Archive | November, 2008

ACLU of Wisconsin sues over police censorship of gay-themed play

10 Nov

Free Speech
The ACLU of Wisconsin today filed a lawsuit in federal court in Milwaukee charging that the Milwaukee Police Department violated the First Amendment by shutting down “Naked Boys Singing,” a musical play with gay themes that has been produced around the country.

The case seeks damages to compensate the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, which staged the production in Milwaukee, for losses it suffered when the police shut down the play in 2005. City officials told the Center it needed a theater license and police officers threatened that people would be ticketed or arrested if the production went on. The ACLU charges that the theater licensing ordinance is unconstitutional, because it allows authorities to suppress free speech by withholding a license indefinitely, and that the police were illegally acting to suppress the play because they disapproved of its content.

Paul Masterson, the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, said the group was suing to vindicate the rights of gay and lesbian artists to present theatrical works that express and celebrate gay identity.

“Naked Boys Singing is mostly a light-hearted look at a part of the gay experience in America,” Masterson said. “It may not be for everyone, but good theater sometimes challenges convention. And all kinds of audiences have enjoyed the humor and the poignancy of the songs and the situations in the play.”

ACLU cooperating counsel Steve Porter and Jeff Scott Olson of Madison, Wisconsin filed the lawsuit on behalf of MGAC. Porter said the case shows why licensing of plays and other art is dangerous.

“When a theater director or other performer has to get a license before expressing herself,” said Porter, “it’s too easy for the authorities to just delay giving the permit to performances they don’t like. In this case, the cast and crew were gearing up for a show when the police first brought up the need for a license, even though MGAC – and other nonprofit theaters – had done other shows without licenses for years. The only difference is those shows didn’t have such provocative titles, so you have to suspect that disapproval of the content is what made the police act in this case.”

More on issue ads, Election Day went well for Election Protection, post-election priorities

7 Nov

Free Speech
As a follow up to the position the ACLU of Wisconsin took on the governmental intervention on recent issue ads. We also got some coverage in Greater Milwaukee Today. We even shocked, shocked (!) the Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin that we took a stand against censorship.

Voting Rights
US Representative Tammy Baldwin was quoted in an Election Day Cap Times opinion piece about her thoughts about restoring the rule of law which are pretty much in lockstep with the ACLU’s post-election priorities. Now if we can get the rest of Congress to see the light.

Voting problems were minimal in Madison on Election Day. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation worked with local and statewide non-partisan civic engagement groups to organize an Election Protection effort. Our poll watchers were typically outnumbered at least five-to-one by Obama campaign voter protection lawyers and volunteers. Poll workers tended to be annoyed at the overwhelming presence of observers, but everyone involved seemed to be grateful that business at the polls went pretty smoothly.

Here’s a summary of the Election Protection effort in other states.

Rule of Law
So we have a new President-elect. Now what? Here is a Milwaukee Shepherd Express “open letter to President-elect Obama” with quotes from some ACLU friends. had this interview with Philippe Sands, author of “Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values.” In it, Sands describes what President-elect Obama should do to roll back the damage of the Bush administration and says, “taken as a whole, the last eight years have been catastrophic for perceptions of the U.S. around the world and its capacity to fulfill its historic engagement with the rule of law.”

Moving Freedom Forward – next steps

6 Nov

The Election is over. Now What?

Barack Obama’s victory gives all of us who care about liberty a real opportunity to restore the Constitution and move freedom forward. Now it’s up to us. And, the ACLU is ready to get to work.

For months, ACLU attorneys, policy experts and legislative advocates — the very same people who have fought tooth and nail to defend freedom over the last eight years — have been developing “Actions for Restoring America.” It’s our blueprint for freedom, spelling out the specific actions that our new President must take to launch a restoration of American values and to convey a clear rejection of the shameful policies of the Bush era.

This document is already in the hands of members of the Obama transition team. And we want to get it in your hands, too, because we’ll be calling on you to help us get it done.

Download your personal copy of the ACLU’s Actions for Restoring America blueprint.

I hope you will take the time to read our blueprint for moving freedom forward. It details the steps we’ll be calling on Barack Obama to take as he begins his historic presidency including vitally important actions he can take on his first day in office with the stroke of a pen.

But the ACLU’s Actions for Restoring America isn’t just a plan of action for Barack Obama. It’s a call to action for you and every other member of the ACLU community. And we’ve broken it up into three areas:

First Day: Actions the President can take with the stroke of a pen on the first day in office.

First 100 Days: Actions the President and his administration can take in the first 100 days in office.

First Year: Actions the President and Congress can take in the first year.

You have helped stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law through periods of enormous challenge. Now, as we enter a more hopeful period in the life of our nation, we need you to demonstrate that same commitment to moving freedom forward and restoring America’s reputation.

As our blueprint makes clear: decisive action by our new leaders is not just a question of opportunity. It’s a matter of necessity. And the feistiness, passion and commitment of ACLU supporters like you will be more critical to the future of freedom than ever.

I know I speak for all of my ACLU colleagues in telling you that we’re excited to be entering this new era, eager to seize every opportunity for progress, and honored to be working by your side at such a pivotal period for freedom, justice and equality.

Anthony D. Romero
ACLU Executive Director
© ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004

Government-ordered political ad removal should be impermissable, long lines for early voting, nothing freaky about rights at "Freakfest"

3 Nov

Free Speech
The ACLU of Wisconsin today objected to the weekend decision of a County Circuit Court Judge who ordered the Coalition for America’s Families to take radio advertisements critical of Assembly candidate Mark Radcliffe off the air. Those advertisements asserted that Mr. Radcliffe supported the “Healthy Wisconsin” universal health insurance proposal. Radcliffe denies that he “supported” the proposal.

“The judge’s action amounts to an impermissible prior restraint on political speech,” said Christopher Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Especially during an election period, it is essential that debate on policy issues is wide-open and robust, so voters can make an informed vote. Political speech, even controversial political speech, stands ‘on the highest rung of the First Amendment hierarchy,’ according to the Supreme Court. Judges should not be in the business of deciding which political speech is acceptable for public consumption and which is not. If Mr. Radcliffe believes he has been falsely accused, he has as much right as the Coalition to take to the airwaves to set the record straight. And he can sue for damages and let a jury decide if he has proven that the Coalition’s advertisement was false and made with reckless disregard for the truth. But he is not entitled to have a Judge decide that the Coalition can’t even join the debate.”

The ACLU praised the Court of Appeals’ reversal of the County Circuit Court Judge’s temporary restraining order.

Voting Rights
The former Wisconsin State Attorney General, Peg Lautenschlager, comments on the difference between Election-season actions by the AG’s office during her tenure and the present one. The article includes descriptions of the diversity of observers including the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s volunteers who will be out monitoring the polls on Election Day.

Van Hollen says he won’t appeal the Dane County District Court’s decision on the HAVA check issue until after Election Day. The court case is costing the taxpayers over $43,000 in attorney compensation, court fees and countless more in diverted time for the DOJ staff.

The Capitol Times reprints the Government Accountability Board’s 10 Things To Know On Election Day list which covers voter preparedness and behavior at the polls.

Many people in Madison voted on the Sunday before Election Day – the first time the Clerk’s office was open to accommodate the early voters. Some still waited for two hours to cast their ballot. This afternoon, the line at the Madison Municipal building was still long (from the Clerk’s office to the front door and then down to the back elevators), but people were happy to say that it was moving along faster than they thought it would.

Student Activism
Arrest numbers were down and attendance was up at Madison’s State Street Freakfest over the Halloween weekend. UW ACLU Student Alliance members handed out around 750 “bust cards” to educate revelers on their rights when interacting with police.