the state said the plate would be offensive to children who amuse themselves by reading license plates on passing cars.

“...because vehicles often travel in residential neighborhoods, youth may be exposed to license plates from their yards or driveways,” said assistant attorney general Ann Sherman.

“Courts have often upheld legislation aimed at protecting the physical and emotional well-being of youth, even where First Amendment rights are concerned. Drivers cannot avoid an offensive word on a license plate in front of them because they cannot safely avert their eyes. And physically avoiding the plate by changing lanes may not be possible.”

DeVarti and the American Civil Liberties Union are now suing the state of Michigan in a lawsuit that says the state’s ruling is a violation of DeVarti’s first amendment free speech rights.

As CBS Detroit points out, this isn’t the first time Michigan has made a controversial ruling in rejecting a license plate. Iraq War veteran Michael Matwyuk’s bid for a license plate reading “INFIDEL” was rejected by the state recently as well. Matwyuk said the term had special meaning to him as he and his fellow soldiers were referred to as infidels by enemy combatants in Iraq. After an appeal, the court approved the plate. Something tells me DeVarti’s appeal may yield the same result.

Sources: Battle Creek Enquirer, CBS Detroit

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11ACLU Calls Colorado Policy of Jailing the Poor for Failure to Pay Fines "Debtors' Prison"

Since the 1800’s the concept of debtors’ prison has been anathema to Americans, but a the American Civil Liberties Union says in a new report  that Colorado has essentially reinstituted the practice because of routine incarcerations of people who cannot afford to pay court-related fines.

In a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the court ruled that indigent persons cannot be jailed for failure to pay fines as it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court essentially doubled-down on that ruling in a 1987 case that ruled incarceration because of a failure to pay fines was unconstitutional, citing the Colorado State Constitution which says no one “shall be imprisoned for debt” unless it’s a matter of refusal to pay as prescribed by law or where “there is a strong presumption of fraud.”

In a lengthy report from The Denver Post, a number of anecdotal cases are recounted where citizens were jailed for such minor offenses as traffic violations and possession of alcohol. While, on the surface, these individuals were sentenced to pay fines and failed to do so, they all made gestures of good faith that showed an intention to pay down their fines. In one case, the court returned checks sent on behalf of the offender because “partial payments” were not accepted.

Beyond the question of whether this is an unfair impingement on an individual’s liberty, there is a cost issue. According to a KCCO report from 2010, the daily cost of keeping an inmate in county jail is around $50/per day. 19 year-old Kim Santistevan was arrested for possessing alcohol and ultimately ended up serving 16 days in jail over what was originally a $250 court fine. Forgive the cliché, but the punishment certainly does not seem to fit the crime. At a time when With some states paying more money for prisons than college, it would seem that the preferred goal would be to keep people out of prison who might benefit from some other kind of consequences. 

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