Each Friday, we’ll bring you updates on the latest civil liberties news from Maine and the nation.
Freedom of Religion
Changing a minor image on the Los Angeles County seal doesn’t seem like an alteration that would warrant a lawsuit, does it? The ACLU of Southern California found reason to sue Los Angeles County over it. But why? Two supervisors on the Board for Los Angeles County decided to put a Christian cross atop an illustration of San Gabriel Mission. The supervisors argue that the mission did not have a cross on top of it when the seal was modified in 2004 – and in 2009 the cross was restored. In choosing to place a symbol of Christianity on the official seal, the supervisors violated the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause.
The ACLU of Southern California responded to maintain the Constition’s guarantee of separation of church and state, and to protect the rights of all religions. “The framers of our Constitution understood very well that religious liberty can flourish only if the government takes no sides on religious matters,” said Hector Villagra, executive director of ACLU SoCal. “By ensuring government neutrality in religious matters, the First Amendment ensures the government represents all. Placing a cross, the universal symbol of Christianity, back on the seal communicates that Los Angeles County favors and endorses one religion above all others. This is unconstitutional.”
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 is proving to be an important tool for Native American tribes. Previously, if an individual committed an act of domestic violence on a reservation, but that person was not a tribal member, tribal leaders did not have the power to arrest. On Thursday, officials with the U.S. Justice Department stated that now, under the act, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon, and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington will be the first tribes in the nation to be allowed to arrest and prosecute non-tribal members suspected of crimes of domestic violence occurring on reservation land. This is particularly significant, as a 2004 Justice Deparment study found that the rate of violent crime committed against Native American females is double the rate for all U.S. females.
The ACLU of Maine believes that Gov. Paul LePage’s announcement of a renewed “War on Drugs” in Maine is a waste of taxpayer money. As Communications Director Rachel Healy wrote on Wednesday, “The so-called "War on Drugs" has cost the nation trillions of dollars, not to mention thrown away millions of young lives. And it has done nothing to curb drug use since President Nixon first declared drug use Public Enemy Number 1, drastically increased the size and reach of federal drug enforcement agencies, and pushed through drastic sentencing measures like mandatory minimums.”
In an interview Thursday with MPBN, Legal Director Zach Heiden stated, “For 40 years we've had this War on Drugs paradigm that's led to ballooning budgets and over-incarceration and no decrease in addiction or dependency to drugs."
Ultimately, there are ways to combat drug use with health-based solutions like syringe exchanges and naloxone programs. We need not wage an expensive, ineffective war which puts more Mainers in jail.