Archive | March, 2008

WI court affirms women’s right to birth control prescriptions

27 Mar

ACLU of Wisconsin: Wisconsin court upholds discipline of pharmacist who refused to refill birth control pill prescription

Contact: Lorraine Kenny, Nat’l ACLU,
(212) 549-2634; Laurence Dupuis, ACLU of WI, (414) 272-4032

ACLU says decision is a victory for women’s health

MADISON – The American Civil Liberties Union said today’s decision by a Wisconsin court allowing the state’s discipline of a pharmacist who refused to refill a prescription for birth control pills strikes an important balance between religious liberty and women’s health.

“We are pleased that the court recognized that individual pharmacists with religious objections cannot prevent women from obtaining contraception,” said Sondra Goldschein, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Pharmacies should honor individual pharmacists’ religious beliefs wherever possible; however, the patient’s right to obtain legally prescribed medication should always come first.”

In 2002, pharmacist Neil Noesen refused based on his personal religious beliefs to refill a woman’s valid prescription for birth control pills. Noesen also interfered with the woman’s efforts to fill the prescription at another pharmacy. As a result, the woman missed the first dose of her medication and was forced to use a back-up method of birth control. The state Pharmacy Examining Board subsequently disciplined Noesen for his failure to adequately inform his employer of his religious objections to participating in the filling of prescriptions for contraception and for his refusal to promptly transfer this prescription to another pharmacy.

“While individual pharmacists may have sincere religious objections to birth control, this does not give them license to prevent women from getting the health care they need,” said Laurence Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “There are ways to honor religious beliefs and a patient’s rights; contrary to professional standards, Noesen made no effort in this case to ensure the patient’s health care needs were met.”

Today’s Court of Appeals’s decision held that Noesen’s refusal to transfer the prescription violates a pharmacist’s standard of care. Requiring all pharmacists to act in a professionally competent manner protects the public health, enhances patient autonomy, and promotes women’s equality, the ACLU said.

Today’s case is Noesen v. Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing Pharmacy Examining Board, No. 2006AP1110. Lawyers on the friend-of-the-court brief include Goldschein of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee attorney Jacqueline E. Boynton.

For more information about the ACLU’s position on religious refusals and reproductive rights at the pharmacy see:

Passport privacy, realistic cell phone policies, root beer kegger activism?

24 Mar

News roundup for today…

Now that the three Presidential contenders have had their private passport files compromised, shouldn’t privacy issues find their way onto their priority lists? The recent news stories about how State Department contract employees pried into the Presidential hopefuls’ information not only reminds us about the tenuous relationship between our privacy and government control but it also serves as some high-profile proof that even low-level contract employees can abuse their access to information. Whether their files were searched based on an order from high up or if employees were just satisfying their curiosity, citizens’ private data is at risk. Something that the General Accounting Office reminded a Senate subcommittee last week.

Student Rights
Did you know that the mere possession of a cell phone can get a student expelled? Distracted youth poking out text messages on their cells or having their phones ring in the middle of lectures can certainly be a disruption that warrants restriction, but expulsion for having one on the school premises is draconian and outdated. There is a proposal (to be presented by the citywide Student Senate to the MMSD school board on April 14) to bring the policy to a more modern and moderate level.

Are prevention and outreach programs working to curb juvenile crime? Maybe. New report says juvenile arrest rates have fallen over the past ten years. WSJ has the Wisconsin story.

Angry about your school’s policy on punishing underage drinking? Throw a (root)beer kegger and get busted by the police. Check out this story about a Wausau-area prank. There may be better ways to organize and challenge school rules you don’t agree with, but probably not as tasty. Here is the Wausau Daily Herald story.

Defund Real ID in WI, Whitewater blogger investigated, university newspapers say no to pro-life ad, and more

21 Mar

News roundup for today…

Free Speech
Police investigate anonymous blogger critic, raises Constitutional rights concerns, ACLU of Wisconsin quoted.

Student Rights, First Amendment and the Internet debate: should students be held accountable for what they say on the internet or should they be protected from Unconstitutional punishment for being critical of school administrators? This ABC news feature story illustrates one student’s story. The ACLU of CT supports her federal case.

Reproductive Rights
UW-La Crosse, UW-Stout and Marquette University newspapers say no to anti-abortion ads. Pro-life Wisconsin cites censorship, newspapers didn’t publish the in-“appropriate” misinformation.

Real ID
ACLU of Wisconsin encourages legislators on the Joint Finance Committee to defund Real ID in Wisconsin.

Voting Rights
In-person voting fraud debunked – Brennan Center testimony details the myths of in-person voting fraud, including the Milwaukee Police Department report in which much of the original reports of fraud were found to be clerical errors (see page 6). Testimony makes a strong argument against Photo ID requirements at the polls.

Legal Observers Defend Free Speech

20 Mar

ACLU of Wisconsin sends legal observers to Madison antiwar protests

Wednesday, March 19 was the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Around the country, protesters marked the date with vigils and demonstrations, most notably in San Francisco and Washington D.C. (read on for an AP article posted on and the Reuters coverage)

In our own backyard, the ACLU of Wisconsin sent a team of legal observers to be witnesses at local demonstrations downtown and on the east side. Demonstrators saw ACLU volunteers in yellow t-shirts, handing out orange mini-fliers detailing protesters’ rights and what to do if you are stopped by police. These legal observer volunteers documented the citations given to demonstrators who disrupted the military recruitment center on the east side and they witnessed the march on the square as well as the visit to Senator Herb Kohl’s office.

Here is a picture of Mike, one of our yellow-shirted volunteers observing the rally downtown:

The Capitol Times had this coverage from staff and wire with no mention of protesters in Kohl’s office.

Visitors to Kohl’s office were greeted with a reception window and a wall with a security camera, a very different welcome than what students experienced when they sat-in on Kohl’s office last year.

Although Channel 27 and NBC 15 were both at the scene, there haven’t been any postings of coverage on their websites as of 10:30 this morning. However Channel 3000 does have this short article.

And here is a picture of one of the legal observers documenting when demonstrators were given citations at the east side military recruitment center which seems to have gotten no media coverage at all.

To find out more about the legal observer program in the ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office, contact Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh at (608) 469-5540. I can tell you more about how and when we deploy our volunteers, how you can get involved and when the next training will be.

Why legal observers? – March 19, 2008 Vestal, NY protest
First some background: I am personally interested in how protests make news. I think of myself as a free-speech enthusiast and I think that Constitutionally-protected, public expressions of opinion are not only worth protecting but should be celebrated.

But I also feel that while media stories based in the who-what-when-where-why of public demonstrations start with a focus on the conflict (arrests, property damage, physical harm), the attention given to conflict becomes more important than why people are moved to demonstrate. “If it bleeds, it leads” becomes more valuable than the root of why people are demanding attention.

Bleeding leads are even more complicated when you find different facts in different places.

An example from a little protest yesterday in the college town of Vestal, NY. Making a hit on the AP wire, Madison’s Capitol Times newspaper used the wire source to include news from across the nation to supplement staff coverage of the local protest on the square. The wire source described the Binghampton University student protest and included information about how the student protesters “tied up traffic in the town of Vestal, N.Y., causing two traffic accidents.” I thought that traffic blockade protests tended to cause more headaches than accidents for drivers, so I decided to check out the local coverage of the protests to see if there was more to the story.

What I found was a lot of footage (both raw and edited) of the student protest and the police response. Working under a couple of assumptions (1. I assume that students did not have a permit to be on the street and 2. Blocking traffic is not Constitutionally-protected activity and demonstrators who do that should know they are subjecting themselves to arrest), I looked at the media reports both for facts and for an analysis of when rights were properly asserted and when they were violated.

The footage and reports are varied, but the basic story is that students walked, students occupied a lane of traffic with police traffic control, students occupied all lanes of traffic to which police responded, students resisted police, pepper spray and arrests ensued. But where were the car crashes?

Check out this article: “Binghampton-U War Protest Turns Violent: Ten people were arrested after police say they began shoving officers at an anti-war rally in upstate New York.” This story shows a stark difference between reports from students and police. The title of this article leads readers to understand that students started violent acts. Student testimony on the video leads viewers to understand that police intervention after their blocking of traffic began the conflict.

This article (a Long Island based on-line news clearinghouse) also states that students started the violence.

This WSYR coverage has raw footage of the aggressive behavior of law enforcement in subduing students

Only this WBNG coverage seemed to be somewhat neutral in identifying aggression on both sides of the conflict.

This News 10 coverage shows a banged up car, but little context.

In the video on the Press and Sun Bulletin website (the nearby Binghampton, NY newspaper) there is testimony from student protesters. If a viewer looks closely, one can see a tow truck. However a police vehicle is blocking the view of the car being towed.

Finally, after much digging, this Press and Sun Bulletin article says that the two accidents happened in the oncoming traffic lanes. Rubbernecking at the protest perhaps? If accidents happened in the opposing lanes, is it really fair to say that the traffic blockade protest “caused” the accidents?

When news coverage of public demonstrations focus on bleeding leads, conflict and property damage, people exerting their Constitutionally-protected exercise of free speech are ignored. Further, when only riots and violence make news, does the public then become fearful of protests? And yet further, a public who is fearful of protest, who watched television coverage of Chicago circa 1968 police brutality when “the whole world was watching,” and watched television coverage of Seattle circa 1999 police brutality when yet again “the whole world was watching,” and when this public gets angry enough to demonstrate in the face of such coverage, where are their stories?

Legal observers are critical witnesses to public protest. These volunteers document Constitutionally-protected free expression. We document all the action, from dangerous traffic blockades to aggressive police response. We serve as witnesses if people’s Constitutional rights are violated. Legal observers are necessary to witness protests because, as in the example of Vestal, people need to tell the story of a protest from a fourth perspective. We aren’t protesters, police or media. We are legal observers.

The next time you see a demonstration in Madison, watch for the yellow “legal observer” t-shirts. We’re watching out for free expression.

Humanitarian immigration policy, legislative review, FISA and FOIA

17 Mar

news roundup!

Cap Times opinion says that communities should set humanitarian standards on local law enforcement and immigration.

State legislature
“Do nothing” legislature recap of inaction in last legislative cycle.

Domestic Spying
On the face of his argument, I disagree with the LA Times opinion writer. Ultimately Bush’s political opponents and dissenters are “ordinary Americans.” Read on for a short history of wiretapping gone unethical, even beyond Watergate.

Freedom of Information Act
Want to check if you are on that homeland security watch list? Maybe want to look at your FBI file? Despite Bush’s promise to decrease the backlog of FOIA bureaucracy, unanswered requests haven’t gone down under his watch. Do we really have freedom of information access if the line is years long?

FBI uses blanket searches, ACLU members respond on FISA

13 Mar

news for today…

Domestic Spying
More on the Patriot Act’s National Security Letters… This shows why FISA is so important. We need honest judges to approve warrants for wiretapping, not blanket searches by the FBI, to protect Americans’ privacy. Do we trust the FBI to only go after terrorists when they can wiretap anybody? Peace activists? Politicians? Businesses?

The ACLU sent out a thank you email. They sent lots of petitions to legislative leaders who heard the need to stand up to the Bush Administration’s fear mongering.

Read on for the message from Caroline Fredrickson.

“When we asked you to throw your support behind the ACLU and our FISA fight — you didn’t just throw it — you hurled it and then some! Your efforts helped get House leadership to reject Bush’s fear mongering.

I last wrote to you after hearing that administration officials would use any means necessary to get Congress to pass Bush’s spying bill — a bill that would give the president a free pass to spy on the emails and phone calls of Americans without a warrant and whitewash illegal spying.

But thanks to you, key members of the House have introduced compromise legislation on FISA. While we have concerns about aspects of the new bill, it is important to note that the House is standing up to the executive branch and its demands to engage in unchecked wiretapping on US soil — and the House compromise legislation does not grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that facilitated years of illegal surveillance.

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody would have imagined that we could have held them off this long, and we truly could not have done it without you. That’s why we have to keep going now, more than ever. We’re making some progress but we can’t lose sight of our ultimate goal: We must throw Bush fear mongering out of our national conversation.

Don’t think for a second that Bush and his henchmen are going to give up on using fear to scare Congress into selling out the Constitution and our most fundamental rights. If Congress doesn’t cave in now, we can be sure the spin machine will grow even louder. That’s because the longer this fight goes on, the less likely it is that Congress will pass a spying bill that gives President Bush everything he wants.

We never could have accomplished so much without you. Thank you for your steadfast commitment, and for all you have done to protect our most fundamental rights.

We’ll keep you posted about our next steps very soon.
Caroline Fredrickson, Director
ACLU Washington Legislative Office”

House resists telecom immunity, lunch with Lou Dobbs, pro-life ads in UW newspapers

12 Mar

News roundup for today…

Domestic Spying
The US House stands by their rejection of telecom immunity in FISA renewal. American Civil Liberties Union says the compromise is an improvement but concerns remain.

Lunch with Lou Dobbs – an interesting editorial on how to convert anti-immigrant radicals.

Reproductive Rights
Pro-Life Wisconsin rails at the rejection of their ads in Wisconsin University newspapers and cries censorship. The UW Badger Herald quotes newspaper editors saying they haven’t reached a final decision. The ACLU supports access to Emergency Contraception (the target of opposition in the ad) – you can find information on EC access on the ACLU website. In Wisconsin, Governor Doyle will sign the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims into law tomorrow (Thursday, March 13) to ensure that rape victims have access to FDA-approved pregnancy prevention in the Emergency Room.

Homeless versus parking, red light cameras, pre-Roe laws and more

7 Mar

News roundup for today…

When local attorney and downtown property owner Fred Mohs reconsidered his parking garage contract with a downtown Madison church, the church’s homeless shelter program became a bargaining point. The church voted unanimously to give up the parking contract and continue offering shelter. The WSJ article give the background and the A Cap Times article features an active forum debate.

The Sheriff’s statements about cooperating with ICE in reporting when undocumented immigrants are in custody is being reviewed. The State Journal also featured a page full of letters to the editor on immigration, probably in response to the article on the public hearing last week. One even asks why it is a problem for non-citizens to be denied a fair trial. Due process and equal protection is a Constitutional guarantee for all people in the United State, not just citizens. That’s Bill of Rights and human rights basics.

Racial Justice
Assembly approves bill to end the requirement of denying students’ the option to transfer schools if the transfer request would create a racial imbalance. The bill would replace race with socioeconomics. But in the history of race and segregation in our country, are socioeconomics enough?

Reproductive Rights
Rep. Jim Ott defends himself from a Planned Parenthood radio attack ad. Planned Parenthood is going after Ott and opponents of the Women’s Health and Safety act (AB 749/SB 398) which would repeal the pre-Roe v. Wade criminal abortion statute that is still on the Wisconsin books. Anti-choice activists insist that Planned Parenthood is misrepresenting the pre-Roe law, but you can read the statute and its amendments for yourself. Section 940.04 on page 2 is the original law penalizing women who have an abortion. Page 5 shows statutes that exempt women from the original penalties, but could also be overturned if anti-choice extremists gain even more legislative control.

Surprisingly enough, few readers brought up objections to surveillance in their letters to the editor in response to a column objecting to a proposed Assembly bill that would allow for the installation of “red light cameras” on Wisconsin roads.

One in 100 Americans is behind bars, legislators spar over photo ID and more

6 Mar

News tidbits for today…

Criminal Justice
New York Times highlights a report that says that one in 100 Americans is behind bars.

Domestic Spying
FBI Chief confirms misuse of National Security Letters to search Americans’ personal records. War on Terror politicians keep saying that Homeland Security needs greater powers to search for terrorists. But the abuse of power and the lack of transparency (even through judicial checks) is not about terrorism but about violating our privacy. Read the Washington Post article for details and a nod to the ACLU. Or find it on Truthout.

Confused by some of the legaleese that gets expressed during debates about the War on Terror? What does “material support” mean anyway? Eric Urmansky tries to stort out counterterrorism investigations and how even thin associations with or an expression of sympathy for controversial groups can be like committing a “pre-crime.” Read on for a nod to the ACLU.

Voting Rights
Legislators sparred today over a proposed constitutional amendment on photo id at the polls. Senator Fitzgerald says that criminal activity at the polls needs to be addressed. If he is talking about the “crime” of felons who vote while they are still on paper (like Elizabeth Prude did in 2004), he should sign on in support of passing AB 390 to clean up our statewide voter list and restore the vote to those who are no longer behind bars. You can watch the whole press conference on WiscEye (you might find it under Recently Archived Video) or check out the WKOW coverage. This conflict is mostly over the end of last Thursday’s Senate floor session when an effort to pull AB 645 to a floor vote was nixed by a a quick end to the session by Democratic leadership. The attempts to pull the bill continued today but without adequate support.

Public Schools
Update on the school board zoning decision.

Action alert: Make one call for freedom!

5 Mar

This week, the ACLU is launching Calling for Freedom, the boldest, most ambitious telephone advocacy program in our history. Working hand-in-hand with other organizations, we’re flooding the House of Representatives with thousands upon thousands of phone calls, urging key members to stand firm against Bush fear-mongering on FISA.

Please call your representative right now.

For more background about why these decisions are critical for Americans’ privacy rights, visit the ACLU webpage on FISA.

The House could vote at any time. And there’s no guarantee that they will hold firm on their refusal to pass FISA legislation that defies the Constitution and overlooks telecom companies’ massive invasions of our privacy.

If we hold the line in the House, it will be for one reason: Because you and other ACLU activists across the country generated thousands and thousands of phone calls.

Every week that we prevent the House from passing legislation granting telecom immunity and excusing warrantless eavesdropping is a victory for the Constitution.

Please act now. Keep this dangerous legislation out of President Bush’s hands.

Thanks so much for all that you do.

Caroline Fredrickson, Director
ACLU Washington Legislative Office

School boundaries, 17-year old voters, prisons for sale and more

3 Mar

News tidbits for today…

Parents gear up for school boundary decision at tonight’s school board meeting
The article in the State Journal on what’s at stake; Channel 3000 report including video on school boundary issue. The ACLU does work nationally to work for the desegregation of public schools and has more information on its website on why integration based on race and income is still a relevant fight.

Local student comments on 17-year old primary voters
In his letter to the editor, a local student comments on why he thinks he should be able to participate in a primary if he will turn 18 by election day. He refers to Senate Bill 6 which hasn’t seen political success.

Prisons for sale
An interesting editorial from the Eau Claire/Chippewa Valley Leader-Telegram on the expense of prisons.

If leave policy doesn’t define marriage, can same-sex couples share the right?
Sheboygan couple files grievance over paid leave loophole for same-sex couple’s marriage.

Editorial calls for action on racial disparity
Appleton/Fox Cities editorial on racial disparity and the war on drugs, refers to Governor’s commission.

Rep. Ryan introduces fingerprint database for employers as alternative to national ID
Don’t like Real ID? How about providing your fingerprint to get a job? Rep. Ryan’s New Employee Verification Act proposal doesn’t require a national ID, but still relies on databases and fingerprinting to get employers to hire only documented workers. Also highlights his support of the CLEAR Act.

News of the weird? Rock County woman jailed for overdue books
Article shows how the library patron’s neglect and the library’s issuance of several overdue notices leads to citations and court dates. However, as pointed out in last week’s Isthmus, getting a friend or family member out of jail can be expensive. Dane County uses a service called GovPay (PDF) to process credit cards used for bail money. Fees for using credit cards for bail can be an average of 8-10% of the bail price. Another example of how the criminal justice system is stacked against the poor.