FBI Abuses Patriot Act Powers, Bush Vetos Torture Bill, Victory in Texas and More

 
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Sent: Friday, March 14, 2008 10:38 AM
Subject: FBI Abuses Patriot Act Powers, Bush Vetos Torture Bill,
Victory in Texas and More

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In This Issue
Join Us at the ACLU Membership Conference This
Summer

House Leadership Standing Up To Bush on
Spying

Bush Veto Shows Callous Disregard for Human
Rights

Congress Must Act to Keep the Internet Free
from Censorship

FBI Audit Exposes Widespread Abuse of Patriot
Act Powers

Voting Rights: New Partnership Addresses Voter
Disfranchisement

Victory! Texas School Board Agrees To Stop
Teaching Unconstitutional Bible Class In Public Schools

Lawsuit Charges Grossly Inadequate Medical
Care at State Prison In Nevada

MD School Vouchers Disproportionately Benefit
Religiously-Run Schools

Support the ACLU
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT OF THE
ACLU!

Your involvement
is the life-blood of our organization, and makes possible all
that we do to defend our most basic liberties.

If
you’d like to make an additional gift to support the ACLU,
please click
here.

Victory! Texas School Board Agrees To
Stop Teaching Unconstitutional Bible Class In Public
Schools

An agreement was reached in Odessa, Texas, to stop teaching
a course in its public schools that unconstitutionally
promotes a particular interpretation of the Bible. The
agreement settles an ACLU lawsuit filed in May 2007 that was
brought on behalf of eight Odessa parents and taxpayers who
argued that the course, created by a religious organization,
violated their constitutional right to religious liberty by
promoting specific religious doctrines to children in their
community.

“It is unacceptable for government
officials to decide which religious beliefs are true and which
are not and then use the public school system as a means of
proselytizing children,” said Dr. T. Jeremy Gunn, Director of
the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

The lawsuit challenged the school board’s decision
last year to teach a controversial Bible course created by the
National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools
(NCBCPS), a private group that promotes its own particular
interpretation of the Bible.

Under the agreement,
Ector County schools may not teach the current course after
this school year. If the board decides to offer a different
Bible course in the future, the course must follow strict
legal standards for objectivity and may not be based on the
NCBCPS curriculum.

>>
Read
more about the case. Lawsuit Charges Grossly Inadequate
Medical Care at State Prison In Nevada

The ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit last week against the
director of Nevada’s Department of Corrections and other top
state officials in Nevada. The lawsuit comes after the recent
release of a medical report that documented how gravely ill
prisoners at Ely State Prison are routinely denied treatment
for excruciatingly painful and potentially fatal medical
conditions. The report also revealed what Dr. William Noel,
the medical expert commissioned by the ACLU to investigate
medical conditions inside Ely and author of the report, called
"a pattern of gross medical abuse."

The lawsuit
charges that the prison in Ely lacks the most basic elements
of an adequate prison health care system and deprives
prisoners of the minimal civilized measure of life’s
necessities.

On the heels of the report’s release last
December, ACLU attorneys proposed a series of basic reforms
that would have dramatically improved prison health care at
Ely, including complying with nationally recognized standards
for correctional health care. The proposal was rejected by the
Board of State Prison Commissioners.

"The level of
medical care provided at Ely is as horrific as any we have
ever seen at any of the prison systems that we track across
the country," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the
ACLU’s National Prison Project. "And while we had hoped that
working collaboratively with the Department of Corrections and
the governor’s office would lead to the resolution of some of
the most pressing issues at Ely, it simply has not."

>>
Learn
more about the conditions at Ely State Prison.
MD School Vouchers Disproportionately
Benefit Religiously-Run Schools

A hotly-contested bill before the Maryland legislature
would siphon off millions of dollars from the State’s coffers
to subsidize private and religious schools. The misnamed
“Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers in
Maryland Tax Credit” or BOAST bill would effectively enact
private school vouchers, especially for religiously-run
schools.

Poll after poll confirms that most Americans
want their tax dollars spent to ensure that all children
attend safe and clean schools, with smaller class sizes and
better teacher training. Voucher programs, in contrast, do
nothing to address these pressing needs.

It is unfair
to students in public schools, and Maryland taxpayers, to
divert public money that is urgently needed in public schools
for basic education and facilities maintenance statewide to
private schools and undefined extracurricular programs.
Additionally, Maryland continues to face a structural budget
deficit and is expecting another downturn in revenue
estimates.

Similar to other states, the Maryland State
Constitution requires that the State provide a “thorough and
efficient free school system” of public schools. The ACLU of
Maryland believes that a quality public school education is
vital to ensuring a strong democracy, which is especially
important since the vast majority of students in the state are
educated in public schools.

>>
Learn
more about the “BOAST” bill.

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to protect civil liberties? Help us spread the word about
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March 14 , 2008
Join Us at the ACLU Membership
Conference This Summer

You’ve
seen the headlines. The current administration vetoes an
anti-torture bill, and continues to push for an illegal
wiretapping program. After six years, detainees at Guantànamo
Bay are still being held without the benefit of the most basic
legal and human rights. Many state and local governments
continue to run roughshod over our constitutionally protected
liberties on issues ranging from free speech to voter rights.
If you want to get involved in the restoration of our most
fundamental rights, the ACLU Membership Conference is the
place for you

Join us in Washington, D.C. June 8-10 to
stop the abuse of power!

>>
Register or learn more about the conference

House
Leadership Standing Up To Bush on Spying

Join

Thanks to the hard work
of ACLU members and activists, key members of the House
introduced compromise legislation on FISA yesterday. While the
ACLU has concerns about aspects of the new bill, it is
important to note that the House is standing up to the
executive branch and its demands to engage in unchecked
wiretapping on US soil.

"We see the House’s new FISA
bill as a positive step towards reining in the powers of the
flawed Protect America Act rushed through Congress this past
August,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU’s
Washington Legislative Office. “This is a clear rejection of
the Senate’s problematic approach.”

Even with
administration officials issuing ominous warnings, the
American people are prevailing. House leadership — at least
for now — is finally standing up to Bush fear mongering.

Here are just a couple highlights of what we recently
accomplished together:

  • On Monday, we delivered our "Keep Standing Up to Fear
    Mongering" petition with more than 50,000 signatures to
    House Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer and
    representatives who stood up to President Bush.

  • Last week, our Calling for Freedom campaign generated
    tens of thousands of phone calls to Congress.

  • Congress still has not passed Bush’s spying bill and in
    fact, House leadership introduced a better bill. The
    president threatened to veto the compromise bill, but the
    House is planning to vote on it today anyway.

But
the fight is nowhere near over yet. The House is expected to
vote on their compromise bill today. Now’s not the time to get
complacent. We need to keep the pressure on Congress to
continue standing up to Bush’s incessant demands for telecom
immunity and his veto threats.

>>
Learn
more about FISA.

Bush Veto
Shows Callous Disregard for Human Rights

Racial
ACLU staff attorney Ben
Wizner was in Guantánamo this week to observe the
hearings of three Guantánamo detainees.
Read
his observations.

In a brazen move
signaling a callous disregard for human rights, President Bush
last week vetoed the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act
largely due to a provision that would have applied the Army
Field Manual on Interrogations to all government agencies,
including the CIA. The manual prohibits specific acts of
torture and abuse, including waterboarding. During recent
congressional testimony, CIA Director Michael Hayden admitted
the agency has waterboarded detainees.

"It is
fundamentally un-American when our president vetoes laws
against torture," said Anthony Romero, Executive Director of
the ACLU. "The president’s veto sends a message to the world
that despite Congress’ actions, our country will continue to
engage in this inhumane and heinous conduct when we should be
affirming unequivocally and in one voice that torture and
abuse will stop and never happen again. No one is above the
rule of law, including the president. Congress should hold
firm and persist in trying to get an anti-torture bill signed
into law."

>>
Learn
more about the ACLU’s work to oppose torture.

Congress
Must Act to Keep the Internet Free from Censorship

Urging
Congress to act to safeguard free speech on the Internet, the
ACLU testified this week before the House Judiciary Committee
hearing on Net Neutrality, the principle that protects our
ability to go where we want and do what we want online.

The creation and dynamic growth of the Internet is in
part the result of strong Net Neutrality protection. All of
that changed in 2005, when the Federal Communication
Commission (FCC) suddenly repealed longstanding Internet
non-discrimination principles with the blessing of the United
States Supreme Court.

"Restoring meaningful rules that
protect Internet users from corporate censorship is vital to
the future of free speech on the Internet," said Caroline
Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative
Office. "Congress should act to protect the rights of all
Internet users to send and receive lawful content free of
censorship from government or business."

The 2007
censorship of NARAL Pro-Choice America highlights why Internet
service providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to
discriminate. In that situation, Verizon Wireless claimed that
it was free to block text messaging that it disapproved of
because neutrality rules that apply to voice transmissions do
not apply to data transmissions. By its own words and actions,
Verizon Wireless has made the case for why neutrality rules
must be restored to apply to all broadband ISPs.

Fredrickson noted that ISPs have free speech rights
but those rights do not give them an additional right to
censor the speech of people using their services to access the
Internet.

>>
Learn
more about Net Neutrality.

FBI Audit Exposes Widespread Abuse of
Patriot Act Powers

A report released
yesterday by the Department of Justice’s Office of the
Inspector General on the FBI’s use of National Security
Letters (NSLs) reveals a systemic, widespread abuse of power.

The National Security Letter provision of the Patriot
Act radically expanded the FBI’s authority to demand personal
records like Web site visits and e-mail addresses without
prior court approval. The provision also allows the FBI to
forbid or "gag" anyone who receives an NSL from telling anyone
about the record demand.

Remarkably, the report notes
two instances where the FBI, on its own initiative, issued
NSLs to get sensitive information after the FISA court had
already rejected its requests. There are currently bills in
both the House and Senate that would narrow the scope of the
FBI’s NSL authority and bring the statute back in line with
the Constitution.

"There is a pressing need for
stricter guidelines and more robust oversight. The Inspector
General’s report shows what happens when the FBI is asked to
police itself," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s
National Security Project.

The ACLU has successfully
challenged the NSL power in two separate lawsuits. In one
case, involving an Internet Service Provider, a federal court
in September struck down the NSL provision of the Patriot Act,
declaring unconstitutional its gag orders, which forbid
recipients of NSLs from telling anyone about the record
demand. The government is currently appealing the decision. In
addition, the ACLU filed a lawsuit last June to enforce its
Freedom of Information Act request to force the Department of
Defense and the CIA to turn over documents concerning those
agencies’ use of NSLs. That lawsuit is pending.

>>
Read
more about NSLs.

Voting Rights: New Partnership
Addresses Voter Disfranchisement

ACLU

The
ACLU and BlackElectorate.com’s "Business and Building"
Community announced last week the launch of a partnership to
raise awareness of the devastating effects of felony
disfranchisement on this country’s African-American community.
The partnership fuses the strengths of each organization —
the ACLU’s longtime involvement in states which set policy on
this issue and BlackElectorate.com’s broad audience and close
ties with African-American leaders — to give this issue
greater visibility within the black community in this historic
election year.

“The people of Texas went to the polls
last week, but over half a million Texan citizens were unable
to vote due to a felony conviction,” said Laleh Ispahani,
Senior Policy Counsel with the ACLU Racial Justice Program.
“Over 165,000 of those disfranchised Texans are black.
Disfranchisement runs contrary to fundamental precepts of
democracy, human rights, and of giving people a second chance,
a chance at true rehabilitation.”

In the United
States, one out of every seven – or 1.4 million –
African-American men is disfranchised and cannot vote due to a
felony conviction. This rate is nearly seven times the
national disfranchisement rate of one in 41 adults.

The ACLU and BlackElectorate.com have developed a
multi-faceted, nationwide plan to raise awareness of this
critical voting rights issue that includes targeted projects
in California, Florida and Mississippi; the recruitment of
prominent African-Americans to address this issue at rallies,
conferences and in public service announcements; and the
launch of a large-scale guerrilla, viral, and street campaign
to engage youth that features street teams, t-shirts, music,
videos, and the ACLU documentary, “Democracy’s Ghosts.”

>>
Learn
more about our critical voting rights work.

American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street,
18th Floor
New York, New York 10004-2400
Geraldine Engel
and Lisa Sock,
Editors

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