Archive | December, 2008

Will the economic crisis impact liberty in 2009?

31 Dec

Will the economic crisis put the restoration of civil liberties on hold, just when their future looked brighter at the end of the Bush-Cheney administration?

There is a tremendous about of work to do to restore and advance civil liberties at the national and local levels. Convincing President-elect Obama and congressional leaders to move ahead on a civil liberties agenda, while they are justifiably focusing on the economy, will be challenging. State House politicians, too, may be reluctant to tackle Wisconsin’s civil liberties issues, such as providing our children a constitutionally-mandated adequate education, because of a looming deficit.

It would be a mistake to put off restoring our freedoms for many reasons. First, free speech, religious liberty, equal protection under the law, and other cherished rights are what make us a stronger nation. For instance, a free market place for ideas expands our options. Second, civil liberties are costly to neglect, but they are a pittance compared to the bail outs Congress and the Treasury are making to Wall Street. Barack Obama with the stroke of a pen could end the farcical military commission trials at Guantanamo. Governor Doyle could easily afford to lift the prohibition against providing health insurance coverage to the domestic partners of state and university employees.

During times of economic crisis, just like during wars, we are called upon to unite behind our leaders. Dissent is viewed as unpatriotic. However, we know from our history and experience that we can’t trust many of our leaders without accountability and transparency.

Let’s agree on doing things right, including protecting our individual rights, as we move forward together. There is still time to support the ACLU with a year-end gift: visit the Join/Renew/Give page and have your donation matched dollar-for-dollar until the end of the year.

– Chris Ahmuty, ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director

Merry Chrismahanakqanzica and Happy New Year

29 Dec

While we are in the midst of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Pagan holidays, many will celebrate in their own ways as dictated by religious or family tradition in many cases. All Americans can celebrate as well, if they believe that the ability of individuals and families to celebrate or not celebrate as they chose is important. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects religious liberty for all. To protect all of us, it must protect each of us.

The majority religion or denomination in a community rarely needs the protection of government to exercise their right to celebrate at home, their place of worship, or in any public forum during the holiday. The First Amendment wouldn’t mean much if it only protected majorities. The First Amendment is worth celebrating any time of year, because it protects minorities, including those who appear outlandish or even blasphemous.

Some times religious leaders want the government to endorse particular beliefs by means of displays like crèches or sectarian music. One wonders if these religious leaders need government to sanctify their celebrations or they just want to demonstrate to one and all that they are accepted on government property. I suspect the latter, but neither motivation meets the spirit of the First Amendment.

The holidays are an emotional time for many. The framers of the First Amendment in effect tried to keep the government from making the season divisive instead of harmonious.

– Chris Ahmuty, ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director

New fed rules attack birth control, disrupt balance of provider/patient rights

19 Dec

Well, our worst fears came true. The Bush administration today released the long-awaited health care denial rule. You know, the one that more than 200,000 women’s health supporters sent letters to the administration about asking it to stop the attack on reproductive health care?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised after nearly eight years of an administration that has relentlessly and purposefully interfered with access to basic reproductive health care services, including access to abortion, birth control, and quality sexuality education. But one would have thought that the public outcry against the proposed rule would have made them at least soften the blow. It didn’t.

We feared that the rule would threaten access to birth control. It does. We feared that the rule would put the objections of individuals and institutions over the health care needs of patients. It does.

For years, federal law has carefully balanced protections for individual religious liberty and patients’ access to reproductive health care. The Bush rule flies in the face of this balance and takes patients’ health needs out of the equation. The rule expressly permits health care workers to refuse to provide complete and accurate information and counseling to women who seek services. At the same time, it fails to require refusing providers to either notify their employers or their patients of their objections to providing care. The result: women will have no idea if someone they rely on to put their health needs first is giving them all the information they need to make thoughtful decisions about their own care.

The silver lining in all of this is that the clock is ticking and come January we will have a new president and a new Congress. It’s time to cash in on campaign promises and ask the new folks in town to restore the balance and ensure that women can get the reproductive health care they need.

– Louise Melling & Vania Leveille, from the national ACLU Blog of Rights

Also, check out this NPR report on the midnight HHS regs – it describes the motion of disapproval and Congressional Review Act needed to roll back the discriminatory new rules.

Human rights: when will dignity begin at home?

15 Dec

Where are Human Rights today? That was the question the public wanted to be answered last Wednesday, December 10, at the Humanities Building on the UW-Madison Campus.

Wednesday commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, came together to provide Madisonians with a panel discussion that featured local experts and activists.

I attended the event as a first-time ACLU volunteer and was very eager to learn about advancements in the struggle for human rights. My main duty was to be sure that everyone who trudged through the snow to attend received a pamphlet that detailed all thirty articles of the UDHR.

The crowd gathered to hear a welcome speech from the Chair of the Governor’s Commission on the United Nations, Wolfgang A. Schmidt. He was followed by Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, who delivered a Declaration from the Governor. She broached the subject of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international bill of rights focused on women. Unfortunately the United States is one of the few countries that has yet to ratify this bill.

We were then treated to a talk by Marquette University professor Barrett McCormick that outlined “Human Rights and Their Development.” He was followed by Reserve Judge Moira Krueger who spoke on the “Hague Courts and Today’s Implementation of Human Rights.”

ACLU of Wisconsin’s Executive Director Chris Ahmuty took to the podium to discuss the ACLU’s involvement in and commitment to human rights and told of several issues they are currently focusing on. Amnesty International’s Angie Hougas rounded out the panel for the Q&A session.

The event came to a close, and I, along with fellow volunteer Dee, collected video-taped statements from the attendees in support of passing CEDAW. The ACLU plans to get many statements edited together to send to our elected officials so they can comprehend how important this issue is to both men and women.

For more information on the UDHR, please visit

For more information on the ACLU of Wisconsin’s CEDAW video project, contact the Youth and Programs Director, Emilo De Torre.

– submitted by Sara Johnson, volunteer for the Madison Area Office for the ACLU of Wisconsin
– photos taken by Tim Michaels


12 Dec

The footage might be shaky, but the experience is equally raw. See ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero as he films himself in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Anthony was at Gitmo for the military commission hearings of five detainees charged with 9/11-related crimes. The video has footage of “Camp Justice,” the multi-million dollar tent city built to house military commission observers, and the local grocery store.

“Please note that by playing this clip You Tube will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube’s privacy statement on their website to learn more. To view the ACLU’s privacy statement, click here.”

The ACLU is representing some of the defendants as part of its John Adams Project. Anthony reflects on what he observed at the hearings, and talks about where the commissions are headed. Stay tuned for more updates from the front line.