Civil Liberties - Know My Rights

Civil Liberties

The U.S. Constitution and the rights it guarantees.

A Landmark Year For ACLU Florida

The ACLU of Florida Voting Rights and Racial Justice Projects have expanded over the past year, achieving landmark goals in felon re-enfranchisement, the elimination of racial profiling, education on racial justice and human rights, and voting rights.

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St. Pete Mayor Warned That Privatizing Public Sidewalk Cannot Stop Free Speech And Assembly

The ACLU of Florida sent a letter to Mayor Rick Baker and City Council Chair Jeff Danner in St. Petersburg, Florida, urging them to oppose the City's proposed donation of a public sidewalk to the private owners of the BayWalk complex. Part of the proposed City of St. Petersburg's BayWalk Revitalization Plan, which will be discussed at the City Council Meeting on Thursday, August 6th at 8 a.m., the donation is intended to allow the owners of the complex to exclude people from engaging in First Amendment activities such as assembly and free speech.

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One Religion, For Some

Florida is a religiously diverse state with many different faiths represented in our communities and the ACLU celebrates that diversity. But when government officials choose to use their position to advance one religion over another, those people whose faith is not the one being promoted (or those who have no religious affiliation) get left behind, ostracized and often made to feel like second class citizens in their own community. America is one country of many faiths, not one, and we must all be tolerant of that and respectful of everyone's rights.

Read more: One Religion, For Some

Caution On Fighting Marriage Ban

One of California's leading gay rights groups, Equality California, said Wednesday that it would not seek to overturn the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage next year, even as another group advocating for same-sex marriage said 2010 was the right time to go back to the ballot.

Read more: Caution On Fighting Marriage Ban

Supreme Court To Review School Strip Search Of Young Girl

If there's one substance scary and dangerous enough to justify searching a 13-year-old girl's genitals, it would have to be . . . extra-strength Advil. This story made me shudder, twice -- first, when I learned of Savana Redding's degrading treatment; and again when I considered the very real possibility that the current Supreme Court may conclude that such sickening behavior by school officials is permissible under the 4th Amendment.

Read more: Supreme Court To Review School Strip...

Civil Rights Group Divided Over Gay Marriage

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the 50-year-old civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, is seeking to remove the president of its Los Angeles chapter in response to his support of same-sex marriage in California.

Read more: Civil Rights Group Divided Over Gay Marriage

Health Data Dangers

Right now, as Congress considers health IT legislation that would convert our health records from paper to electronic data, patient information is at risk of becoming a commodity that businesses can sell or trade. If Congress fails to require strong privacy and security standards now, during the early stages of development of these online patient records systems, Americans' medical secrets will be extremely vulnerable to snooping -- or being lost or stolen.

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Brigham Young University Lifts YouTube Ban

Brigham Young University, the Mormon church school where students agree to live a chaste and virtuous life, has lifted its almost three-year policy of blocking access to YouTube.

Read more: Brigham Young University Lifts YouTube Ban

Floridians Against Prop. 2

Halloween is over, but the scariest thing this year may not be goblins and monsters -- it will be if we don't defeat Amendment 2 tomorrow at the polls. Say NO to enshrining discrimination in the Florida Constitution. Say NO to denying healthcare and other benefits to unmarried couples and seniors. This is it -- Your last chance to say NO on Amendment 2. Here is a sample of the growing list of Floridians against Amendment 2...

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Will Second Amendment Be Incorporated Through Citizenship Clause?

Federal appeals courts hearing gun rights cases after the Supreme Court's Second Amendment ruling last year in District of Columbia v. Heller are confronting an old issue: whether the amendment applies to restrict state and local laws under the incorporation doctrine.

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Prop. 2 is NOT marriage!

"Gay marriage" is not on the ballot in Florida. What is on the ballot is prohibiting the legal recognition of anything "that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof." This is a vote to ban civil unions, domestic partnerships and anything else activists decide is "marriage-like." It will take years of lawsuits before the consequences -- intended and unintended -- of this dangerously vague proposal are known; though we do know some of what the forces behind Amendment 2 have in mind:

Read more: Prop. 2 is NOT marriage!

Keeping True Identity Becomes A Battle Online

Since Facebook started giving out customized Web addresses like facebook.com/yourname last Friday, some 9.5 million people have rushed to grab their top choice. On Twitter, public fights have broken out over so-called impostor accounts, like those that should probably be in the hands of Kanye West or Bank of America. And somewhere out there on the Web, another new service or social network is on the rise, threatening to start yet another online land grab.

Read more: Keeping True Identity Becomes A Battle Online

ACLU-FL Voting Report

Florida is no stranger to election-year issues . . . If it happens in Florida, it's likely a problem in other places; and if it happens somewhere else, it has probably already occurred in the Sunshine State. That may not be our state motto, but it has held true like clockwork every two years. Butterfly ballots and hanging chads in 2000; voting technology breakdowns in 2002, 2004 and 2006; laws and policies that disqualify voters and suppress the vote; ex-felon disfranchisement; voter registration problems -- these are just a few of the hot-button issues that plague Florida.

Read more: ACLU-FL Voting Report

Polls Say Facebook Is Evidentiary Gold Mine

Facebook and other social networking sites may be the cat's meow when Internet users are trying to connect with family and friends. But when it comes time to disconnect, things can get ugly. Lawyers love these sites, which can be evidentiary gold mines.

Read more: Polls Say Facebook Is Evidentiary Gold Mine

Protect Voting Rights

We are on the eve of one of the most historic elections of our time. And the last thing America needs right now is another election that leaves us uncertain of its legitimacy. Unfortunately, there are enough shenanigans going on to raise serious concerns. The biggest of them all: Attorney General Mukasey and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are walking away from their sacred responsibility to guarantee smooth and fair elections.

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Mistake #1: Violating Bail By Drinking, Mistake #2: Posting Photos On Facebook

Having their pictures posted on Facebook while partying with friends may not seem like a big deal to many college students. But for a Campton Hills woman charged in a DUI-related fatal crash, those pictures had serious consequences.

Read more: Mistake #1: Violating Bail By Drinking,...

Three Proposed Constitutional Amendments Threaten Floridians In November

Three proposed constitutional amendments threaten Floridians in November. The ACLU of Florida is working to defeat these proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution that will be devastating to millions of Floridians if passed. Two of the proposed amendments (7 & 9) aim to shred the church/state line in Florida while simultaneously re-instating the unconstitutional school voucher program, and proposed amendment 2 attacks the rights of straight and gay domestic partners.

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Gay Marriage Bill Signed Into Law In New Hampshire

New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage Wednesday in a move that reflects the state's changing demographics from reliably Republican and conservative to younger and more liberal. "Today, we are standing up for the liberties of same-sex couples by making clear that they will receive the same rights, responsibilities -- and respect -- under New Hampshire law," Gov. John Lynch said.

Read more: Gay Marriage Bill Signed Into Law In New...

Rights Restored? ...Not Quite

A short while ago, a friend asked me about restoration of rights in Florida. After being convicted of a non-violent felony and serving a period of incarceration, Florida law strips him of some of his most basic civil rights. Even after satisfying all the terms and conditions of his sentence, the State took away not only his right to vote, but also the right to hold public office, serve on a jury and hold certain types of state occupational licenses, as well as other rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Read more: Rights Restored? ...Not Quite

Supreme Court To Address Meeting The Needs Of Special-Education Students

In a case with potential financial repercussions for school districts and families alike, the United States Supreme Court will soon decide when public schools must reimburse parents of special-education students for private-school tuition. The case before the court involves a struggling Oregon high school student whose parents enrolled him in a $5,200-a-month residential school after he became a heavy marijuana user and ran away from home.

Read more: Supreme Court To Address Meeting The Needs...

A Constitutional Reach-Around

Mukasey offered a multi-part plan to violate the Constitution. He demanded that Congress declare a new "armed conflict" (which is Bush-speak for a new declaration of war) that would give a president worldwide power to declare anyone a terrorist and hold the person forever -- without ever charging anyone with a crime. Mukasey also asked Congress to enact the Bush Administration's scheme for undermining the recent Supreme Court decision restoring constitutional habeas corpus protections to the detainees at Guantanamo. The main goal of the proposed new Bush rules restricting habeas rights is to try to block federal judges from ever learning the truth about the deliberate and widespread use of torture and abuse inflicted on detainees. Judges would not be allowed to see evidence of torture and abuse and would instead simply have to trust that a president is holding the right people as terrorists.

Read more: A Constitutional Reach-Around

Texas Vote Curbs A College Admission Guarantee Meant To Bolster Diversity

The Texas Legislature voted Saturday night to scale back a program under which Texans who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high schools were given automatic admission to the state university of their choice. The action put limits on a 10-year-old experiment to increase diversity in the colleges.

Read more: Texas Vote Curbs A College Admission...

George Carlin's Free-Speech Legacy Lives On (Inside The First Amendment)

George Carlin is gone, but the kinds of free-speech conflicts he skewered in his comedic routines live on. So does the national debate over where First Amendment protections end and government regulation begins on broadcast speech and speech in public. Not all such conflicts directly involve First Amendment consideration -- some are more involved with the "spirit" of free speech than with statutory definitions. But all encompass a kind of national question: "Can you say that?"

Read more: George Carlin's Free-Speech Legacy Lives...

Nevada Senate Overrides Veto On Domestic Partners Measure

The Nevada Senate has voted to override Gov. Jim Gibbons' veto of a measure that would give domestic partners, whether gay or straight, many of the rights and benefits that Nevada offers to married couples. The bill provides that domestic partners have the same rights as married couples in matters like community property and responsibility for debts.

Read more: Nevada Senate Overrides Veto On Domestic...

FISA: Outrageous And Un-American

Did you know that Congress has signed away our right to privacy

It's true! By making FISA law, the President and Congress have made it legal for U.S. agencies to spy on our text messages, email and phone calls to people outside the U.S., without any cause, reason or warrant. Does that sound like a right to privacy to you?

Read more: FISA: Outrageous And Un-American

Two Democrats Spearheading Health Bill Are Split

A significant split has developed between the two Democratic senators leading efforts to remake the nation's health care system. They disagree over the contours of a public health insurance plan, the most explosive issue in the debate. One of the senators favors a robust government-sponsored public health care plan that looks like Medicare and would compete with private insurers. By contrast, the other has been working for months with the hope of forging a bipartisan bill, which would probably play down the option of a public plan.

Read more: Two Democrats Spearheading Health Bill Are...

Wikipedia Bans Scientologists From Editing Scientology Entries

Wikipedia has banned people using the Church of Scientology's computers from changing Wikipedia articles about Scientology and its critics. The site's administrators imposed the ban after concluding that church members have been altering articles related to Scientology to promote their own interests...

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Employee's Lawsuit Accuses Costco Of False Imprisonment

A Costco Wholesale Corp. employee has filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming the company violated wage and hour laws in California. According to the complaint, filed Friday in California Superior Court in San Diego, Costco required employees to work off the clock, failed to pay overtime and required employees to remain locked inside the store after they'd clocked out at the end of their shift.

Read more: Employee's Lawsuit Accuses Costco Of False...

Craigslist Yields To Critics Demanding Censorship

Craigslist, the Web's largest classified advertising site, said on Wednesday that it would close its erotic services category, which critics have said is a forum that fosters prostitution and other illegal activities. To replace it, the company has created a category called adult services, in which postings will be reviewed by employees who will look for...

Read more: Craigslist Yields To Critics Demanding...

School Strip Search Case Before Supreme Court Today

When Savana Redding was just 13 years old, she was strip-searched by school officials for allegedly possessing prescription-strength ibuprofen. This traumatizing search was based solely on the false and uncorroborated accusation of a classmate who was caught with similar pills. Overzealous school officials violated Savana's rights and called into question basic constitutional protections for all students in schools across America.

Read more: School Strip Search Case Before Supreme...

Unlawful School Suspension Draws ACLU Attention

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and its Greater Tampa Chapter filed a federal lawsuit yesterday on behalf of 8th-grader Jessica Sorensen, who was suspended from school for refusing to allow her backpack to be searched when school officials had no basis to suspect that she had anything illegal or dangerous in her backpack. School officials do not have the legal authority to search students' private belongings without some reasonable cause!

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Florida Urged To Change Rights-Restoration Rules For Felons

As Gov. Charlie Crist met last week with members of his Cabinet to consider requests from felons who want their civil rights restored, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition planned events throughout the state to call attention to what it says are problems with the process. A report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, a member of the coalition, calls for Crist and the Cabinet, sitting as the Board of Executive Clemency, to change the rules.

Read more: Florida Urged To Change Rights-Restoration...

Immigration Most Significant Civil Rights Issue

"Latinos are the sharecroppers of the 21st century," said Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial attorney of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who will speak Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale. "The immigrant movement is probably the most significant civil rights issue." Dees, 72, has helped combat groups such as...

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Clearwater Business Owners Targeted For Mural & Banner

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and its Pinellas County Chapter filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of local business owners Heriberto and Lorraine Quintero, whose First Amendment rights have repeatedly been trampled on by the City of Clearwater. The ACLU of Florida seeks to prevent the city from further proceeding against the Quinteros for exercising their constitutionally protected right to free speech and political protest by displaying a banner with the text of the First Amendment at their business.

Read more: Clearwater Business Owners Targeted For...

School Officials Still Censoring Students Rights

To mark tomorrow's 40th anniversary of Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, the American Civil Liberties Union has released a video about Heather Gillman and her case in which Tinker was relied upon to uphold students' right to free speech. Despite the landmark ruling, school officials routinely ignore the rule of law and attempt illegal censorship to this day, especially against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, the ACLU said.

Read more: School Officials Still Censoring Students...

Miami-Dade Schools Censor Book On Cuba

A federal appeals court ruled that the Miami-Dade School Board did not violate the Constitution in 2006 when it removed a controversial children's book about Cuba from the public schools' library system. In a 2-1 decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said the board did not breach the First Amendment, but the three-judge panel's opinion -- not unlike the School Board's initial vote -- was so fraught with political rhetoric such as "book banning" that further appeals seem inevitable.

Read more: Miami-Dade Schools Censor Book On Cuba

High School Denies Gay-Straight Alliance Club

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a lawsuit against the School Board of Nassau County, Florida after administrators unlawfully denied students' requests for permission to form a Gay-Straight Alliance this school year at Yulee High School and during the 2007-08 school year at Yulee Middle School.

Read more: High School Denies Gay-Straight Alliance Club

Student Fights Record Of 'Cyberbullying'

Katherine Evans, frustrated with her high school English teacher, logged onto the networking site Facebook and wrote a rant against the teacher, Sarah Phelps. Her posting drew a handful of responses, and a few days later, Ms. Evans removed the post from her Facebook page. Two months after her online venting, Ms. Evans was called into the principal's office and was told she was being suspended for "cyberbullying."

Read more: Student Fights Record Of 'Cyberbullying'

Off-Campus Facebook Posting Covered Under First Amendment

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed suit today on behalf of Katherine Evans, a former Pembroke Pines Charter high school student, to protect her freedom of speech. In November 2007, Evans was suspended for three days for engaging in protected off-campus speech. Principal Peter Bayer's actions came at a high price for Evans, an advanced placement student in her critical senior year.

Read more: Off-Campus Facebook Posting Covered Under...

California Prop. 8 & More

Voters put a stop to same-sex marriage in California. Amendments to ban gay marriage were approved in Arizona and Florida, and Arkansas voters banned unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents. Voters in Colorado and South Dakota rejected abortion bans, and Washington now offers physician-assisted suicide to the terminally ill. Massachusetts voters decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and Michigan joined 12 other states in allowing use of pot for medical purposes. Nebraska voters approved a ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action.

Read more: California Prop. 8 & More

Fla. Proposition Results

A ban on gay marriage, which is already illegal in Florida, looks like it will be enshrined in the state Constitution. The Florida Marriage Protection Amendment is one of four constitutional changes that appeared headed for approval with 95 percent of statewide precincts reporting. The others are tax breaks for land conservation, working waterfronts and homeowners who install hurricane shutters or solar panels.

Read more: Fla. Proposition Results

Fla. Prop. 1 Removal Of Anti-Asian Law Fails

An amendment that would have repealed an anachronistic provision in the state constitution that would allow the Legislature to ban Asians from owning property has failed. With 50 percent of the expected vote counted, the amendment had 47.8 percent support Tuesday night. It needed 60 percent to pass.

Read more: Fla. Prop. 1 Removal Of Anti-Asian Law Fails

Florida Proposition #2

If Amendment 2 passes, it would dramatically impact unmarried straight couples, including many seniors, who represent a significant portion of the 360,000 cohabitating couples in Florida. The impact on seniors is particularly significant given the crucial healthcare and other decisions that one partner may be making for the other partner in the later years of life.

Read more: Florida Proposition #2

Real ID: 1984 Is Now

Beginning today, the state of Florida is implementing some of the requirements of the Real ID Act of 2005, making the process for obtaining a drivers' license, or renewing an existing one, far more cumbersome for all drivers, and an impossible gauntlet for far too many Floridians. Citizens of Florida must now present substantial additional documentation to prove who they are, as well as incur increased costs to pay for the new ID cards.

Read more: Real ID: 1984 Is Now

ACLU Secures Two Federal Rulings On Free Speech And Gay Rights In Schools

During a two-day trial in May, a Ponce de Leon Florida high school principal testified that he believed clothing or stickers featuring rainbows would lead students to picture people having sex. At the end of day two, the federal judge ruled that the school violated students' First Amendment rights. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Heather Gillman, a junior at the school who had been forbidden by her principal to wear any sort of clothing, stickers, buttons, or symbols to show her support of equal rights for gay people.

Read more: ACLU Secures Two Federal Rulings On Free...

Final Witness: Facebook

Two weeks after Joshua Lipton was charged in a drunken driving crash that seriously injured a woman, the 20-year-old college junior attended a Halloween party dressed as a prisoner. Pictures from the party showed him in a black-and-white striped shirt and an orange jumpsuit labeled "Jail Bird." In the age of the Internet, it might not be hard to guess what happened to those pictures: Someone posted them on the social networking site Facebook, and that offered remarkable evidence for Jay Sullivan, the prosecutor handling Lipton's drunken-driving case. Sullivan used the pictures to paint Lipton as an unrepentant partier who lived it up while his victim recovered in the hospital. A judge agreed, calling the pictures depraved when sentencing Lipton to two years in prison.

Read more: Final Witness: Facebook

Stealth Voucher Plan Doesn't Belong On Ballot

In November, Floridians could vote on school vouchers without knowing that they're voting on school vouchers. To avoid that kind of deceptive ballot manipulation, the Leon County Circuit Court should rule favorably on a request by education organizations and civil rights groups to strike proposed Amendments 7 and 9 from the fall ballot.

Read more: Stealth Voucher Plan Doesn't Belong On Ballot

N.C. Bill Would Outlaw Some Cross-Burnings, Noose Displays

Following a number of high-profile reports of noose hangings, lawmakers are mulling a plan that would make such displays and cross burnings felonies if they were carried out to intimidate someone.

Read more: N.C. Bill Would Outlaw Some...

Out Of Jail, On The Rolls

Voting is a fundamental right, not a privilege for the virtuous. And yet 10 states permanently restrict the voting rights of some or all felons, and 25 more deny the franchise to those out on parole, according to a compelling new report by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. While these measures might satisfy a desire to punish law-breakers, they also add to the alienation of ex-cons -- and are therefore likely to hurt rather than help public safety.

Read more: Out Of Jail, On The Rolls

George Carlin: The Comic Who Buzz-Sawed Hypocrisy

"I believe you can joke about anything" -- it was a window to his mind and his world. It was why George Carlin was who he was -- a funny, irreverent, insightful and carefree comic who didn't let taboos silence him. "I don't like euphemistic language, words that shade the truth," he once said. Like his late friend Lenny Bruce, Carlin took great pride in lampooning hypocrites and hypocrisy. Now, his voice is silenced by the Great Censor -- death.

Read more: George Carlin: The Comic Who Buzz-Sawed...

What's Obscene?

Judges and jurors who must decide whether sexually explicit material is obscene are asked to use a local yardstick: does the material violate community standards? That is often a tricky question because there is no simple, concrete way to gauge a community's tastes and values. The Internet may be changing that. In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought.

Read more: What's Obscene?