Back in the summer of 2011, I wrote my first blog as a staff member of the ACLU of Maine. The subject was a proposal in Congress that would have rectified a terrible wrong that had gone on for more than three decades: Under law, U.S. servicewomen who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest were not covered for any abortion care, even though a federal employee or a Medicaid enrollee in the same situation would be. But the proposal languished in the Senate and never even made it to the floor for a vote.
In June of 2011, the Maine Legislature set aside a bill addressing bullying in schools, leaving its future uncertain. It would be one of many bumps in the road, but no one supporting the legislation gave up. In the months ahead, students, educators, and stakeholders would continue to share their input with members of the Education Committee, who ultimately gave the bill their unanimous support in January of this year.
Today is Human Rights Day. The date is chosen because this is the anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the first documents to present the world with a comprehensive vision of human rights. In 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the declaration almost unanimously, and it was a landmark moment for human rights defenders all across the globe.
Tomorrow morning I'll be heading over to Portland High School to lead a "Know Your Rights" workshop. We lead dozens of workshops just like this throughout the year, and it's one of our most popular -- and important -- lessons. We think it's essential that everyone understand their basic rights and, just as importantly, that they feel comfortable exercising them. For many high school students, their next encounter with law enforcement will be their first. They deserve to know their basic rights -- and responsibilities -- when dealing with the police.
Earlier this month we hosted our third Bill of Rights student conference of the fall. It was a tremendous amount of fun for us – as our work with youth always is – and a great chance to talk to students about the issues we care strongly about and work on every day. Our conferences consist of a series of workshop sessions where students learn from ACLU of Maine staffers, board members, and volunteer lawyers. Each lesson covers a different topic, including free speech, search and seizure, equal protection, and religious liberty.
Not even a historic hurricane could keep the ACLU from arguing against the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Supreme Court will close down tomorrow for Hurricane Sandy, but today they heard arguments in Clapper v. Amnesty International. The case will decide whether clients of the ACLU can challenge the constitutionality of FISA, a law that regulates the government’s conduct of intelligence surveillance inside the U.S.
Ever heard of a “stingray”? You’re probably envisioning a flat tropical fish, but that’s not the only kind of dangerous stingray out there. The other is a little known tracking device that can locate your cell phone with extraordinary precision. The ACLU has filed an amicus brief in what will be the first case in the country to address the constitutional implications of these scary new devices, and we’ll be following it closely in the months to come.
Next week marks the first of three student conferences we’ll be hosting this fall. Over the course of the next month, we’ll bring together students from twenty different schools for a diverse array of workshops related to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. The conferences are a unique way for us to educate Maine’s youth about their rights, but they’re not the only work we do with schools.
On this day in 1957, my favorite banned book was found to have “some redeeming social importance” by a judge in San Francisco who ruled that it was officially “not obscene.” That a full trial was held to determine such a thing about a book of poems is less a testament to the content of the writing than it is a sad commentary on the role of censorship in the United States during the middle of the last century.
Fellow civil libertarians, raise your pocket Constitutions in celebration – it’s Banned Books Week! Now in its 30th year, the annual tradition is a time to reflect on books and other works of literature that have, at one time or another, found themselves banned by the authorities that be. For the ACLU, few principles are more fundamental to our organization than the idea that the government has no business censoring its people in their words and in their writing.