Page Two [Welcome]
[Home Page]
[Alternate Navigation]
 

 
Presidential Candidates Should Keep Emphasis on Religion Out of Campaign
Anti-Defamation League, January 6, 2004 -- The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), concerned about the growing emphasis on religion in the presidential race, today called on all candidates to keep in mind that "there is a line that must be drawn when emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate in our religiously diverse society."
  "Candidates should feel comfortable explaining their religious convictions to voters," said Barbara B. Balser, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "However, we feel strongly that appealing to voters on the basis of religion is contrary to the American ideal and can be inherently divisive, wrongly suggesting that a candidate's religious beliefs should be a litmus test for public office."
  Those remarks were part of a letter sent to President George W. Bush and each of the nine candidates seeking the Democratic Party nomination: Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, Gen. Wesley Clark, Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. John Edwards, Rep. Dick Gephardt, Sen. John Kerry, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Sen. Joe Lieberman and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
  The letter was prompted, in part, by recent statements in the campaign. ADL noted that Gov. Dean has made several references to religion in recent days, including 'I'm pretty religious … I pray every day, but I'm from New England so I just keep it to myself." Likewise, Sen. Lieberman recently brought up religion when he said: "They (the candidates) forget that the constitutional separation of church and state, which I strongly support, promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."
  ADL's letter urged the candidates to bear in mind that, "voters should be encouraged to make their decisions based upon their assessment of the qualifications and political positions of the candidates, not their religiosity."
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.


 
 

 
A Vanished Dream
John Brand, D.Min., J.D., December 10, 2003 -­ The time was a balmy spring Sunday afternoon in Vienna, Austria in 1936. The incident took place in front of the Bristol Hotel across the street from the Vienna Opera House. The tableau consisted of two groups of people. In the first were several American tourists. The other group consisted of several Austrian boys and girls, including myself. We were on a chaperoned Sunday afternoon stroll along the Ringstrasse.
   We knew that the members of the first group were Americans. Their dress, their language, their general appearance made us realize who they were. They represented messengers from a world about which we could only dream.
   America was the land of opportunity. In spite of the worldwide depression, we believed that hard work and strength of moral character provided Americans with the possibility of a brighter future. In our very rigid and regimented class system, opportunities were limited or non-existing.
   We knew that in that far off Eden there was freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion. In Austria, you could be put in jail for criticizing the Chancellor. Roman Catholicism was the official state religion. Other religions only existed if the government sanctioned them.
   We belonged to a regimented society. Freedom was a dream belonging to another, far-away world. We, who had come into close proximity to these messengers from Utopia, thought we stood in the presence of divine messengers.
   Worldwide, America was respected and envied. Of course, we knew there were problems in America. However, we believed that its ideals far outweighed its difficulties.
   I came to America in 1938 filled with excitement that I know was part of the dream. My goal was to embrace the values, the beliefs, the opportunities that presented themselves. Many people helped me to fulfill the vision in my personal life.
   It was with great pride that I joined the U.S. Army. In the fall of 1945, the 103rd Infantry Division drove up the Rhone Valley to relieve the 3rd Division which had been on the line for 105 consecutive days. In every village through which our convoy passed, we were warmly greeted by elated Frenchmen. The 3rd Division had brought them freedom from tyranny. We were on our way to finish a war that would lead to an ennobling future for humankind.
   In our heart of hearts, we believed that our fight was for the high and noble purpose of freedom and justice. Some of my comrades now lie buried in foreign soil. Some of us made it back without disabilities. Some of us, over fifty years later, are suffering from combat related injuries and problems. Yet all of us served gladly. We accepted our burdens as a price that had to be paid to protect freedom.
   But some years ago, storm clouds began to gather in America. The dream came under attack.
   The first sign that the foundations of freedom were cracking occurred in the early 1950s. Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee were the first signs that something very serious was amiss in our nation. A crazed fear that communism was about to take over America swept the nation. We came to believe that a Communist was hiding behind every bush and underneath every rock. In the frenzy to destroy our perceived enemies, constitutional rights were abrogated. Lives were destroyed and careers were ruined. A corrosive agenda started to dissolve the fibers of America's tapestry.
   We began to fear ideas! We were alarmed that another ideology might destroy the dream of the Fathers. But instead of combating ideas with ideas, we fought the perceived enemy by bringing to ruin anyone suspected of harboring beliefs alien to our tradition. We were so frenzied that we forgot that an idea can only be overcome with a better idea.
   We forsook the ideals of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. More than that, another insidious ""bug"" infected America. That vicious infection was materialism for the sake of materialism.
   Those of us who fought World War II were children of the Depression. That era left an indelible mark on us. We would make certain that our children would not go through the hard times that marked our own childhood. After the war, we rolled up our shirtsleeves and built a nation flowing with milk and honey.
   But over time, our possessions, our stock options, our assets became more important than the dream for which our forebears gave their lives, their honor, and their possessions. To them, ridding a newly born nation from the tyranny of government was more important than the Dow Jones average, GNP, or any other economic indicator.
   We forged the good life from the ruins of WWII. We were not about to let any damned Commies take it away from us. We forgot that the fuel for the torch of freedom requires sacrifice and vigilance. But our hearts began to freeze at the altar of materialism. Our minds, grown cold, rejected anything that hinted that we might have to give up that second bathroom or the two-car garage. Our glacial spirits were only concerned with making money and more money.
   Slowly, but ever so surely, we gave up our heritage and traded it in for a mess of lentils. We ripped the torch from the hand of the Statue of Liberty.
   We put a P&L statement, audited and certified by the Anderson accounting firm, into her outstretched hand.
   Corporate aggrandizement became more important than the Constitution. Financial reports overshadowed our concern for freedom. Selfishness drowned out the call to sacrifice.
   What was the result of our newly found religion presided over by the god Mammon?
   America is hated in most of the world. What is worse, we do not even understand the reason for the hatred. For decades, the leaders of our nation developed a foreign policy supporting dictators and destroying people's movements to bring justice and equity to their nations. We support an Israeli government that has learned nothing from the Holocaust.
   Both Israel and America claim to be a people of the Book. But the prophetic message of righteousness and justice has been ripped from the pages of the Bible. A narrow-minded, provincial dogmatism has replaced the calls of the prophets "to let justice roll down like the waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream."
   Our president had to fly to Buckingham Palace under the cover of darkness in the middle of the night while tens of thousands in the street proclaim the injustice of a war fought over nothing more than dominance over Iraqi oil reserves. Our president did not even address Parliament for fear that he might be shouted down. Just think of it! America's president having to scurry through the cover of darkness like a furtive prey being chased by its predator!
   We think we can fight ideas we do not like with tanks and bombs. The more we rely upon Mars, the more intense will be the opposition to our rampant materialism. The more we worship the gods of war, the stronger will be the opposition to our forces.
   We have yet to learn that ideas cannot be destroyed with weaponry.
   I fear that the scene that took place in Vienna in 1936 cannot be repeated today. It might well be that visiting Americans might be the subjects of jeers and sneers.
   originally posted at http://www.yellowtimes.org/article.php?sid=1693 [John Brand is a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry veteran of World War II. He received his Juris Doctor degree at Northwestern University and a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry at Southern Methodist University. He served as a Methodist minister for 19 years, was Vice President, Birkman & Associates, Industrial Psychologists, and concluded his career as Director, Organizational and Human Resources, Warren-King Enterprises, an independent oil and gas company.]


 
 

 
Yarris Exonerated in Delco Murder Case After 21 Years on Death Row
Death penalty critics call for moratorium on executions, investigation
PAUADP, December 9, 2003 -- After spending more than two decades on Pennsylvania's death row for a crime he did not commit, Nicholas Yarris was finally exonerated by the justice system today in Delaware County when the District Attorney's office announced that it is dropping charges against Yarris for the 1981 rape and murder of Linda Mae Craig. In July, Yarris' attorneys revealed that DNA evidence from the crime had been tested and conclusively eliminated him as the assailant. In September, Delaware County Judge William R. Toal, Jr., vacated Yarris' conviction - the first such decision in a Pennsylvania capital case based on DNA analysis; he remained on death row pending a second prosecution on the charges.
  In response to the announcement, Yarris, who was in the courtroom, stated that he bears no ill will toward anyone involved with this prosecution. Judge Toal, who had stated repeatedly during the hearing that he had confidence in the District Attorneys and that "juries usually do a pretty good job," offered Yarris and his family no apology or well wishes following his 22 year ordeal. During a press conference following the hearing, Yarris' appellate attorney, Peter Goldberger responded to the judge's analysis of the jury system by stating, "a 'pretty good job' isn't good enough when it comes to the death penalty." About 15 local moratorium proponents held vigil outside the courthouse during the proceedings, chanting, "Moratorium Now!"
  Now 42, Yarris has spent half of his life - 21 years - under sentence of death and will not immediately be released due to a 3˝ to seven-year sentence for a 1985 escape, in which he avoided capture for more than three weeks before being apprehended in Florida. Additional charges and sentences were imposed in Florida, however attorneys working on Yarris' behalf will seek his release citing time served in the Craig case. Yarris is the 112th death row prisoner to be exonerated and released in the United States since 1973 and the tenth this year.
  Supporters of a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania are citing Yarris' ordeal as yet another glaring example of the Commonwealth's severely flawed death penalty system. Yarris is the fifth death row prisoner in Pennsylvania to be exonerated and released since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978; three individuals were executed in the state during the same time period.
  "Pennsylvania has put more innocent people through the horror of wrongful conviction and years death row than the total number of people it's executed," stated Jeff Garis, executive director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty. "Millions in tax dollars have been wasted on these cases, and, all the while, the real killers have escaped justice. For over 20 years, Jane Yarris was unable to hug her son. Let no one say this exoneration is evidence that 'the system works;' this exoneration is irrefutable evidence that an immediate moratorium on executions and system-wide investigation is essential for ensuring justice in our justice system."
  During his gubernatorial campaign, Governor Ed Rendell, a death penalty proponent, stated that he would support a moratorium on executions if there was compelling evidence of errors and unfairness in the system. On March 4th, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System released a report recommending an immediate moratorium on executions, citing evidence of racial bias and the failure of the Commonwealth to ensure competent representation for indigent defendants. Gov. Rendell has since stated that he has seen no compelling evidence of problems with Pennsylvania's capital punishment system.
  "Today, the District Attorney of Delaware County, after carefully examining the evidence, chose to do the just and right thing," said Garis. "We, the citizens of Pennsylvania, call on Gov. Rendell to face the evidence of errors in our system, and do likewise. Justice demands an immediate moratorium."
Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty is a nonviolent direct action movement to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania, with 6,000+ supporters throughout the state.


 
 

 
People Can Always Be Brought to the Bidding of the Leaders
Senator Robert C. Byrd, October 17, 2003 -- Mr. President, the Emperor has no clothes. This entire adventure in Iraq has been based on propaganda and manipulation. Eighty-seven billion dollars is too much to pay for the continuation of a war based on falsehoods.
  In 1837, Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, wrote a wonderful fairy tale which he titled The Emperor's New Clothes. It may be the very first example of the power of political correctness. It is the story of the Ruler of a distant land who was so enamored of his appearance and his clothing that he had a different suit for every hour of the day. One day two rogues arrived in town, claiming to be gifted weavers. They convinced the Emperor that they could weave the most wonderful cloth, which had a magical property. The clothes were only visible to those who were completely pure in heart and spirit.
  The Emperor was impressed and ordered the weavers to begin work immediately. The rogues, who had a deep understanding of human nature, began to feign work on empty looms.
  Minister after minister went to view the new clothes and all came back exhorting the beauty of the cloth on the looms even though none of them could see a thing.
  Finally a grand procession was planned for the Emperor to display his new finery. The Emperor went to view his clothes and was shocked to see absolutely nothing, but he pretended to admire the fabulous cloth, inspect the clothes with awe, and, after disrobing, go through the motions of carefully putting on a suit of the new garments.
  Under a royal canopy the Emperor appeared to the admiring throng of his people - - all of whom cheered and clapped because they all knew the rogue weavers' tale and did not want to be seen as less than pure of heart.
  But, the bubble burst when an innocent child loudly exclaimed, for the whole kingdom to hear, that the Emperor had nothing on at all. He had no clothes. That tale seems to me very like the way this nation was led to war.
  We were told that we were threatened by weapons of massestruction in Iraq, but they have not been seen.
  We were told that the throngs of Iraqi's would welcome our troops with flowers, but no throngs or flowers appeared.
  We were led to believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, but no evidence has ever been produced.
  We were told in 16 words that Saddam Hussein tried to buy "yellow cake" from Africa for production of nuclear weapons, but the story has turned into empty air.
  We were frightened with visions of mushroom clouds, but they turned out to be only vapors of the mind.
  We were told that major combat was over but 101 [as of October 17] Americans have died in combat since that proclamation from the deck of an aircraft carrier by our very own Emperor in his new clothes.
  Our emperor says that we are not occupiers, yet we show no inclination to relinquish the country of Iraq to its people.
  Those who have dared to expose the nakedness of the Administration's policies in Iraq have been subjected to scorn. Those who have noticed the elephant in the room -- that is, the fact that this war was based on falsehoods - have had our patriotism questioned. Those who have spoken aloud the thought shared by hundreds of thousands of military families across this country, that our troops should return quickly and safely from the dangers half a world away, have been accused of cowardice. We have then seen the untruths, the dissembling, the fabrication, the misleading inferences surrounding this rush to war in Iraq wrapped quickly in the flag.
  The right to ask questions, debate, and dissent is under attack. The drums of war are beaten ever louder in an attempt to drown out those who speak of our predicament in stark terms.
  Even in the Senate, our history and tradition of being the world's greatest deliberative body is being snubbed. This huge spending bill has been rushed through this chamber in just one month. There were just three open hearings by the Senate Appropriations Committee on $87 billion, without a single outside witness called to challenge the Administration's line.
  Ambassador Bremer went so far as to refuse to return to the appropriations Committee to answer additional questions because, and I quote: "I don't have time. I'm completely booked, and I have to get back to Baghdad to my duties."
  Despite this callous stiff-arm of the Senate and its duties to ask questions in order to represent the American people, few dared to voice their opposition to rushing this bill through these halls of Congress. Perhaps they were intimidated by the false claims that our troops are in immediate need of more funds.
  But the time has come for the sheep-like political correctness which has cowed members of this Senate to come to an end.
  Mr. President, the Emperor has no clothes. This entire adventure in Iraq has been based on propaganda and manipulation. Eighty-seven billion dollars is too much to pay for the continuation of a war based on falsehoods.
  Mr. President, taking the nation to war based on misleading rhetoric and hyped intelligence is a travesty and a tragedy. It is the most cynical of all cynical acts. It is dangerous to manipulate the truth. It is dangerous because once having lied, it is difficult to ever be believed again. Having misled the American people and stampeded them to war, this Administration must now attempt to sustain a policy predicated on falsehoods. The President asks for billions from those same citizens who know that they were misled about the need to go to war. We misinformed and insulted our friends and allies and now this Administration is having more than a little trouble getting help from the international community. It is perilous to mislead.
  The single-minded obsession of this Administration to now make sense of the chaos in Iraq, and the continuing propaganda which emanates from the White House painting Iraq as the geographical center of terrorism is distracting our attention from Afghanistan and the 60 other countries in the world where terrorists hide. It is sapping resources which could be used to make us safer from terrorists on our own shores. The body armor for our own citizens still has many, many chinks. Have we forgotten that the most horrific terror attacks in history occurred right here at home!! Yet, this Administration turns back money for homeland security, while the President pours billions into security for Iraq. I am powerless to understand or explain such a policy.
  I have tried mightily to improve this bill. I twice tried to separate the reconstruction money in this bill, so that those dollars could be considered separately from the military spending. I offered an amendment to force the Administration to craft a plan to get other nations to assist the troops and formulate a plan to get the U.N. in, and the U.S. out, of Iraq. Twice I tried to rid the bill of expansive, flexible authorities that turn this $87 billion into a blank check. The American people should understand that we provide more foreign aid for Iraq in this bill, $20.3 billion, than we provide for the rest of the entire world! I attempted to remove from this bill billions in wasteful programs and divert those funds to better use. But, at every turn, my efforts were thwarted by the vapid argument that we must all support the requests of the Commander in Chief.
  I cannot stand by and continue to watch our grandchildren become increasingly burdened by the billions that fly out of the Treasury for a war and a policy based largely on propaganda and prevarication. We are borrowing $87 billion to finance this adventure in Iraq. The President is asking this Senate to pay for this war with increased debt, a debt that will have to be paid by our children and by those same troops that are currently fighting this war. I cannot support outlandish tax cuts that plunge our country into potentially disastrous debt while our troops are fighting and dying in a war that the White House chose to begin.
  I cannot support the continuation of a policy that unwisely ties down 150,000 American troops for the foreseeable future, with no end in sight.
  I cannot support a President who refuses to authorize the reasonable change in course that would bring traditional allies to our side in Iraq.
  I cannot support the politics of zeal and "might makes right" that created the new American arrogance and unilateralism which passes for foreign policy in this Administration.
  I cannot support this foolish manifestation of the dangerous and destabilizing doctrine of preemption that changes the image of America into that of a reckless bully.
  Mr. President, the emperor has no clothes. And our former allies around the world were the first to loudly observe it.
  I shall vote against this bill because I cannot support a policy based on prevarication. I cannot support doling out 87 billion of our hard-earned tax dollars when I have so many doubts about the wisdom of its use.
  Mr. President, I began my remarks with a fairy tale. I shall close my remarks with a horror story, in the form of a quote from the book Nuremberg Diaries, written by G.M. Gilbert, in which the author interviews Hermann Goering.
  "We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.
  ". . . But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.
  "There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."
  "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd on Final Passage of Iraq Supplemental Appropriations Bill -------
 
 

 
Supreme Court Acceptance Of Pledge Of Allegiance Case Sets Stage For Showdown Over Freedom Of Conscience
Americans United, October 14, 2003 -- The Supreme Court’s decision to review a controversial ruling striking down recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools sets the stage for an emotional clash over government endorsement of religion, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
   The high court announced today that it will hear Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow. The case challenges the right of public schools to sponsor recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, asserting that its religious content violates separation of church and state.
   In June of 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that public schools may not sponsor daily recitation of the Pledge, which includes the phrase "under God." The controversial ruling was appealed to the full 9th Circuit, which refused to hear it, and then to the Supreme Court.
   "This case gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to remind all Americans of the importance of freedom of conscience," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This is the most controversial religion-in-schools case since the school prayer decisions of the early 1960s."
   "No one should feel coerced to take part in a religious exercise to express patriotism," continued Lynn. "A country founded on religious freedom should not be afraid to recognize that love of God and love of country are not the same for some people. Requiring a daily religious loyalty test for school children is simply wrong."
   Lynn noted that the Pledge of Allegiance was originally secular. Written in 1892 by a Baptist minister, the Pledge was recited for several decades without any religious references. Congress added the phrase "under God" to the Pledge in 1954 in response to fears of Communism.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.


 
 


"No Death Row!"
Jeff Garis, October 13, 2003 -- The movement to end the death penalty in Pennsylvania took a major step forward this weekend as citizens from across the Commonwealth converged on the State Capitol for the largest anti-death penalty gathering in the state's history. The Harrisburg Patriot-News estimated the crowd at Saturday's Rally for a Moratorium on Executions at about 1,000 people.
  Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan joined proponents of a death penalty moratorium on a beautiful fall afternoon on the Capitol steps, where rousing speeches, lively music and chants of "They Say Death Row, We Say Hell No"and "Moratorium Now!" sent a clear message that we will not tolerate inaction from our elected leaders on this issue. "The red flags are up all over this state," Ryan told the crowd. "You've exonerated more than you've executed. Why would you do that?"
  Jay C. Smith, who spent six years on Pennsylvania's death row before being exonerated and released, joined another exoneree, Hank Kimbell, on the steps as living proof that the death penalty system is broken. Smith compared that system, which nationwide exonerates almost one person for every seven it executes, to a hot-dog stand whose food kills every seventh customer.
  "Governor Rendell, get rid of the hot dogs," Smith said.
  But perhaps the most powerful moment of the day was when the crowd heard from the parents of Shannon Schieber, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student who was murdered in her apartment in 1998. The Schiebers described their frustration with Ed Rendell (then the mayor of Philadelphia), who refused to meet with them to discuss the allegedly shoddy police work in the case of a serial rapist who likely could have been stopped before their daughter was killed. Instead, the city tried to provide consolation by seeking the death penalty when the assailant was finally tracked down and arrested by police in Colorado.
  "Often when you hear about the death penalty, you hear it's to give something back to the families of the victims," said Sylvester Schieber. "This has got absolutely nothing to do with victims. We need to start staring our political leaders in the face and find out why they are trying to kill these people."
  The rally concluded with a loud and energetic march to the home of Gov. Rendell that stretched for several blocks along the Susquehanna River. It was the culmination of several days of heightened activism against the death penalty in Pennsylvania, highlighted by Gov. Ryan's admonition that the problems which led him to impose a moratorium in his home state are similar to those here.
  Gov. Ryan's weekend visit to Pennsylvania received extensive media coverage throughout the Commonwealth. For a sampling of newspaper articles from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and York, see the following links:
www.yorksundaynews.com/Stories/0,1413,137~10047~1693585,00.html
www.philly.com/mld/dailynews/news/nation/6987651.htm
www.post-gazette.com/localnews/20031011deathpenaltylocal4p3.asp
www.pennlive.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news/1065691944285021.xml?pennnews

  If a newspaper in your area covered the weekend's anti-death penalty actions, please let us know. And if you have a hard copy of any newspaper articles that you can send us, we'd be grateful.
  Pennsylvania Abolitionists will continue to escalate pressure on Gov. Rendell and the legislature to do what Gov. Ryan, a committee of the Pa. Supreme Court, more than 70 percent of the state's population and all people of conscience know is the only rational response to the Commonwealth's death penalty crisis: impose an immediate moratorium on executions and the signing of death warrants.
  Our grassroots network extends to every corner of the state, and in the months ahead we will be expanding our efforts with regional chapters and other groups that are working diligently to end state-sponsored killing. If you are not already active with any of these chapters or groups, we encourage you to get involved. For more information, visit our web site at www.pa-abolitionists.org or give us a call at 215-724-6120.
  Thank you for your commitment to this critical human rights issue!
Jeff Garis is the Executive Director of PENNSYLVANIA ABOLITIONISTS United Against the Death Penalty.


 
 

 
Bush's Moral Message Losing Legitimacy
Matthew Riemer YellowTimes.org Columnist, August 08, 2003 -- On December 19th, 2002, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a report entitled "Wealthy nations ... U.S. stands alone in its embrace of religion." The report begins, "Religion is much more important to Americans than to people living in other wealthy nations. Six-in-ten (59%) people in the U.S. say religion plays a very important role in their lives. This is roughly twice the percentage of self-avowed religious people in Canada (30%), and an even higher proportion when compared with Japan and Western Europe. Americans' views are closer to people in developing nations than to the publics of developed nations." Countries with a similar percentage to the United States were Venezuela, Mexico, and Turkey.
   Such data can perhaps shed light on the public's view of things like politics and war and the criteria used when analyzing information and events. President Bush is a self-proclaimed religious man and this forwardness (as well as its subject) reverberates throughout much of his constituency. This is potentially one of the reasons why he is so revered by a great many people: he doubles as a spiritual everyman. Played out in rhetoric, this tends to lead to the "moralization" of one's activities so the United States' principles, goals, actions, and intentions are placed in a moral context, presented and explained in a we-hold-these-truths-to-be-self-evident manner. The concepts of "good" and "evil" figure predominantly in the exercise of logic.
   Essentially, the argument for war in Iraq was -- as is almost everything else -- a moral one. As time goes on, and as other means and methods of logic fail moderate scrutiny, the moral argument that the world is better off without the evil Saddam Hussein is inevitably fallen back upon, revealing its fundamental place within the ideology advanced by pro-militarism advocates.
   It is this ideological and moral stratum that unwaveringly supports the Bush administration. To these individuals, the issue of forged documents pertaining to uranium sales, over-hyped stories about aluminum tubes, and the absence of quantities of chemical and biological weapons consistent with Washington's "irrefutable" claims is a moot point. For many Americans, the simple destruction of "evil" is a solid enough pretext for large-scale military intervention, while innocents killed and all the other inevitable crimes and wrongs perpetuated during wars of "liberation" are chalked up to maxims such as "freedom isn't free" and the "price of freedom."
   This, however, is not the mindset throughout much of the world, and it is here where the distinction between America and the rest of the first world on religion and moral explanations is useful to look at. The majority of Europe, not to mention the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and South America all opposed Washington's preemptive war and are far less convinced by political theories articulated through moral logic and imperative. It is this large swath of the planet's people and governments for which the Bush administration must satisfactorily explain its actions, even when they may be overlooked domestically.
   These two political relationships -- the domestic and the international -- while separate, do interact very subtly, forcing the Bush administration to strike a fine balance in its rhetoric and propaganda. The international community and intelligent opposition in the U.S. will demand a more internationalized approach and level of accountability from the Bush administration than the traditional domestic bastion of support found most predominantly in rural America.
   But now President Bush is beginning to receive criticism from an increasing number of quarters, whether about how to handle the Niger flap, or how to proceed in Liberia or in Iraq, or how secretive his administration is. This has led to a decline in the believability and legitimacy of a moral explanation for one's every move, as a growing number of people are no longer willing to just accept the Bush administration's statements at face value.
   A year ago -- when much of the complex network of lies now being revealed was being laid -- moral politics had a greater currency with the American people who were repeatedly told by government officials and the corporate media about the incomprehensibly evil Saddam Hussein. One event -- Saddam's use of chemical weapons during an attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja -- was emphasized throughout the build-up to war to highlight Saddam's ruthlessness and efficiency as a killer.
   The 20th anniversary of this massacre happened to be this past March 15th. In his weekly radio address to the nation, Bush invoked the memories of that day: "This weekend marks a bitter anniversary for the people of Iraq. Fifteen years ago, Saddam Hussein's regime ordered a chemical weapons attack on a village in Iraq called Halabja."
   It must be remembered that this was an event that took place under the watchful eye of the Reagan administration, which, at the time, had nothing much to say about the incident, let alone ironically using it as a conduit for propaganda.
   The emphasis on Halabja was not only an example of how the Bush administration's main message was the evilness of Saddam Hussein, but also, more importantly, the implicit conclusion drawn from such emphasis: that it is morally obligatory to remove Saddam Hussein from power. In other words, there is no debate in this matter; there is only one way to think.
   But now the Bush administration is being forced to act in a more candid manner, and it's having troubling doing it. No one in the administration seems to be terribly frank. Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice don't even appear capable of acting civil. And there's a merry-go-round of blame revolving around who's responsible for the purchase-of-uranium-from-Niger line in the State of the Union address. However, the stepping-down of Ari Fleischer is a positive change. His replacement, Scott McClellan, is far less cynical and is actually willing to engage reporters in dialogue, occasionally saying too much.
   Until this point in his tenure, George W. Bush has been able to rely on morality and the American public's response to that as the foundation for his rhetorical platform. The recent approach now being taken by critics on all sides, though, lessens the legitimacy of the traditional methods of justifying his and his administration's actions. The Bush administration's supposed professionalism and prowess are really propped up by a vast network of lies, deception, and complicity on behalf of influential organizations. For example, the Center for Security Policy (CSP) recently said that critics of the Bush administration may be fueling resistance to American forces in Iraq and that to criticize Bush is petty and partisan. So, in a sense, CSP is calling for a moratorium on debate regarding incredibly contentious issues, while invoking the specter of national security and the "safety of our troops" as its compelling reasons.
   As the situations facing the Bush administration grow more complex and the presidential election and the campaigning filth it inherently brings draws nearer each week , it's unlikely that the CSP's wishes will be met. The idea that President Bush is literally beyond criticism is likely to offend more than it is to persuade -- especially if one is in disagreement.
Matthew Riemer has written for years about a myriad of topics, such as: philosophy, religion, psychology, culture, and politics. He is the Director of Operations at YellowTimes.org and encourages your comments: mriemer@YellowTimes.org This article was originally posted on YellowTimes.org, at http://www.yellowtimes.org/article.php?sid=1518


 
 

 
ACLU Files First-Ever Challenge to USA PATRIOT Act, Citing Radical Expansion of FBI Power
ACLUPA, July 30, 2003 -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania announced today that the national ACLU had filed the first legal challenge to the USA PATRIOT Act, taking aim at a section of the controversial law that vastly expands the power of FBI agents to secretly obtain records and personal belongings of innocent people in the United States, including citizens and permanent residents.
   "Ordinary Americans should not have to worry that the FBI is rifling through their medical records, seizing their personal papers, or forcing charities and advocacy groups to divulge membership lists," said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU and the lead attorney in the lawsuit.
   "We know from our clients that the FBI is once again targeting ethnic, religious, and political minority communities disproportionately," she added. "Investing the FBI with unchecked authority to monitor the activities of innocent people is an invitation to abuse, a waste of resources, and is certainly not making any of us any safer."
   As the ACLU described in a report released today, Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act violates constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures as well as the rights to freedom of speech and association. The report, Unpatriotic Acts: The FBI's Power to Rifle Through Your Records and Personal Belongings Without Telling You, describes how the law:
   -- Violates the Fourth Amendment by allowing the FBI to search and seize records or personal belongings without a warrant, without showing probable cause -- and without ever notifying even innocent people of the searches;
   -- Violates the First Amendment because it allows the FBI to easily obtain information about a person's reading habits, religious affiliations, Internet surfing and other expressive activities that would be "chilled" by the threat of investigation;
   -- Violates the First Amendment by imposing a "gag order" that prohibits those served with Section 215 orders from telling anyone -- ever -- that the FBI demanded information, even if the information is not tied to a particular suspect and poses no risk to national security.
   "The law as written must not stand," said David DiSabatino, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The government currently has the ability to get any record on you it wants, without probable cause, without a court being able to exercise real oversight, and the person providing the records may not say no or ever tell anyone that government agents were there. This lawsuit challenges powers the government should never have been given in the first place."
   The ACLU filed the lawsuit in federal court in Detroit, Michigan, today on behalf of six advocacy and community groups from across the country whose members and clients believe they are currently the targets of investigations because of their ethnicity, religion and political associations. The lawsuit names Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller as the defendants.
   The groups participating in the lawsuit are: Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor (MCA), which operates a mosque and school in Ann Arbor, MI; American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a national civil rights organization based in Washington, DC; Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), a human services organization based in Dearborn, MI that operates a medical clinic as well as a center for refugees and torture victims; Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services ("Bridge"), based in Knoxville, TN; Council on American-Islamic Relations, a grassroots membership organization based in Washington, DC; and The Islamic Center of Portland, Masjed As-Saber, which operates a mosque and school, based in Portland, OR.
   Mary Lieberman, executive director of Bridge, was approached twice by FBI agents seeking information about Iraqi refugees. The second time, the FBI served Bridge with a subpoena for all records relating to its Iraqi clients.
   "Many of our Iraqi clients were granted asylum here because they helped the American military during Desert Storm and were then persecuted by Saddam Hussein," Lieberman said. "It is unacceptable that the United States government is now treating them like criminals and terrorists."
   Because the FBI subpoena served on Bridge was not issued under the PATRIOT Act, Bridge was able to fight it in court. However, Lieberman said she is concerned that the FBI could return with a PATRIOT Act order that she and her staff could not challenge or even discuss publicly.
   Nazih Hassan, president of MCA of Ann Arbor, said that the leadership of his local mosque has been vocal in its criticism of the wide net that has been cast over the Muslim community. "We are very concerned that the FBI is investigating us because of our political activities even though we have done nothing wrong," he said.
   In addition to litigation, the ACLU is supporting coalitions around the country that are working to adopt community resolutions opposing the PATRIOT Act. To date, 143 communities in 27 states have passed such resolutions and dozens more are preparing to do so.
   Lawmakers of all political stripes have finally begun to reconsider controversial portions of the PATRIOT Act. Just last week, an overwhelming majority of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to bar the Department of Justice from executing "sneak and peek" searches in criminal investigations. That particular PATRIOT Act provision allowed the government to secretly search people's homes or offices without telling them until weeks later.
   Significantly, the launch of the ACLU's suit coincides with a Justice Department public forum set for tonight at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit. The event appears to be a strategy by the Justice Department to ease rising public concern about its use of the PATRIOT Act and other post-9/11 anti-civil liberties measures.
   As at similar events around the country, protesters are expected at the forum. The ACLU will also hold a media availability outside the forum venue featuring one of the litigators in the PATRIOT lawsuit and members of the state affiliate. Michigan Rep. John Conyers (D) -- one of the main opponents of the Justice Department's expanded surveillance and enforcement powers -- will also be present.
   In addition to Beeson, attorneys in the case are Jameel Jaffer of the national ACLU and Michael Steinberg, Noel Saleh and Kary Moss of the ACLU of Michigan.
   The ACLU's complaint is available through its website located at www.aclu.org.
The ACLU, whose mission is to fight civil liberties violations wherever and whenever they occur, is the nation's largest public interest law firm, with a 50-state network of staffed, autonomous affiliate offices..Visit ACLU of PA at http://www.aclupa.org/


 
 

 
Online Voting in 2004
excerpt from Democracy Dispatches, Number 36, July 30, 2003 -- Thousands of eligible voters will be able to cast their vote on the internet for the 2004 presidential elections. The Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE) began with the 2000 election and included 84 voters. The project will allow persons serving in the military and Americans living abroad to register and cast their ballot on-line. The program is run by the Pentagon and is limited to a number of states that allow emailed and/or non-paper absentee ballots. Various states have expressed interest, including Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
   While many agree that internet voting will increase turnout, computer security experts fear that the project gives an open invitation to election tampering and internet viruses. A team of the nation’s top computer security experts has joined the project to identify and guard against possible threats. To find out more about the pilot program visit www.serveusa.gov. AP 7/12/03, Charlotte Observer 7/13/03, Chattanooga Times Free Press 7/13/03
Democracy Dispatches is a publication of Demos. This issue can be viewed online at http://www.demos-usa.org/demos/democracy_reform/dispatches36/.


 
 

 
DNA Exoneration of Pa. Death Row Prisoner Prompts Renewed Calls for Study and Moratorium
Action Needed from State Officials to Prevent Wrongful Convictions
PAUDP, Philadelphia, July 28, 2003 -- Today's Federal Court filing of DNA test results exonerating Nicholas Yarris, a Delaware County man on death row for the past 21 years, is prompting renewed calls for a moratorium on executions and a thorough review of the Pennsylvania death penalty system. The tests, conducted by Dr. Edward Blake, a nationally recognized expert in the field, excluded Yarris in the 1981 rape and murder of Linda Craig. This is the first DNA exoneration of a death row prisoner in Pennsylvania history; it is the fifth exoneration of a death row prisoner since the Commonwealth reinstated capital punishment in 1978.
  More than 250 organizations in Pennsylvania have issued moratorium resolutions in recent years, including the Pa. Bar Association, the Pa. Catholic Conference of Bishops, and the City Councils of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, and six other municipalities. On March 4, 2003, the Pa. Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System released a report recommending an immediate moratorium on executions citing evidence of racial bias and the failure of the Commonwealth to ensure competent representation for indigent defendants. The Supreme Court committee called upon the governor, the legislature, and the courts to immediately halt the execution process. Gov. Rendell responded by dismissing the moratorium recommendation, stating that he has not seen "compelling evidence" to warrant such action.
  "The death sentencing of an individual for a crime he didn't convict is one of the greatest nightmares facing a democratic society intent on clinging to the death penalty," stated Jeff Garis, Executive Director of Pa. Abolitionists, an 8,000-member organization with chapters across the state. "It is perhaps a central reason why there are virtually no other democratic nations still in the business of executing their citizens. The fact that after 21 years Yarris was 'lucky' enough to have this evidence discovered is by no means proof of 'the system working.' The true killer has escaped justice, a young man's life was destroyed, and the limitations of our justice system have been exposed. Since DNA evidence is available in only a small number of homicide cases - approximately 15% -- this exoneration should cause us to consider the fact that 85% of death penalty cases can never be 'scientifically verified.' An erroneous conviction of this magnitude is ample evidence of a problem. The vast majority of reasonable people - both for and against the death penalty - can agree that no executions should take place until we can be certain that there aren't other innocent people on death row."
  Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States in 1976, there have been 108 people convicted of capital crimes, sentenced to death, and later exonerated after spending on average more than eight years in prison. Of these, only 12 cases involved DNA evidence. During the same time period, 869 prisoners were executed, three of them in Pa. There are currently 239 people on the state's death row, the fourth highest number in the U.S.
Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty is a nonviolent direct action movement to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania, with 6,000+ supporters throughout the state.


 
 



 
47 States Now In Public Comment Phase of Help America Vote Act
excerpt from Democracy Dispatches, Number 35, July 3, 2003 -- The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires that each state create a plan describing how it will use federal funds to comply with the new federal voting mandates. The plan should be formulated by an advisory commission, appointed by the chief election officer in the state. A draft plan must be made available for public comments for thirty days before finalization and submission to Washington.
  Many of the commissions have been generally representative of the states voters, including both election officials and members of advocacy organizations. Some have been very exclusive, excluding almost all representation of various voter constituencies.
  California, Indiana, Nebraska and Texas have had excellent representation from different sectors of the electorate. California commission members include the Coalition for Living Wage, California Council of the Blind, MALDEF, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, NALEO, California State Student Association and several other local advocacy organizations and government agencies. Nebraska’s commission produced a preliminary report, most of which was incorporated into the plan later put forward by the Secretary of State. Indiana had great outreach. Early comments by its commission members found their way into a draft plan that was then shared with community organizations like the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, and disability rights organizations. Texas had similar groups on its commission including ACLU, NAACP, League of Women Voters, and Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, to name a few.
  By contrast, membership of the New York HAVA commission has been highly restricted. Voter representation was limited to two individuals from disability organizations, and the League of Women Voters. No groups protected under the Voting Rights Act were selected. The situation in Pennsylvania has been even worse. The two “public members” of the commission are legislative staff to two state senators.
  47 states now have their plans online for public comment. Visit our HAVA site at www.demos-usa.org/demos/hava to view them all. A number of state legislatures have also passed legislation to implement various plan proposals. Stay tuned for an updated, state-by-state analysis on state implementation of HAVA. (See: Pennsylvania HAVA and Draft Plan) (these links will open in a new browser window)


 
 

 
U.S. Office for Civil Rights Investigates PSSA's Impact on English Language Learners
Pennsylvania School Reform Network and Education Law Center, June 30, 2003 -- The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education has announced that it will investigate whether Pennsylvania’s state testing program, known as the PSSA, is unfair to children whose native language is not English.
  The announcement comes in response to a complaint filed last year by the Education Law Center, a public education advocacy group. According to the complaint, the state requires all students to take the tests, but does little to ensure that the tests are understandable to children with limited English.
  Some administrators and teachers have noted that, for some children from language backgrounds other than English, taking the PSSA is an impossible – and upsetting – task.
  "School districts are all over the map on this," said Marcia Kile, ESL Coordinator for Migrant and ESL programs at Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12. "Some translate the test directions and give other kinds of extra help. Other districts don’t have the staff to do those things, and may be uncertain about whether they’re even allowed. Specific guidelines for accommodations for English Language Learners do not exist. Additionally, an efficient and comprehensive plan for distribution of accommodation information to assure that it reaches principals and teachers is lacking."
   PSSA scores are used to determine whether children are making adequate progress in school. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, a 2001 law, low PSSA scores can subject a district or school to "corrective action" by the state.
  PSSA scores are also sent to parents, shown on student transcripts, and used in determining whether a high school graduate receives a "certificate of distinction."
  "If we’re going to make decisions about children based on their test scores, those scores have got to be valid," said Len Rieser, co-director of the Law Center. "We’re pleased that the Office of Civil Rights has decided to proceed with this investigation."
  A copy of the complaint filed by ELC in July 2002 can be obtained by going to www.elc-pa.org/ELL/Assessment (clicking this link will open page in a separate browser window) and by clicking on "ELC Complaint to OCR re PSSA (July 2002).doc"
The Education Law Center is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all of Pennsylvania’s children have access to a quality public education. For more information please visit our web sites: www.psrn.org, www.elc-pa.org


 
 

 
Inspiration for Weary Educators!
excerpt from PEN Weekly NewsBlast, June 27, 2003 -- They leave your school and you may never see them again. They grow and mature, but in your mind, they're still those half-child, half-adult kids you invested a year of your life in. Will the lessons you've tried to impart take root and grow? Here's some end-of-the-year inspiration from the What Kids Can Do website -- a collection of out-of-the-ordinary graduation speeches that should fill you with hope. As one teacher puts it, they offer "strong, youthful voices articulating what matters most to them." http://www.whatkidscando.org/intheirownwords/gradspeeches03.html
(this website will open in a new browser window)

 
 

 
Striking Down Texas Law Against Same-Sex "Sodomy," Supreme Court Rights Egregious Wrong of 17 Years, Signaling New Era for Gay Rights
ACLU of PA, June 26, 2003 -- In an historic decision with wide-ranging implications, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down a Texas law that makes some kinds of sexual intimacy a crime, but only for gay people.
  The decision overrules the court's 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, which was widely condemned for treating gay people as second-class citizens. It was hailed by the American Civil Liberties Union as a major milestone in the fight for constitutional rights. "Even though private intimacy hasn't been against the law in Pennsylvania for many years, this is a huge victory for gay people here and everywhere in the United States. The Supreme Court has said once and for all that lesbian and gay relationships can't be made a crime," said David DiSabatino, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "That means there is no excuse for any kind of discrimination against gay people anymore."
  In sweeping language, the Court said the Constitution protects the right of gay people to form intimate relationships and "retain their dignity as free persons." Gay people, the Court said, have the same right to "define one's concept of existence, of meaning, or the universe, and of the mystery of human life," that heterosexuals do. The Bowers decision, the Court said, "demeans the lives of homosexual persons." "This decision will affect virtually every important legal and social question involving lesbians and gay men," said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "For years, whenever we have sought equality, we've been answered both in courts of law and in the court of public opinion with the claim that we are not entitled to equality because our love makes us criminals. That argument - which has been a serious block to progress -- is now a dead letter." Esseks added, "from now on, cases and political debates about employment, custody and the treatment of same-sex couples should be about merit, not about who you love."
  Since 1986, lower courts have relied on Bowers v. Hardwick to take away or limit custody to gay parents and to uphold firing or refusing to hire gay people. Bowers has frequently been invoked in legislative debates as a reason not to protect gay people from discrimination.
  "With this decision, the Court has finally recognized that we are part of the American family. Now it's time for the rest of society to do the same," Esseks said. "Our civil rights laws need to make the workplace fair, our schools safe, and to give basic respect to the relationships at the core of our lives--with our partners and our children. By acknowledging that we are not criminals, this decision will make it far easier for us to get society to change."
  In an 18-page opinion, the Court held that the Texas law violates the fundamental right to privacy protected by the U.S. Constitution. The decision means that similar laws against sexual intimacy in the 12 other states that have them are also invalid. These include laws in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma that apply only to gay people as well as laws in Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Utah, which make "sodomy" a crime for all people.
  "Justice Brandeis said over 75 years ago that the 'right to be let alone' is the right most valued by civilized people, and most Americans agree," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "This decision is all the more important because it comes at a time when the right to privacy is under one of the greatest assaults it has ever faced."
  The Court overruled its 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick in unusually strong terms. "Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today," the Court said. Bowers was an ACLU challenge to Georgia's "sodomy" law, which applied to all couples. In Bowers, the Court held that the right to privacy did not invalidate Georgia's sodomy law.
  "Although Georgia's sodomy law applied to straight and gay couples," said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU, "the Court treated it as a case about the constitutionality of laws making same-sex intimacy a crime." The lower courts, Shapiro explained, "understood Bowers to permit discrimination against gay people in criminal laws and in many other areas as well. This decision establishes that the state has no place in anybody's bedroom, straight or gay."
  It is not immediately clear what effect the Court's decision will have on Matthew Limon, whose case is still pending before the Supreme Court. Limon, who is represented by the ACLU, was convicted of having consensual oral sex with another male when they were both teenagers. Had the other teenager been a girl, Limon would be serving no more than a 15-month sentence. Because the other teenager was boy, Kansas law required that Limon be sentenced to 17 years in Kansas state prison. Limon's case is based not on the right to privacy, but on the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law. However, the Kansas Courts relied on Bowers in rejecting Limon's appeal. The Supreme Court could send his case back to the Kansas courts, which should free him.
  The ACLU has developed a public education campaign designed to help LGBT people take advantage of this historic decision to push for equality. To support the campaign, the ACLU has launched a new website, www.aclu.org/getequal, that provides tools for fighting anti-gay discrimination, making schools safer for LGBT youth and getting equality for LGBT relationships.
  The petitioners in Lawrence, two Texas men who were arrested after police broke into their home to investigate an anonymous tip that turned out to be false, were represented by Lambda Legal.
 
 

 
Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom Applauds Supreme Court Decision
Laura Montgomery Rutt, June 26, 2003 -- The Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom today applauded the decision by the United States Supreme Court in Lawrence v Texas overturning Texas's sodomy law. Until today, it had been illegal in 13 states for same-sex couples to engage in certain types of sexual behavior in their own homes.
  The Texas case began when police responded to a false report of a weapons disturbance and busted into John Lawrence's home. Although the police found no weapons, they did find Mr. Lawrence with Tyrone Garner engaged in sex and arrested them both. Texas courts found both men guilty and today's decision overturns those convictions.
  "This is a great day for all people because the Supreme Court has recognized that our government has no place in our bedrooms, nor can they single out gay and lesbian people for criminal punishment. The Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom celebrates this decision with millions of others across the United States," said Laura Montgomery Rutt, Executive Director of the Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom. "I hope now Rick Santorum realizes that he is out of step with not only the Supreme Court, but with most Americans."
  Earlier this year, PA Sen. Rick Santorum told The Associated Press, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery, you have the right to anything." Santorum defended his remarks but some fellow Republicans distanced themselves from them.
  ""I never thought the government had a place in our bedrooms anyway,"said John Wolff, board member of the Alliance. "It is about time we had some good news during this administration!"
   Today's decision overturned both the Texas court decision in Lawrence v. Texas and the1986 Supreme Court decision in the Bowers v Hardwick case that upheld Georgia sodomy laws. According to CNN, the late Justice Lewis Powell, the deciding vote in the Bowers decision, later said he probably made a mistake with his decision on that case. Today's decision corrected that mistake.
The Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom is a grassroots organization headquartered in Lancaster County, whose purpose is to promote tolerance, diversity, and social justice.


 
 

 
Pennsylvania Senate Votes to Ban Executing Mentally Retarded
Bill would ensure compliance with U.S. Supreme Court ruling

Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty, June 17, 2003 -- In an historic vote to fulfill a U.S. Supreme Court mandate banning the execution of persons with mental retardation, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a landmark bill Tuesday by a 48-1 vote.
   The bill, which enjoyed strong support from mental retardation advocacy groups and service providers, passed the Senate nearly one year after the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. Since that decision, states which previously permitted such individuals to be sentenced to death have been required to pass legislation that will bring them into compliance with the high court's ruling. Senate Bill 26 now moves to the House of Representatives.
   A conservative estimate by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association indicates that at least 10 percent of the nearly 240 prisoners on the state's death row are mentally retarded.
   "We commend the 48 senators who voted in support of Senate Bill 26 and the U.S. Constitution, particularly those legislators who, while supporting the death penalty, recognize that it is our moral and legal responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in society," said Jeff Garis, executive director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty.
   While states are free to adopt varying definitions for mental retardation, the Supreme Court ruled that they could not adopt a definition that encompasses a smaller group of defendants, nor could they fail to protect anyone who is considered mentally retarded under a definition within the national consensus. Individuals with an IQ of 70 or below are generally considered to have mental retardation, a condition which manifests itself in childhood. The bill passed by the Pennsylvania Senate bans the execution of those with an IQ of 70 or below and who have "significantly sub-average intellectual functioning and significant impairments in adaptive behavior."  A major point of contention in the bill's development was the provision for pre-trial determination of mental retardation by a judge. An amendment proposed by Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) calling for a post-conviction jury determination of mental retardation was defeated 38-11.
   "It is our position that the near-unanimous, bipartisan support for this bill in the Senate demands that the leadership of the House of Representatives take swift and decisive action to bring Pennsylvania into compliance with the Atkins decision," Garis said. "Only SB26 - which is supported by experts in the field of mental retardation and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare - can meet this critical standard.
   "Additionally, in these times of fiscal crisis, this courageous action could save Pennsylvania taxpayers countless millions by avoiding frivolous and unconstitutional capital prosecutions."
Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty is a nonviolent direct action movement to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania, with 6,000+ supporters throughout the state.
link to homepage
 
 

 
BSA Squelches Change?
Brian Willoughby, Tolerance.org, June 12, 2003 -- What at first appeared to be a bold move by the third-largest Boy Scout council in the nation to stop discriminating against gay members now appears to have been watered down by the national office.
   Scouting for All, an organization dedicated to eliminating discrimination against gays and atheists in Boy Scouts, announced troubling news Wednesday.
   What appeared to the be a bold move toward anti-discrimination against gays by the Cradle of Democracy Boy Scout Council in Philadelphia has been softened into a less dramatic don't ask, don't tell policy.
   The news comes from Scott Cozza, president of Scouting for All:
   "Scouting for All has learned that Scout Executive William Dwyer of the Cradle of Liberty Council was soundly reprimanded by BSA National leadership in a closed-door meeting during the BSA's recent National Scout Council Conference May 28-31 in Philadelphia. The result of the reprimand has been a complete watering down of the Council's brave attempt at a strong anti-discrimination policy."
   In addition, Cozza reports that Cradle of Liberty has subsequently kicked out a gay and atheist scout, just shy of his Eagle Scout project.
   The BSA national office and Cradle of Liberty continue not to return phone calls from Tolerance.org. Cozza concludes: "We can only hope that someday soon there will be a groundswell of moral courage within the ranks of regular scouting itself, that will be strong enough to overcome the bigotry of BSA National. That is what we are all working for."
Tolerance.org is a principal online destination for people interested in dismantling bigotry and creating, in hate's stead, communities that value diversity.


 
 
 
Moratorium Proponents Applaud Pa. Supreme Court Committee Recommendation; Demands for a Suspension on Executions Renewed
PAUADP, March 4, 2003 -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System recommended today that the governor and legislature order a moratorium on executions until the Commonwealth can ensure that the death penalty is administered fairly. The 550-page report also recommended the implementation of statewide standards for attorneys defending capital cases at both the trial and appellate levels. Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty applauds the committee and once again urges Governor Rendell and the legislature immediately suspend death warrants and executions in the state.
  "The committee stated what we've been saying for years: Pennsylvania's death penalty system is biased, broken, and needs to halted," said Jeff Garis, executive director of Pa. Abolitionists. "Legislators like Senator Ed Helfrick (R - Northumberland) and Senator Allen Kukovich (D - Westmoreland) have for years proposed moratorium legislation that addresses the extreme racial bias and inadequate legal counsel inherent in the state's administration of capital punishment. The time for decisive leadership on this issue is now. The time for a moratorium on executions in Pa. is long overdue."
  Racial bias in the system is obvious, according to Pa. Abolitionists. Nearly 70% of those on death row in PA are minorities. A stunning 84% of those sentenced to death from Philadelphia are African-American.
  "Pennsylvania's death row looks disturbingly like South Africa's under apartheid," Garis said.
  72% of Pennsylvanians support a moratorium on executions in order to study issues of fairness, according to a poll of 509 registered voters by Madonna Yost Opinion Research conducted in February, 2001.
  "Whether one fundamentally supports or opposes the death penalty, the basic demands of justice and fairness make clear that a moratorium on executions is a necessity," Garis said.
Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty is a nonviolent direct action movement to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania, with 6,000+ supporters throughout the state.
link to homepage
 
 

 
ACLU Applauds Decision of Two PA Universities to Offer Domestic Partnership Benefits to Lesbian and Gay Employees
ACLU of PA, February 14, 2003 -- The American Civil Liberties Union today praised Temple and Drexel Universities for deciding to provide domestic partnership benefits to their lesbian and gay employees and urged other employers to follow their leadership.
  "Thanks to Temple and Drexel Universities, this will truly be a happy Valentine's Day for many same-sex couples," said Larry Frankel, Legislative Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The ACLU congratulates these schools for deciding to treat their gay and lesbian employees equally."
  "We hope that everyone will respect this move to do what is fair for workers and what is critical for attracting and retaining many highly skilled and motivated workers," Frankel added. "The ACLU expects that business and community leaders as well as fair-minded legislators and Governor Rendell will support these schools for doing the right thing."
  In Pennsylvania, the ACLU has been extensively involved in efforts to obtain domestic partnership benefits for lesbians and gay men. The ACLU participated in the effort that led to the enactment of domestic partnership laws in Philadelphia and is helping to defend those laws in a case that is currently before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
  The ACLU is also battling the University of Pittsburgh in an ongoing lawsuit aimed at securing domestic partnership benefits for that school's employees. Reacting to the news regarding Temple and Drexel Universities, Witold "Vic" Walczak, Legal Director for the ACLU's Greater Pittsburgh Chapter said: "The ACLU hopes the decision by these fine universities will motivate the University of Pittsburgh and other schools in the state to follow suit. Temple and Drexel have joined more than a hundred prestigious schools across the country in recognizing that in order to attract the top professors and remain competitive in the academic world, they must treat all employees equally."


 
 

 
ACLU of Pennsylvania Discusses Legislative Priorities
Larry Frankel, February 5, 2003 -- (LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES FOR 2003-2004, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF PENNSYLVANIA, STATEMENT OF LARRY FRANKEL, LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR, PRESENTED TO THE PENNSYLVANIA HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE ON FEBRUARY 5, 2003)
  The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is the state affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Founded in 1920, the ACLU is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to defending and protecting individual rights and personal freedoms.
  The ACLU of Pennsylvania has around 11,000 members. We have a legislative program and I am the Legislative Director for the organization. We also have two full time litigators and numerous private attorneys work on many of our cases.
  We frequently present testimony at public hearings of the House Judiciary Committee (and other Committees of the General Assembly as well). We also provide members with our analysis of pending legislation that we think has an impact on constitutional rights and individual freedom. And we make sure that the public, through the media, knows our views on public policy matters.
  Last session we supported the passage of SB 592 that provides for post-conviction DNA testing and Senate Resolution 149 that authorizes a study of the problems associated with the large number of seriously ill and elderly prisoners in Pennsylvania’s prisons. We are encouraged that both of these measures received widespread support from the members of the General Assembly and hope that they represent the beginning of a serious consideration of significant issues that impact on the quality of justice dispensed by our criminal justice system and the smart use of limited resources to effectively protect all of the citizens of this Commonwealth.
  During the last session we also lobbied on the death penalty, election reform, Internet censorship, creationism, racial profiling, religious freedom and reproductive rights.
  During the 2003-2004 legislative session we believe that the House Judiciary Committee must face up to the fact that our state prisons are overcrowded. Just last week we learned that there are more than 40,000 inmates in Pennsylvania’s state prisons. We look forward to the Department of Corrections’ proposed sentencing reforms that could significantly reduce the amount of time nonviolent offenders spend in prison.
  The ACLU of Pennsylvania hopes that you will show restraint in passing further laws that could aggravate the prison-overcrowding problem. We urge you to study other alternatives to incarceration and consider how the threat of imprisonment can be used to induce more convicted individuals to take part in a variety of rehabilitation or training programs as a condition for remaining out of prison.
  We also hope to see the legislature address problems with the death penalty. We know that you intend to take up the issue of persons with mental retardation and we hope that you will pass a bill that contains a definition of mental retardation that is consistent with what we see around the nation and that outlines a procedure that is fair to those who are persons with mental retardation. (Please see attached document summarizing our views on how Pennsylvania should respond to the United States Supreme Court decision that imposing the death penalty of persons with mental retardation is unconstitutional).
  But we also think you should consider studying some of the reforms to the death penalty that have been suggested over the last few years, including: training of defense counsel and provision of adequate funding for defense experts and investigators; videotaping of police interrogation of defendants as well as their confessions; and development of mechanisms to guard against the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty due to the race of the victim or the county where the case is prosecuted. As a result of the work that our Pittsburgh office has done in Allegheny and Venango Counties, we have learned that Pennsylvania’s failure to provide any state funding for indigent defense has caused serious problems in most public defender offices throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in rural, economically distressed counties. We think that it would be prudent for the House Judiciary Committee to start looking at the problems associated with lack of state support for indigent defense. Pennsylvania is one of only two states (the other being South Dakota) that does not provide any state funding for public defenders. State funding is critical for small rural counties that may have a small tax base but are obligated to pay for public defenders.
  Finally, I would like to summarize our position on tort reform. The ACLU of Pennsylvania believes you must tread carefully in this area to make sure that you are not taking away the right of any citizen to go to court to seek a remedy for injuries he or she has suffered as a result of the negligent or intentional conduct of another. For us the essential question is whether the average citizens of this Commonwealth will continue to enjoy meaningful access to our courts. Measures that diminish that access will inevitably mean less justice in Pennsylvania.


 
 

 
Death Penalty Opponents Denounce Signing of Warrant
Jeff Garis, February 7, 2003 -- Death-penalty opponents and human rights activists throughout Pennsylvania join together to condemn Gov. Rendell's decision to sign his first death warrant while reiterating their call for him to impose a moratorium on executions.
  On Wednesday, the governor signed a death warrant for the execution of Robert Fisher of Montgomery County. Fisher, who has been on death row for almost 14 years, is scheduled to be executed on April 3. Rendell recently acknowledged that the state's death penalty system is flawed, saying, "Obviously, [in] any system run by men and women, there will be errors." Yet he has indicated he would not impose a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania as the former governors of Illinois and Maryland did in their states.
  "We're extremely disappointed with Governor Rendell's actions," said Jeff Garis, executive director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty. "While there is ample evidence and public demand for a comprehensive system-wide review of the application of the death penalty, the governor has instead moved forward with the execution process."
  Of the 244 death row prisoners in Pennsylvania, 169 (nearly 70 percent) are people of color. More than 90 percent of Pennsylvania's death row prisoners were too poor to afford a lawyer for their initial trial and were left with under funded court-appointed counsel. Since the reinstatement of capital punishment in Pennsylvania, four death row prisoners have been exonerated and released, while three executions took place.
  "Whether one supports or opposes capital punishment, minimal standards of justice require that, when a life is at stake, there can be no room for error, bias, or the slightest hint of unfairness," Garis said. "Pennsylvania's application of the death penalty has strong evidence of all these things, and it needs to be suspended and studied."
Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty is a grassroots organization with more than 7,000 members throughout the state.


 
 


Bush Tax and Budget Plans: Radical and Irresponsible
When It Comes to Education and Other Urgent Needs, Bush Administration's Budget Doesn't Match Its Rhetoric
People for the American Way, February 6, 2003 -- The $2.23 trillion federal budget that President Bush sent to Congress this week effectively asks House and Senate members to serve as willing accomplices in a scheme that seriously shortchanges children, seniors, low-income families and others who are among the most vulnerable Americans. The president's new budget demonstrates that the Bush moniker of "compassionate conservative" is a veneer, not the values guiding this White House.
  "Most states are facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis, the budget deficit is rapidly growing, and our nation is poised to enter a war with Iraq that experts say could cost at least $100 billion. In this climate, it is unthinkable that a president would embrace tax and budget policies that are this radical and irresponsible," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way.
  President Bush's $674 billion in tax cuts include eliminating taxes on stock dividends and accelerating his original tax cuts. Additionally, the president hopes to make the original 2001 tax cuts permanent. The Bush tax cuts are tilted heavily to benefit the wealthy over Americans who are more likely to be unemployed or otherwise in need. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Bush tax cuts would give millionaires an average windfall of over $90,000, compared with middle-class Americans who would receive an average of only $256.
  These changes in tax policy would have a devastating and long-lasting impact. Through the year 2013, by the Administration's own estimates, more than $1.8 trillion in federal revenue would disappear. And this does not include the costs of several items on the President's agenda that could increase the price tag to over $2 trillion. This evaporating revenue will slowly starve public schools, environmental protection, public health programs and civil rights enforcement of desperately needed funds.
  In proposing his newest round of reckless tax cuts, the president has taken a page from the playbook of ultra-conservative activist and Bush loyalist Grover Norquist who said two years ago that his goal was to cut government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." The nation's most vulnerable citizens will pay the price for these tax cuts, and schoolchildren are among them.

Funding for 46 Education Programs Vanishes
Since the president has often expressed the desire to "leave no child behind," examining education funding offers a glaring example of the gap between the Bush budget and the Bush rhetoric. While the budget proposes an increase of $2.8 billion for education, roughly two-thirds of this spending increase will be absorbed by previous shortfalls in the Pell Grant program.
  Worst of all, the president proposes to wipe out funding for 46 education programs. These 46 programs include Rural Education, the National Writing Project, Arts in Education, dropout prevention programs, Native American programs, and other programs that benefit children, parents and teachers. While the Bush budget provides $25 million to help charter schools renovate their facilities, it fails to fund emergency school construction to serve the vast majority of public schools.
  Even as the Bush administration turns its back on the nation's commitment to public education, it reserves its compassion for private schools by proposing to spend $75 million in new funding for vouchers. And the White House proposes to sacrifice $226 million in revenue for tax-credit vouchers—refundable tuition tax credits for private or religious schools.
  With these proposals, President Bush reduces his often-repeated desire to "leave no child behind" to a cynical slogan. Here are some examples of the gap between the president's budget plan and his rhetoric on education:

At-Risk Students -- President Bush has said the nation has an obligation "to make sure that every child has a fair chance to succeed" and has called education "the great civil rights issue of our time." Yet the president's budget eliminates all $235 million in funding for the Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) program, which has helped high-poverty and low-achieving schools in all 50 states develop strategies to raise student achievement. The president's elimination of CSR funds defies the view expressed by the U.S. Department of Education, which reports on its Web site that CSR uses "measurable goals and benchmarks" and "is an important component" of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Quality Teachers -- Last March, President Bush has said that "a good teacher can literally make a lifelong difference" for a child, but his budget proposal says something else. The president's budget completely eliminates funds for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, removes all funding for the Ready to Teach program, and freezes Title II-Teacher Quality block grants for the second straight year.

Parental Involvement -- Last year, President Bush explained that a key benefit of the No Child Left Behind Act was that "[p]arents will have more information about the performance of their local schools and more say in how their children are educated." Yet the Bush budget totally eliminates funding for the Act's Parental Assistance Information Centers, which were supposed to be a critical vehicle for giving parents the information, training and support they needed to get more deeply involved in their children's schooling.

Safe and Drug-Free Schools -- In his recent State of the Union speech, President Bush declared, "Another cause of hopelessness is addiction to drugs." Yet the president's budget—released only a few days after this speech—slices $50 million from Safe and Drug-Free Schools grants. The president's budget makes even deeper cuts in after-school programs that seek to prevent drug use and violence. Finally, the administration's proposed budget eliminates $32 million that enables schools to hire guidance counselors who assist students with emotional or behavioral issues.

Equal Educational Opportunity -- Earlier this year, President Bush said, "Racial prejudice is a reality in America. It hurts many of our citizens." Yet the president is unwilling to support efforts to level the playing field for all Americans. Only weeks after Bush announced his opposition to affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan, he has unveiled an education budget that completely eliminates the Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity Program, which provides funding to help low-income, minority and disadvantaged students succeed in law school.
People For the American Wayadvocates for the values and institutions that sustain a diverse democratic society; and works in close collaboration with other national and state progressive organizations to mobilize Americans at this defining moment in our history.


 
 

 
Anti-Death Penalty Legislation for 2003
Andy Hoover, December 26, 2002 --  Although we are all using our energy positively at this time of year for family and friends, we still have our eyes on the year ahead in the anti-death penalty movement.
  Our esteemed state legislature is on recess, but our friends on the hill are beginning their work to slowly but surely deconstruct the machinery of state-sponsored death in Pennsylvania. In January, a new two-year legislative session begins; all legislation from the 2001-2002 legislative session that has not been enacted becomes defunct. Aides to Senator Edward Helfrick (R-Northumberland) tell us that he is reintroducing all of the death penalty-related legislation he proposed last session and seeking co-sponsors to be listed on these bills.
  The bills that are being reintroduced are listed below. Brief descriptions of the bills and the current co-sponsors for 2003-2004 are included; senators who are first-time co-sponsors on legislation are noted in parentheses. Has your senator signed on as a cosponsor yet?

- An amendment to the state constitution ending the death penalty (previously SB23) Helfrick, Kukovich, Kitchen, Hughes and Fumo

- A repeal of the death penalty (previously SB24) Helfrick, Kukovich, Kitchen, Hughes and Fumo

- Commissioning of death penalty study with a two-year moratorium on executions during the study (previously SB25) Helfrick, Kukovich, Kitchen, Hughes, Fumo, Mellow and Schwartz

- A ban on the execution of the mentally retarded (previously SB26) *** Helfrick, Kukovich, Kitchen, Hughes, Fumo, Erickson (new), Costa (new) and Mary Jo White
  (*** The "new" SB26 incorporates the "Helfrick Amendment" that was introduced in the Fall of 2002 following the U.S. Supreme Court decision banning the execution persons with mental retardation (Atkins). It conforms to AAMR definitions of mental retardation, enjoys the support of the ARC of Pennsylvania, and incorporates the recommendations of Professor Jim Ellis - a national expert on mental retardation and the law. Its two main provisions are a pre-trial determination of mental retardation and a broad definition of mental retardation meeting the "national consensus" requirement of Atkins.)

- A ban on the execution of juvenile offenders, i.e. those who commit crimes at 17 years of age or younger (previously SB27) Helfrick, Kukovich, Kitchen, Hughes and Fumo

- Creating a mitigating circumstance that allows a victim's family to raise their objections to a death sentence (previously SB28) Helfrick, Costa, Kukovich, Kitchen, Hughes and Fumo

- Prohibiting a prosecutor from pursuing the death penalty when the victim's family opposes it (previously SB29) Helfrick, Kukovich, Kitchen, Hughes and Fumo

  It's the most wonderful time of the year to call your state senator and ask him or her the following questions:
* 1. Do you support or oppose these issues? Why or why not?
* 2. If you support them, will you be a co-sponsor on these bills? Why or why not?
  Constituents are in a very good position to encourage their Senators to co-sponsor legislation that they feel strongly about. Please inform Pa. Abolitionists about any responses you receive from your senator as we are attempting to keep a comprehensive listing of where all state legislators stand on these issues.
  2003 has great potential for the anti-death penalty movement, but nothing will happen if we sit on our hands. Don't let your senator think that we're going away.

Andy Hoover is Co-chairperson of Pa. Abolitionists Moratorium Committee, and Member of Pa. Abolitionists Board of Directors


 
 

 
Human Relations Commission Commends Passage of Hate Crimes Bill
Janet Ney, December 5, 2002 -- The Allentown Human Relations Commission opposes the efforts of any organization that encourages hatred and seeks to disrupt the community. The Commission rejects the efforts of groups like the Westboro Baptist Church while, at the same time, it encourages everyone in the Lehigh Valley to avoiding confrontation or conflict with its members. We emphasize the Morning Call's advice: "Stay Away." (opens article in separate browser window)
  The Human Relations Commission views an attack, whether by words, threat of violence or violence itself, on any members of any group in our community as divisive and an injury to the well-being of the whole community.
  The mission of the Allentown Human Relations Commission is to advance the acceptance and respect of our increasingly diverse population through the enforcement of our civil rights laws and the encouraged use of mediation and education.
  We commend the work of those who will hold alternative activities as a way to show unity and support for all human beings.
  We also celebrate the passage of the Hate Crimes Bill, which adds protection by sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, mental and physical disability, and ancestry to the existing Ethnic Intimidation Act. We commend our local members of the Pennsylvania State Senate and House of Representatives who worked for its passage, and Governor Schweiker, who signed it December 3.
  Janet Ney is the Chairperson of the Allentown Human Relations Commission


 
 

 
Town Rethinks Bayard Rustin School Name
Jen Christensen, Gay.com/PlanetOut.com, November 27, 2002 -- A school board in West Chester, Pa., is reconsidering its decision to name a new high school after the famed former resident and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, in part because he was gay.
  Rustin was the organizer of the 1963 rally at which Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. He was one of Martin Luther King's most important staffers during the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. And even conservative Republican Ronald Reagan praised the civil rights leader upon his death in 1987, saying he had "won the undying love of all who cherish freedom."
  But none of his accomplishments can counter what current West Chester Area School District board member June Cardosi told the Associated Press were her misgivings about naming a school after someone who was openly gay. Former board member Irl M. Duling said many people were also averse to naming a school for someone who avoided service in World War II.
  Rustin, a Quaker and lifelong pacifist, served three years in jail for his conscientious objector status; he was sentenced after refusing to perform alternative service in a non-combat role. "That has bothered some people, as have some other things about his personal life," Duling said. Duling has put together a petition with over 500 signatures from people who said they want the district to find the school another name.
  Nearly that many people went to the board's last meeting about the topic, but a great majority of the people who turned out want to keep Rustin's name. They pointed to his roles in the Freedom Ride to end segregation in the South in 1947 and his role in organizing Martin Luther King Jr's March on Washington. They also mentioned there have been several schools named for Rustin, and none have come with any controversy.
  So far the district hasn't even started construction on the $67 million school. A special committee has a February deadline to decide if the school will be named after Rustin or someone else.



 
 

 
Pennsylvania HOUSE Passes Landmark Hate Crimes Legislation
Bill Adds Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender and Disability to Ethnic Intimidation Act

November 26, 2002, SPARC, Harrisburg -- Today, at 8:45, the Pennsylvania House passed legislation to amend the state’s Ethnic Intimidation Act by adding actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, mental and physical disability, and ancestry to the existing law. This legislation is believed to be the most inclusive language of any hate crimes bill in the country. The bill’s passage was the result of a broad-based community effort from numerous organizations and individuals across the state strong bipartisan support from the leadership in the house.
  The community effort was lead by: the Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition (SPARC), the state’s largest network of individuals and organizations dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) legislative advocacy; the Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Alliance (PA-GALA), the largest gay and lesbian political organization in the state; the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, the state’s only LGBT legal aid and public policy organization; the Pennsylvania Gender Rights Coalition, a statewide organization working for transgender rights; OUTFRONT a public education, legislative advocacy and political action organization, the Log Cabin Republicans of Pennsylvania, Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, parents, friends, families, of lesbians and gays, many LGBTA youth organizations along with a wide variety of student groups across the Commonwealth, among others.
  A number of house members were instrumental in the bill’s passage including several of the amendment’s sponsors, including Steve Nickol, Pat Browne and Lita Cohen. The bill won passage by a 118 to 79 vote after two hours of discussion. "We are all gratified to see that, for the first time in Pennsylvania’s history Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people will be equally protected under the law, said Steve Glassman, SPARC’s co-chair.
  Pennsylvania has joined 27 other states and the District of Columbia in extending hate crimes protections to gay, lesbian and bisexual people and the fifth state to add gender identity. Steve Black, political director of PA-GALA said, "Pennsylvania now has the most inclusive hate crimes law in the country - we applaud the legislature for taking this step to protect all Pennsylvanians from hate crimes."
  Stacey L. Sobel, Esq., the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights’ executive director, who drafted the bill’s language added, "The legislators who voted for this bill stood up for their most vulnerable constituents and let it be known that we will not condone hate crimes in this state. When this legislation becomes the law, we will finally have the tools we need to aggressively prosecute these crimes and assist victims in Pennsylvania."
  "Working together, we have reminded the legislature that Pennsylvanians are decent people who want every person protected from hate violence," said Mara Keisling, co-chair of Pennsylvania Gender Rights Coalition.


 
 
 

Knowing It by Heart: Americans Consider the Constitution and its Meaning
Public Agenda, November 7, 2002 -- Most Americans admit they don't have detailed knowledge of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but they've absorbed the core values: majority rule, with protection for the rights of all. In our latest study, Knowing It by Heart: Americans Consider the Constitution and its Meaning, conducted for the National Constitution Center, Public Agenda found Americans have a regard for the Constitution that is deep but not blind.
  Americans believe the Constitution is a fundamentally great document, but say we should only help other countries imitate it "if they ask." They say rights have to be balanced with the interests of others, and are willing to set aside their own personal views to consider the rights of others. The public also believes that society still falls short of providing equal rights to all and that the rich and powerful end up with more rights than the average person.
  You can find out more in our special edition on Knowing It by Heart.(link will open in new window)
Public Agenda is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public opinion research and citizen education organization founded in 1975 to help leaders better understand the public's point of view on major policy issues and to help citizens better understand critical policy issues so they can make their own more informed and thoughtful decisions.


 
 
 
Second-Parent Adoption Victory in PA Supreme Court
August 20, 2002, Women s Law Project -- Today, in a long-awaited, groundbreaking decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a child may be adopted by his or her legal parent's unmarried partner. "Many children are being raised by two loving parents, but only one of them is the child's legal parent, either through birth or prior adoption," explained Susan Frietsche, Staff Attorney for the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women's Law Project and counsel for 75 organizations supporting the adoptions at issue in the case. The Superior Court ruled in 2000 that when parents are not married to each other, the children they are raising cannot be adopted by the second parent. Today's decision overturned that lower court's ruling. "It's a victory for children's rights and a welcome acknowledgment of the hundreds and hundreds of lesbian and gay families in the Commonwealth," said Dabney Miller, Associate Director of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia.
  "I'm thrilled with the Court's decision, because it's a great victory for these kids," said Christine Biancheria, counsel for the petitioners in the case, two families from Lancaster and Erie counties. "Children should not be discriminated against because their parents are lesbian or gay," she continued. "They're entitled to the same benefits, rights, and protections that children in all other families have. Today's decision means that kids in lesbian and gay families can get health insurance, Social Security benefits, inheritance rights, and the right to child support from their other parent."
  The Court's opinion, written by Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala and joined by four other justices without dissent, was anxiously awaited by lesbian and gay parents across the Commonwealth, who are forbidden by state law from marrying and who have been barred from adopting their partners' children since the Superior Court's decision two years ago.
  "With this historic ruling, Pennsylvania joins Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Washington D.C., Vermont, Massachusetts, and other states in recognizing that families come in all shapes and sizes," said David S. Cohen, Staff Attorney for the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia. Among the organizations supporting second-parent adoption are the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association, the Philadelphia Bar Association, the Family Law Section of the Allegheny County Bar Association, the Support Center for Child Advocates, the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, and a growing number of churches and synagogues.
The Women's Law Project is a non-profit women's legal advocacy organization with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

 
 
 
Same-sex Unions recognized, (but not in Lancaster!)
August 19, 2002, Laura Montgomery Rutt -- In a wonderful sequence of recent events, the media and the New York legislature are recognizing same-sex civil unions! On July 27, Associated Press reported that The Fayetteville Observer's wedding announcements included a same-sex couple. The featured couple was married in Vermont in June, and the publisher of the paper said that refusing to run the announcement would have been "hypocritical or even discriminatory." He also said the newspaper would run similar announcements, if a government officially recognizes the union, and at least one partner is from the area.
  Currently, Vermont is still the only state in the US that has legalized same-sex unions. California has a partner registry. Outside the U.S., Nova Scotia, Quebec, England, and Germany have similar registries. Holland is the only country that grants full marriage rights to same-sex couples.
  On August 15, New York City became the first place outside of Vermont and California to recognize same-sex partnerships that take place in other states. Under the legislation, New York City residents who travel to other states to have their union legally recognized would have their union recognized at home.
  Additionally, couples who have had civil unions will be allowed to retain their status if they move to or visit New York City. And to add icing to the cake, the New York Times announced that they would begin printing same-sex union announcements too!
  Here in central PA, Lancaster Newspapers has refused to let gay and lesbian readers use the personal ads to seek companionship. In the obituaries, while the Intelligencer Journal will print life partners regardless of gender or marital status, the New Era will only acknowledge partners who are legally married ­ thus discriminating against same-gender couples. There has yet to be a case where any Lancaster paper has printed a wedding announcement of a same-sex couple, but it is not known if anyone ever tried.
  As far as the classified ads and the obituaries, it is about time that the Lancaster Newspapers stops discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation or the gender of their partner. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a Lancaster couple got married in Vermont and tried to announce it through the Lancaster Newspapers.
  With the new city ordinance now in place that prohibits discrimination based on gender or orientation, it will be interesting to see what will happen if newspaper policy is challenged. Test case, anyone??
Laura Montgomery Rutt is the founder and director of the Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom, http://www.alliancefortolerance.org


 
 
 
ACLU Criticizes Legislation Mandating Voters Photo ID
ACLU of Pennsylvania, August 8, 2002 -- The American Civil Liberties Union today criticized a controversial proposal that would require every voter in Pennsylvania, at every election, to produce either a voter registration card or a government issued photo identification. The ACLU of Pennsylvania called on state lawmakers to oppose this proposal because it would unfairly interfere with the voting rights of Pennsylvanians.
  Larry Frankel, Legislative Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, testified at a hearing of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee held at City Hall, Philadelphia. Frankel characterized the proposal as: “another sad chapter in this country’s blemished history of voter disenfranchisement.”
  Frankel reviewed the long and difficult struggle to expand voting rights in America. He discussed barriers that prevented women, blacks, immigrants, the disabled and the poor from voting. He talked about the historic efforts that have led to the elimination of barriers posed by gender, race and income so that all Americans can participate in the democratic process.
  Frankel noted that: “Unfortunately, there are still some politicians in this country with an unfailing commitment to keeping people from voting. The latest tool of those who seek to disenfranchise voters is a photo identification requirement. The ACLU believes that a photo identification requirement is just an updated barrier to voting that will actually suppress voter turnout.”
  The ACLU was joined by representatives of minority groups, persons with disabilities, public transportation users and the homeless in calling for the defeat of this legislative proposal.

TESTIMONY ON SENATE BILL 824
PRESENTED BY LARRY FRANKEL, LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF PENNSYLVANIA
  Good morning. My name is Larry Frankel and I am the Legislative Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Thank you for inviting us to present testimony on Senate Bill 824. We commend you for holding this hearing so that the public can have an opportunity to learn about this ill-conceived proposal.
  A controversial provision of Senate Bill 824 mandates that every voter, at every election, produce either a voter registration card or a government issued photo identification. The ACLU believes this provision is another sad chapter in this country’s blemished history of voter disenfranchisement. We think this provision should also be considered part of Pennsylvania’s dismal record of resisting the implementation of the Motor Voter law and its attempt to disenfranchise felons even after they have served their prison time.
  The history of voting rights in the United States of America has been an arduous struggle to break down barriers to voting. Many of those barriers are well known. Women were denied the right to vote for many years because they were not men. Blacks were denied the right to vote for many years because they were not white. Hispanics and Asians were denied the right to vote because English was not their first language. People of modest means and the poor were denied the right to vote because they were not property owners. To guarantee the actual disenfranchisement of many groups, literary tests and poll taxes were used to intimidate potential voters, primarily, but not exclusively, in the South.
  The fight to expand the right to vote has been very tough. I would strongly recommend that all of you read Robert Caro’s recently released book covering the legacy of Lyndon Johnson as the leader of the United States Senate. Caro exhaustively documents just how hard it was, in 1957, to enact even the most simple piece of voting rights legislation.
  The poll tax was not made illegal until the 1960s. Congress did not include Asian, Hispanic, Native Americans and Alaskans in the Voting Rights Act until 1975. In 1984, Congress finally mandated that polling and voter registration sites be handicapped accessible. To this day, accessibility issues present a significant barrier to voters with disabilities.
  Even though America has eliminated the barriers posed by gender, race, and income, there are, unfortunately, still some politicians in this country who have an unfailing commitment to keeping people from voting. The latest tool of those who seek to disenfranchise voters is a photo identification requirement. The ACLU believes that this requirement is just an updated barrier to voting and that Senate Bill 824, if enacted, will actually suppress voter turnout.
  There are many voters who do not have any of the required forms of identification because they do not drive, get on a plane or interact with agencies or businesses that require them to produce photo identification. Forcing people to take time and spend money to obtain a piece of photo identification places an unreasonable and unfair burden on these individuals.
  The United States Department of Justice has consistently objected to the use of photo identification as a prerequisite for voting. The Department of Justice has found that this requirement is likely to have a disproportionately adverse impact on minorities. The Federal Election Commission, in 1997, reported to Congress that requiring photo identification would discriminatorily burden citizens in exercising their fundamental right to vote.
  Senate Bill 824 is a throwback to the days when government affirmatively acted to stop people from voting. The ACLU believes that it would be unconscionable and regressive to return to the time when government discouraged people from voting. Pennsylvania should be making it easier for more people to exercise the franchise.
  As I said at the outset of my testimony, Senate Bill 824 should also be considered in light of Pennsylvania’s experience with Motor Voter. Pennsylvania had to be coerced into enacting a Motor Voter law. Most observers believe that implementation of that law has been half-hearted in this Commonwealth. The state and too many counties have never allocated sufficient resources to make sure that people who register to vote actually find their names on the right list of voters come Election Day. Little effort has been made to facilitate counties’ compliance with the law.
  Furthermore, when the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted its Motor Voter law, it also passed a law that barred felons from registering to vote for five years after they were released from prison. Thus, Pennsylvania chose to disenfranchise a powerless group of voters at the very time it was supposed to be enacting a law to make it easier to vote. Fortunately, the felon disenfranchisement statute was struck down as being so irrational as to be unconstitutional. But it was the judicial branch -- not the legislative branch and not the executive branch -- that recognized that voting is a fundamental right not to be interfered with by unreasonable governmental policies.
  Given the national and state history of resistance to expanding the right to vote, it comes as no surprise to see a legislative proposal that so blatantly attempts to make it difficult for some people to vote. This proposal is consistent with a disgraceful history of deliberate indifference, if not outright hostility, to the notion of widespread voter participation in our democratic process. The ACLU strongly opposes this tool of disenfranchisement and we stand ready to work with you in seeing that Senate Bill 824 does not become the law in this state.
  Rather than erecting barriers to voting, we encourage you to move forward with legislation that will increase participation by all voters. We urge you to make sure that all polling places are truly accessible and that all voters have an opportunity to have their votes properly counted. I have attached to my testimony a briefing paper we produced earlier this year that contains several suggestions for bringing about true election reform in Pennsylvania. The ACLU urges you to act on those suggestions.


 
 
 
PA’s DNA Testing Law A "Significant Step" Toward Justice
ACLU, July 11, 2002 -- Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker today signed a bill giving inmates the right to have their DNA tested to prove their innocence, a move applauded by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had long sought the law’s passage.
  "This new law represents a significant step in the right direction to find justice both for the wrongly convicted and crime victims in Pennsylvania," said David DiSabatino, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Wrongly convicted people will finally be able to prove their innocence, and victims and their families will have solid scientific evidence pointing to the real criminal."
  Under the new law, convicts have the right to the testing if their DNA has a bearing on the verdict and the technology was not available at the time of their trial, if their lawyer failed to ask for it, or if a request for government funding for a test had been denied at trial. The bill was originally introduced two years ago by state Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R., Montgomery County).
  In testimony before the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee in Harrisburg last year, Larry Frankel, Legislative Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said that the ACLU strongly supports the legislation “because we believe it will promote justice and fairness in Pennsylvania's criminal courts.” He noted that ten other states had already enacted similar legislation.
  Nationally, the ACLU supports the "Innocence Protection Act," which would allow prisoners on death row to request DNA testing on evidence from their cases that is still in the government's possession. For more information on this legislation, go to http://www.aclu.org/action/dpinnocence107.html


 
 

 
Pennsylvania: House Approves Restrictive Voter ID's
excerpted from Demos Democracy Dispatches, July 22, 2002 -- By a 103 to 96 margin, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved an election reform bill (S.B. 824) that includes restrictive voter ID provisions. The ID provisions were added in an amendment offered by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-12). The bill would require all Pennsylvania voters to show a photo ID or county voter registration card, unless they dissent based on religious grounds. Other non-photo documentary identification (i.e., utility bills, credit cards, EBT cards, or library cards) would not be accepted. Likewise, voters who do not have adequate identification would not be permitted to cast a provisional or affidavit ballot. Voters in Pennsylvania are required only to provide a signature at the polls. The bill was sent to the Senate for consideration but was not taken up before the start of the summer recess.
  If passed into law, Pennsylvania would join South Carolina in having the most restrictive voter ID requirements in the country. South Carolina is currently the only state that leaves voters without an option if they do not have a photo ID at the polls. A number of state photo ID requirements have been overturned by the courts because of their disparate impact on low-income communities and people of color. Advocates from the ACLU and the NAACP have threatened litigation in Pennsylvania if the Senate approves the restrictive voter ID requirement. (compiled by Demos from AP 6/28/02 & 6/29/02, Philadelphia Inquirer 6/28/02 & 7/6/02)
Democracy Dispatches is a regular Demos publication that tracks and analyzes democracy issues in the states through continual contact with a growing network of people committed to improving American democracy. We welcome your suggestions!


 
 

 
Moratorium Advocates Applaud Appeal to Commute Death Sentences for the Mentally Retarded
PAUADP, July 11, 2002 -- Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty commends State Senator Edward Helfrick (R-Northumberland) for calling on Governor Mark Schweiker to commute the unconstitutional death sentences of 26 mentally retarded people currently imprisoned on death row in Pennsylvania. The grassroots, citizen-led organization further renews its appeal to the governor to suspend executions in the state by imposing a moratorium similar to those declared by the governors of Illinois and Maryland.
  "In light of last month's Supreme Court ruling that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded, and based on the testimony by the District Attorney's Association (Pa. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, March 18, 2002) that the Department of Corrections has already identified at least 26 mentally retarded people on Pennsylvania's death row, we join Sen. Helfrick in appealing to Governor Schweiker to immediately commute these death sentences to life sentences," said Jeffrey Garis, executive director of Pa. Abolitionists. Advocates of commuting these cases also point to the high expense to tax-payers if the Commonwealth attempts to preserve these death sentences - attempts that they believe would ultimately be unsuccessful in light of the high court's decision.
  "Recognizing that the mentally retarded comprise more than 10% of the state's death row population, and that there may be even more mentally retarded people unconstitutionally sentenced to death than those already acknowledged by the D.O.C., we again call on our governor to suspend the signing of death warrants until this issue is fully resolved," stated Garis.
  Supporters of a moratorium on executions - including many who do not categorically reject capital punishment - also cite concerns about funding and training standards for court-appointed counsel for impoverished defendants, issues of racial disparities in the Commonwealth's death sentencing patterns (nearly 70% of Pa.'s death row is African-American or Latino), and the growing number of exonerations of those formerly sentenced to death; in the past 20 months, two individuals sentenced to death - William Nieves of Philadelphia and Thomas Kimbell, Jr., of Lawrence County - were acquitted and released by retrial juries after hearing previously-withheld evidence. Kimbell, acquitted on May 3, 2002, became the 101st person sentenced to death to be released in the U.S. since capital punishment was reintroduced in 1976; he is the fourth to be released in Pennsylvania under the current death penalty statute, while three individuals have been executed. One of only 20 states that permitted the execution of the mentally retarded prior to the Court's decision, Pennsylvania currently has the fourth-largest death row in the U.S., with 245 sentenced to death by lethal injection. Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty is a nonviolent direct action movement to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania, with 6,000+ supporters throughout the state.

 
 
 
Statement on the Supreme Court's Voucher Decision
PSRN/ELC, June 27, 2002 -- Although the Supreme Court has upheld the Cleveland voucher program, it is still a bad idea. This ruling forces citizens, through taxes collected under penalty of law, to pay for religious instruction that may be contrary to the taxpayers' own beliefs. The Court's decision therefore undermines a fundamental principle of religious liberty.
   We join the many groups around the country who regret that the Court has, by a narrow vote, taken this dramatic step. We disagree with the Court's idea that giving the money first to parents, and only then to the schools, should make a Constitutional difference.
   We agree with Justice Souter's point, in dissent, that this decision is also a step down a road of governmental involvement with, and regulation of, religious institutions. As Justice Souter points out, even those institutions may come to regret that this line was crossed.
   Fortunately, this decision does not require a state to adopt a Cleveland-like voucher plan, and our state, like most others, has had the wisdom to reject the idea. In fact, the Pennsylvania Constitution appears to prohibit a plan like that in use in Cleveland. Our Constitution states:
   "No appropriation shall be made for charitable, educational or benevolent purposes to any person or community nor to any denomination and sectarian institution, corporation or association: Provided, that appropriations may be made...in the form of scholarship grants or loans for higher educational purposes to residents of the Commonwealth enrolled in institutions of higher learning except that no scholarship, grants or loans for higher educational purposes shall be given to persons enrolled in a theological seminar or school of theology." -- Article III, Section 29
   Section 29 had to be amended to permit grants to individuals for higher education, and even then such grants cannot be used to subsidize religious instruction.
   It seems clear, therefore, that the Pennsylvania Constitution would have to be amended again to permit grants to individuals for basic education. If that occurred, such grants should be subject to the same prohibition against subsidizing religious instruction that applies to grants for higher education.
   Pennsylvania is also a state that is having great difficulty funding its public schools, as this month's budget battles have shown. So long as many of our districts, rural and urban, are having to cut personnel, delay building improvements, and in so many other ways settle for less than what our children deserve, it would make no sense at all to expand an already generous program of subsidies for private and religious schools.
   We urge our Legislature to continue to work to create a fair, high-quality public education system without sacrificing this state's long, proud history of separation of church and state.
By Len Rieser and Janet Stotland Co-Directors, Education Law Center and Timothy Potts, Director, Pennsylvania School Reform Network. For more information please visit our web sites: Pennsylvania School Reform Network at www.psrn.org and Education Law Center at www.elc-pa.org


 
 
 
Death Penalty Opponents Praise Supreme Court Ruling Banning Execution of Mentally Retarded & Call for Moratorium on Executions in Pennsylvania
PAUAPD, June 20, 2002 -- The United States Supreme Court this morning issued a 6-3 opinion declaring that "executions [of mentally retarded defendants] are 'cruel and unusual punishments' prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Federal Constitution." The Court found that legislative judgments, jury decisions, the views of relevant professional organizations, public opinion, and international practices collectively established a consensus against subjecting mentally retarded defendants to the death penalty. Justice Stevens concluded:
  "We are not persuaded that the execution of mentally retarded criminals will measurably advance the deterrent or the retributive purpose of the death penalty. Construing and applying the Eighth Amendment in the light of our 'evolving standards of decency,' we therefore conclude that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution 'places a substantive restriction on the State's power to take the life' of a mentally retarded offender."
  The court's repeated use of the word "execute" rather than "impose" or "seek death" is extremely important to mentally retarded defendants who have already been capitally prosecuted and sentenced to death. If it is unconstitutional to execute these defendants, these defendants are protected against future action by the state (carrying out the death sentence), not just from the imposition of future death sentences. Thus, Pennsylvania and other states may not execute those mentally retarded inmates who have already been sentenced to death.
  Pennsylvania is one of only twenty states that permitted the imposition a death sentence on the mentally retarded. Eighteen other states that have the death penalty had already explicitly banned the practice. Growing concern over the use of the death penalty against the mentally retarded was evident during hearings held by the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee on March 18, 2002. The hearings focused on Senate Bill 26, sponsored by Senator Edward Helfrick (R-Northumberland), which would ban the imposition of the death penalty on mentally retarded defendants. According to testimony from the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has determined that 26 Pennsylvania death row inmates are mentally retarded (slightly more than 10% of the state's death row.) This figure is consistent with estimates available from death rows in other states.
  Based on today's decision and the irreversible nature of the death penalty, Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty renews its call for an immediate suspension of death warrants and executions in this state pending a thorough review of the state's death penalty laws. "The mounting evidence of error, unfairness, and racial bias, coupled with the use of the death penalty primarily against the most marginalized in our society, demands that there be a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania," says Jeff Garis, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists.
Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty is a 6,000-member nonviolent direct action movement to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania.


 
 

 
The Gag Rule, an American Tragedy
Roger E. Buchanan, June 7, 2002 -- If winning is everything then the gag rule is fair play. It is a successful strategy unless you believe in defending and upholding the Constitution of the United States. Our American way of life comes with rules of fair play. The gag rule belongs to an earlier era – an era our founding patriots forcefully rejected.
   Prior to the American and French Revolutions, and the Constitutions they generated, those who formed public policy made full use of the gag rule. The church had truth, the monarch had power, and the masses had ignorance. For many centuries the system of shut up and do what you are told seemed to work. But, along came some notable trouble-makers and a modern world emerged.
   Our revolutionaries changed everything. Early patriots and enemies of the Crown believed that truth could be obtained through science and reason. Power could be taken from the king and given to the people. Universal education would put ignorance to flight and bring forth a new human being guided by enlightened self-interest.
   To achieve this new era it was necessary for the patriots to put safeguards in place in the new government. The government itself had to refrain from making an alliance with the church and form a new religious establishment. It was the intent of our new government to encourage full public debate and the participation of her enlightened citizens in the development of emerging public policy. Our new nation boldly eliminated restrictions on speech, the press and public assembly. Our revolution gave us the freedom to acquire an education, talk about issues, write down our opinions and take action with others. Our founders did all of this, putting their wealth and lives on the line, convinced that the new era would be one of liberty and justice for all. Their vision is our heritage - the American dream.
   Today there is disturbing evidence that many are no longer moved by the passions that gripped the hearts and imaginations of the Founding Fathers three centuries earlier. A new religious establishment, the so-called religious right relentlessly inches its way into the centers of powers of all branches of government. Religious fundamentalism is the new worldwide tyranny, a return to the bad old days. The concept of universal education is in shambles as city schools crumble and concepts like school vouchers and charter schools shift public resources into the education of a new elite. Free speech has become political correctness. Some censor themselves and sacrifice opinions in the interest of being well liked. Others passionately proclaimed slogans and mythologies as substitutes for thoughtful debate. The two-hour political speech has been replaced by the seven-second sound byte. Just look at the rates of registered and actual voters. We even scorn the political vitality essential for a democracy.
   The gag rule, once repudiated and defeated, is now embraced by policy makers who have forgotten our history. When government decrees a so-called truth that is inspired by religious dogma, the gag rule replaces education, reason and informed debate. With the rule in place, obedience serves as a substitute for thinking.
   The current administration loves the gag rule. It gets the job done when religious interests need to be pacified, and that is one reason why others hate us with a passion.
   Consider some examples. The Bush administration imposed the gag rule on financial assistance for international family planning programs. Our aid requires the recipient to keep his/her mouth closed. Both government and non-government agencies are required to delete all talk about abortion. Other countries, regardless of circumstances, can have our money or free speech, but not both. The gag rule does not inspire respect and admiration by nations being done in by all the poverty, hunger, and misery of the population explosion.
   The gag rule is also used by Uncle Sam as a condition imposed on the states for accepting millions of dollars for sex education. What ever happened to state’s rights and parental rights? The Federal Government approved program teaches abstinence, but abstinence only. The gag rule is a delete button for medically accurate and life saving information. Government dollars are used to keep youth ignorant. As youth come of age they are not trusted with an understanding of contraception and sexually transmitted disease. Thanks to the gag rule, our government is an active player in the spread of disease, poverty and suffering. It is no mystery why AIDS is spreading rapidly among the young and the innocent.
   The gag rule, like a virus, has also infected the Pennsylvania Legislature. The House of Representative attached the Birmelin Amendment to their proposed budget, 138 to 59. Senator Helfrick achieved the passage of the same gag rule in the Senate. Both houses of the Legislature are prepared to pass a budget that prevents family planning agencies from promoting or engaging in abortion counseling. The Birmelin/Helfrick gag rule is a denial of free speech imposed on citizens of the Commonwealth trained to be professionally competent in assisting others at a time of difficult circumstances. Family planning agencies can receive state money or exercise free speech, but not both.
   Clients served by family planning agencies deserve and expect information that is in their best interest and not censored by the morality of a particular faith community. If the proposed budget becomes law, these clients will be betrayed. The Birmelin/Helfrick Amendment is a page from the Dark Ages whereby an enlightened elite keep the poor in the bondage of ignorance.
   Today the gag rule was handed a significant setback. The U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, in the case of Multnamah County Library v. USA, the government was barred from using librarians as thought police as a condition for receiving Federal funds. Librarians, with censorship removed, can now receive public funding and exercise free speech. They were given a vital Constitutional protections family planning personnel are in danger of losing.
   Our founding fathers would turn over in their grave with the popular political advise that if you can not win with logic and reason then win by taking away free speech and keeping a targeted population in ignorance. Perhaps the saddest part of our current pre-revolution revival is the participation by religious leaders who have forgotten why their spiritual forebears came to this country in the first place. Once upon a time this new land celebrated religious freedom which meant that government power was not the lap dog of one religious dogma.
   It is time to banish the gag rule for good in the interest of all citizens. If we wish to uphold and defend the Constitution, we need political leaders who use the tools of science, education, and reason that are our American heritage from our American Revolution rather than the tyranny and ignorance we once defeated.
Roger Buchanan is a retired minister, and a Board member of the Freedom to Learn Network.


 
 
 
Senator Specter Signs onto Immigration Reform Bills
ACLU of PA, June 5, 2002 -- Those who attended our Annual Conference last month in State College heard Susan Benesch from the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights discuss two important immigration bills ­ the Refugee Protection Act and the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act. The Refugee Protection Act would limit the practice of expedited removal of asylum seekers and would end the unfair mandatory detention of asylum seekers. The Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act would guarantee that foreign-born children who come to this country unaccompanied by a parent would have legal counsel as they deal with their legal status. It would also require the appointment of a guardian for each child.
  Susan spoke about these bills at our conference and asked attendees to contact Senator Specter’s office to ask him to sign on as a co-sponsor of both pieces of legislation. We recently learned from Susan that Senator Specter has signed on to both bills. Susan asked us to share her heartfelt thanks for the postcards and letters that were sent to Senator Specter.
  If you want to know more about either of these bills, please visit the national ACLU website at www.aclu.org



 
 
 
Federal Court Rejects Government Censorship in Libraries, Citing Free Speech Rights of Patrons
ACLU of PA, May 31, 2002 -- In yet another blow to the government’s repeated attempts to censor the Internet, a federal court today decisively rejected a law that forces libraries to deny adults as well as minors access to constitutionally protected speech online in order to receive federal funding.
   A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court here agreed with arguments made by the American Civil Liberties Union and others that blocking programs cannot effectively screen out only material deemed "harmful to minors." The court called the software a "blunt instrument," adding that "the problems faced by manufacturers and vendors of filtering software are legion."
   "The court today barred the government from turning librarians into thought police armed with clumsy blocking programs," said Ann Beeson, litigation director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program, which along with the ACLU of Pennsylvania and other rights groups challenged the law. "The court found that these programs are inherently flawed and will inevitably prevent library patrons all over the country from accessing valuable speech online," she added.
   At issue is the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), a federal law passed in December 2000 that ties crucial library funding to the mandated use of blocking programs on Internet terminals used by both adults and minors in public libraries. The law defines such measures as "a specific technology that blocks or filters Internet access" such as the commercially available blocking programs N2H2, Cyber Patrol, Websense and Smartfilter.
   Based on nine days of testimony from librarians, patrons, web publishers and experts, the court supported its ruling with over 100 pages of detailed findings of fact, which established that "at least tens of thousands" of web pages are wrongly blocked by the programs, including web sites for the Knights of Columbus, a Christian orphanage in Honduras and several political candidates.
   Ginnie Cooper, director of the Multnomah County Library in Oregon, the lead plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit, welcomed the court’s recognition that librarians are well-versed in using their professional skills to help patrons find what they want online and avoid Internet sites they don’t want to see.
   "The court’s decision affirms the importance of local control in determining library Internet policies," she said. "No one wants children to be exposed to pornography on the Internet, on television or anyplace else. What’s important is finding effective solutions to this problem."
   As Cooper testified in March, such methods include establishing policies for Internet usage that prohibit access to illegal content; the use of handouts, online guides, training sessions and recommended web pages; providing terminals with optional rather than mandatory blocking software; and the use of wraparound privacy screens to maintain a non-threatening Internet environment. Any appeal of today’s decision will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is required to hear challenges to this law.
   The case is Multnomah County Library vs. United States of America, No. 01-CV-1322. Multnomah County and others are represented by the ACLU. The American Library Association has filed a similar challenge on behalf of its members, American Library Association vs. United States of America, No. 01-CV-1303. The two cases have been consolidated by the court.
   Attorneys in the ACLU case are Beeson, Chris Hansen and Kevin Bankston of the national ACLU; Stefan Presser of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center; Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Charles Sims and volunteer attorneys with the law firm Proskauer Rose in New York City; and Tom Sponsler, Multnomah County Attorney.
   The decision of the court is online at http://www.paed.uscourts.gov. ACLU background on the case is online at http://www.aclu.org/features/f032001a.html



 
 
 
Judiciary Committee Vote Insults Women
Statement of NOW President Kim Gandy, May 23, 2002 -- The field of credible Democrats running for President was significantly narrowed today when two rumored candidates insulted every employed woman, every woman in business, and every woman who has been a victim of violence in this country. In casting their votes to promote Judge D. Brooks Smith to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, only one step below the Supreme Court, rumored candidates Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., disregarded the extensive evidence of unethical behavior and discriminatory conduct that caused the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times to oppose Smith's confirmation.
   In an embarrassingly convoluted rationale, Biden expressed disappointment in Smith's strong criticism of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), but said it would be a "double standard" to vote against Smith because Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist held a similar opinion on VAWA. Apparently Biden doesn't recall that his vote for Rehnquist was cast many years before VAWA was even introduced. As for a "double standard," someone should tell Sen. Biden that double nothing is still nothing. Biden's previous leadership on violence against women is just that -- previous. He has jettisoned it in favor of friendship -- his stated presumption of supporting any nominee sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. No doubt the people of Delaware will want to know that they have elected a Republican from Pennsylvania to represent them.
   Another Presidential wanna-be, Sen. Edwards, hid out in his office across the hall from the hearing, and didn't even have the courage to cast his "Yes" vote in public. Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wisc., joined all of the committee Republicans, whose cowardly votes betrayed the women of their states by recommending elevation of a judge whose repeated "ethical lapses" deserve censure, not promotion.
   The Senate's reputation as a "Old Boys Club" was reinforced by today's vote, in which both of the women on the Judiciary Committee voted against Smith, but he won anyway because 12 of the 17 men voted in his favor. To promote a judge who will have to decide on cases of discrimination, when that judge has himself cavalierly participated in discrimination and even ruled in favor of discriminatory practices, is the height of irresponsibility by those who are charged with that duty.
   NOW commends both of the women who serve on the Judiciary Committee, Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., whose votes against confirming Smith spoke volumes, as well as Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who spoke eloquently about discrimination against women, and Senators Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
   NOW intends to seek a filibuster in the Senate against Judge Smith's confirmation, and will urge every senator to participate who cares about protecting the last 40 years of progress women have made. The Judiciary Committee's vote for D. Brooks Smith made a mockery of judicial standards. Unless the full Senate reverses, it will send a message to women that they can't expect to have civil rights -- or ethics -- taken seriously by Senate or the courts.


 
 

Civil Liberties or Civil Luxuries?
Matthew Remier, YellowTimes.org Guest Columnist, April 18, 2002 -- The opinions and rhetoric surrounding the debate over civil liberties and the so-called anti-terrorist legislation (the official title is the Patriot Act, but perhaps a more fitting one would be the Anti-Patriot Act) is just another example of how twisted events have become in our post-9-11 surrealism. While Afghanistan is being ravaged halfway around the globe, the same U.S. government is scrambling, in virtual secrecy, to install unprecedented and highly intrusive laws at home.
  Proponents of such laws say that to maximize security and safety during these unusual times we must sacrifice some of our rights to privacy. The critics denounce this as a trampling of the constitution and question whether such laws would actually help.
  However, the main point of the critics is will the information gathered by the investigations allowed by the new laws help to prevent “terrorism” significantly enough to warrant their existence?
  Obviously, the more people are monitored, tracked, and spied upon, the more the government takes on an almost god-like, omnipotent role. If everything was known about everyone and able to be instantly processed into meaningful information then it’s safe to say the holder of such powers, given the resources, could prevent any action from taking place.
  By this logic, security and privacy are functions of one another; any increase in surveillance is an increase in security, and any decrease in surveillance (increase in privacy) is a decrease in security.
  Such laws may seem to make sense, but the reality is that the U.S. government is far from being omnipotent and the implementation of such techniques as allowed by the laws would provide for massive invasions of privacy backed by little demonstrable proof that such measures are effective. The murky world of intelligence information is unreliable at best considering all the scandal and corruption surrounding the various organizations involved in such matters.
  The whole concept of “preventing terrorism” is also very revealing. The ideas of lawmakers, leaders, editors, and in fact everyone, focus on prevention, infiltration of networks or “cells,” and other such things implying an acceptance of the existence of “terrorism.”
  It’s similar to the roof of a house - you’re inside, so you’re dry, but outside it’s still raining. That’s the current approach by the government. They don’t want to get to the root of the problem, or let anyone else get to it for that matter. The government thinks: Let’s “prevent terrorism” through the use of Orwellian techniques instead of eradicating the cause itself, instead of ending the conditions (environment) which inevitably lead to its birth.
  These new laws are based on preventing violent acts against the United States (territory or property) by those described as “terrorists,” not preventing the very existence of such groups. It assumes, rather correctly, that they exist now and will continue to exist for some time. What if the government and the media were to address the problem of the existence of “terrorism” itself and work to prevent that? As long as we see anyone who hates America, and expresses it either verbally or violently, as a “terrorist” we’ll never be able to see things as they are. Until we can look at ourselves as outsiders do, there will be no change.
  What Americans need to give up aren’t civil liberties but civil luxuries. Inequality and injustice usually lead to violence pretty quickly, and the luxuries and the conveniences of America come at the expense of the rest of the world. This is painstakingly obvious to any objective observer.
  We import whatever we want from wherever we want in whatever quantity we want - including mass amounts of food from starving countries. We set up factories wherever we want, pollute someone else’s country, pay the native workers little, and produce crap that’s sold at home at an astronomical mark-up to the frenzied consumer.
  We build military installations wherever we want and parade our troops around for all to see. We call certain global villains “evil” while permitting others to flourish, even aiding them. We basically do whatever we want - whether it’s the vetoing of UN Security Council resolutions or arbitrarily bombing civilian targets.
  Now this is a fairly difficult image for the average American to comprehend, but just talk to anyone who’s traveled outside the country and you’ll see quite a different picture being painted. It’s hard to imagine a place, a country, where hordes of people work under poor conditions simply to produce products that neither they nor their fellow people will ever benefit from. Imagine if a few million Americans worked at horrific factories making novelty trinkets for trendy boutiques in China.
  As long as these conditions persist the hatred felt for the U.S. will continue unabated. If we want our security and safety intact perhaps we should look through this side of the prism more carefully. If we were able to live a bit more humbly and permit others to live a bit more fully maybe a “balancing” of sorts would be set in motion. Instead we loot the Earth of its resources as our voracious appetite grows more disgusting each day. But things aren’t going to change and people aren’t going to change. That’s the crazy part - we can’t look at ourselves objectively. We can’t see things historically. We can’t step back and see “our time” as part of the grand time line and view it impartially, without notions of “good” and “evil” and “right” and “wrong.” It’s as if there’s some psychological phenomenon at work, preventing us from understanding this vital and sobering angle.
  And because of this impediment to our objectivity, the U.S. government wants to tap my phone, raid my computer, know my whereabouts, arrest me for no reason, imprison me indefinitely, curtail my right to public protest, and then try me by secret military tribunals which may sentence me to death if they “suspect” me of “terrorism” - instead of being held accountable for their actions, including the consequences of such actions, throughout the world. Are you a “terrorist” if you don’t cheer the bombing of Afghanistan or the proposed invasion of Iraq?
  Personally, I’d rather trade in an SUV, eat more locally and domestically grown food (foregoing the global array of delicacies found at almost all “modern” supermarkets), and dispense of my sing-along-in-the-shower radio made in Taiwan, than give up my privacy and right to speak publicly. It all comes down to this. And it looks like, at least for now, that America has chosen luxury over liberty.
Matthew Remier encourages your comments: riemer@rottenindenmark.org YellowTimes.org encourages its material to be reproduced, reprinted, or broadcast provided that any such reproduction must identify the original source, http://www.YellowTimes.org


 

NAVIGATION MENU