Each Friday, we’ll bring you updates on the latest civil liberties news from Maine and the nation.

Long Live the Spirit of Nelson Mandela

Our flags are flying at half staff until sunset Monday in honor of Nelson Mandela, the revered international symbol of freedom, who passed away on December 5th. In the words of ACLU director Anthony Romero,

“Mandela fought against class and racial inequality, political corruption and the devastation of AIDS.  He fought for everything we Americans hold dear.  ‘We have waited too long for our freedom,’ he famously said. And his actions matched his words as he endured 27 years in prison for what he believed—that we are all equal regardless of our class or the color of our skin.  Although it seems unthinkable to imagine a world without Nelson Mandela, we must. Our dedication to protecting freedoms for everyone—no matter what their race, gender, religion or whom they choose to love–is the precious legacy he has passed on to us.”

Leaders from all over the world reacted with words of collective hope for a future of commitment to Mandela’s ideals. From Britan to Japan, Canada to Egypt, a chorus of tweets, social media statements, and public tributes expressed deep admiration for his sacrifices on behalf of human progress and for the oppressed everywhere.

Immigration Advocates End 21-day Fast

Last June, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill (S.744) that would create a system to allow millions of people in the country illegally to eventually apply for citizenship. The bill stalled in the House – prompting immigration activists to fast in protest on the National Mall. The protest, known as the “Fast for Families,” began Nov. 12 and has drawn attention from national leaders. On Tuesday, four demonstrators announced they are ending their hunger strike, and passing along the fasting baton to seven others, including Rep. Joe Kennedy III. Since starting the fast, the group has occupied a white tent on the National Mall, where they received visitors, including President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as Vice President Joseph Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and two California Republicans, Reps. David Valadao and Jeff Denham. Read the Faster’s Declaration here.

The ACLU announced its support of the Senate immigration reform bill in June. While it is a breakthrough, the ACLU is dedicated to improving portions of the bill by reducing obstacles on the roadmap to citizenship (automatic exclusions based on old crimes or employment and income tests) and decreasing the amount of taxpayer money promised to be spent on extravagant border security.

 Conflicts in Care for Obstetric Complications in Catholic Hospitals

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit on behalf of a pregnant woman who miscarried and was denied appropriate medical treatment because the only hospital in her county is required to abide by religious directives. The “Ethical and Religious Directives”, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, prohibited the hospital from complying with the applicable standard of care in this case.

Across the country, women face similar mistreatment or denial of full information about their health care options. When a pregnancy poses a serious risk to the health of a patient, health care providers should have permission to inform their patients about alternatives. A recent study revealed that “over half of obstetrician-gynecologists working in Catholic hospitals have conflicts with religious policies.” This is significant, as four of the 10 largest hospital systems in the United States are Catholic.

Portland, Leading The Way

Legalizing low-level marijuana possession eliminates collateral consequences that flow from having a federal drug charge on one’s criminal record, including the denial of public housing, student financial aid, or a federally issued license. That is why the ACLU of Maine supported the referendum that legalizes marijuana possession in Portland, along with 67 percent of Portland voters. At a forum to educate the public about the ordinance and how it will be enforced by the Portland Police Department last night, our Justice Organizer, Grainne Dunne, stated, “There are real consequences that come with a civil violation." The new city law takes effect today. The change is a step toward reducing the number of people harmed by the criminal justice system as bills to legalize marijuana will likely be introduced into the New Hampshire and Maine legislatures in the next year. Rachel Healy was quoted in the Portsmouth Herald stating: “It's movement-building,” Healy said. “It gives more people permission to support legalization, and it gives lawmakers permission, too.” Read more about the ordinance, how it will be enforced, and its potential for larger impact here.