Archive | June, 2010

Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Decision on Marriage Amendment Referendum: ACLU of Wisconsin Responds

30 Jun

Today, Christopher Ahmuty, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin issued the following statement in response to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision affirming the lower court’s ruling that the marriage amendment adopted by Wisconsin’s voters in 2006 did not violate the separate amendment rule of the Wisconsin Constitution. This constitutional rule requires that voters must be able to vote separately on separate constitutional amendments.

Ahmuty said, “the Court wisely limited its analysis of the marriage amendment’s two clauses, without trying to decide ‘what legal statuses identical or substantially similar to marriage are prohibited by this [the second] clause…’ The ACLU maintains that the marriage amendment’s second clause only prohibits ‘marriage by another name’ which confers all the benefits, protections, and responsibilities of civil marriages. The Court’s decision means the fight for recognition of same sex domestic relationships will continue to advance, a fight in which the ACLU will continue to participate vigorously.

“The ACLU of Wisconsin joined Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Fair Wisconsin in filing an amicus brief in McConkey v. Van Hollen.”

For more of our recent work on LGBT rights, visit the issues section of our website.

Mosinee and Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau Schools Must Defend Student Speech

18 Jun

Wisconsin students have the right to free speech, even when it causes offense. In the recent examples of students wearing controversial t-shirts, the ACLU of Wisconsin underscores the need for a greater understanding of student expression rights and clearer policies on discipline for disorderly conduct.

Wisconsin media are reporting on two recent controversies over student free speech and the confiscation of t-shirts by public school officials. In Mosinee, school officials confiscated “Stop Abuse” t-shirts designed to raise awareness of sexual assault. At the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau school in western Wisconsin, students could face discipline or even disorderly conduct charges after some wore t-shirts which depicted KKK figures playing in a band.

The ACLU of Wisconsin has pointed out in both controversies that while public school students’ right to expression is limited at school, high school students do not lose all their rights at the schoolyard gate. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tinker vs. Des Moines applies to these Wisconsin incidents. The Court ruled that officials may ban expression when it disrupts the educational environment. However fear of disruption or offending other students, staff or community members is not enough to justify censorship.

In media reports on both cases, Mosinee’s stop sexual assault t-shirts and G-E-T’s KKK band t-shirts were described by school officials as offensive. The ACLU understands that First Amendment protections include offensive speech. If it only protected speech everyone either liked or ignored, it would be irrelevant.

The G-E-T superintendent, according to one article, suggested that the school “…was a pretty hostile place to be if you were an African American student.” However, justifying censorship on those grounds requires some evidence. For instance, if the students who wore the controversial t-shirts had repeatedly confronted black students during the school year, then the school is right to respond to intimidation. However there is a difference between a single instance of expression and creating a hostile environment. This must be clear: students’ expression of their religious or political beliefs is constitutionally protected, while actions of harassment, violence, or intimidation are not protected speech.

The media has not reported all the facts and some school officials have not been entirely forthcoming (citing student privacy laws). G-E-T’s Superintendent Gunderson refused to show the t-shirts to one TV reporter. Based on media accounts, neither Mosinee nor G-E-T officials have provided evidence that the t-shirts caused disruption.

WEAU-TV 13 quotes one G-E-T student as saying that a fight broke out between some of the t-shirt wearing students and a few black students. It is unfortunate that the school is caught between protecting students’ privacy and expression rights. Students and school officials may have witnessed the controversial incident, but the community also has the right to know if students are being disciplined for their conduct or for their expression. The ACLU of Wisconsin is continuing its independent investigation.

In both controversies, school officials need to educate their students and respond to conflict. At G-E-T there is also apparently a need to work on race relations. The ACLU of Wisconsin has been developing programs to assist schools in such efforts. For more information from the ACLU of Wisconsin on youth rights, contact

The ACLU of Wisconsin has approximately 9,000 members who support its efforts to defend the civil liberties and civil rights of all Wisconsin residents. For more on the work of the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at ACLUMadison and ACLUofWisconsin.

ACLU of WI Supports the Proposed City Resolution on Immigration and Local Law Enforcement

1 Jun

The ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office sent a letter today to the members of the Madison Common Council urging them to support a resolution on the topic of local law enforcement, racial profiling and immigration. This is what we wrote:

“The ACLU of Wisconsin urges the City of Madison Common Council to vote in favor of a resolution affirming Madison’s current sensible approach to enforcement of flawed federal immigration laws and opposing discriminatory policing practices and proposals. Local law enforcement practices that involve racial profiling result in bad policing, overstep the authority of local governments, and ultimately make our communities less safe.

“This important resolution reaffirms existing Madison police policies which oppose racial profiling. In addition, the ACLU of Wisconsin also supports the call by the resolution sponsors for the Dane County Sheriff’s Department to end its current practice of reporting persons who are arrested – but not convicted of crimes – to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

“Around the country, the ACLU has actively challenged racial profiling. The most recent, extreme example of such a biased law – against which the ACLU has filed suit – is the recently-passed Arizona legislation allowing police officers to demand citizenship papers based on a so-called “reasonable suspicion” that a person is undocumented. This law clearly violates the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. constitution: it is inevitable that “reasonable suspicion” will disproportionately impact persons of color and non-native English speakers, U.S. citizens, lawful residents and suspected undocumented persons alike. By interfering with the federal government’s sole authority to regulate immigration, the Arizona law also violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

“Good community-based policing is essential for effective law enforcement to protect public safety. Local police rely on community residents to provide the information they need to fight crime. Immigration enforcement and racial profiling by local police undermine community policing efforts and add to the loss of trust by large sectors of the community it is obligated to serve and protect. In communities where people are afraid to talk to local police, more crimes go unreported, fewer witnesses come forth, and people are less likely to report suspicious activity.

The ACLU of Wisconsin therefore urges the Madison Common Council to protect everyone in the community and pass resolution 18594.”

Read more about the issue in this article from the Capitol Times.
The Madison common council will vote on the resolution tonight (Tuesday, June 1) at 6:30 p.m. in room 201 of the City-County building.