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This Week’s Citations at Capitol Abridge Our Right to Freely Assemble

11 Sep

The Wisconsin State Capitol Police began ticketing protesters in the Capitol Rotunda last week for holding up signs without a permit. According to a Department of Administration spokesperson, on Monday police issued more tickets both for “unlawful display of a sign and not having a permit.” The citations were served at the protesters home to “avoid confrontation and maintain order at the Capitol.”  

Since the extraordinary events of February 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has stepped up its efforts to protect the free speech rights of all Wisconsin residents at the Capitol and our volunteer legal observers are now at the Capitol Rotunda every day during the noon hour.

Today, in response to the State Capitol Police Chief’s new enforcement strategy, Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin made the following statement:

David Erwin, the State Capitol Police Chief since July 2012, has had a rocky start.  His on-again, off-again, on-again enforcement of regulations governing events and protests in the Capitol Rotunda suggests problems. Either he lacks an understanding of our constitutional rights or is willing to abridge the rights of all Wisconsin residents to peaceable assembly and free speech at the Capitol. 

Monday’s tickets are unconstitutional. It is ludicrous to say that it is illegal to hold up a sign or that groups as small as four people need to apply for a permit 72 hours in advance if they are promoting any cause. 

The police served the tickets at the protesters homes. This suggests that the police know the identity of many of protesters who regularly exercise their rights at the Capitol. It also suggests that this new enforcement effort is a high priority for the Capitol Police. The ACLU believes that there are better uses for the Capitol Police force’s limited resources. 

In a related matter, in an interview posted on wisconsinreporter.com on September 10, 2012 and on the eve of the anniversary of September 11, remarks from Chief Erwin have exposed another problem. According to the site, Erwin said, “And so we have a group of people that come here, and last week they were holding signs and they are part of this group that, for lack of a better word, are terrorizing people at this Capitol.” 

It is unclear what group of people he’s talking about; it may just be people who allegedly are disrespectful or call others names. Regardless, in our post-9/11 world, it is inappropriate to accuse someone of terrorizing others in this loose way. It is hard to imagine former Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs making such an accusation. Erwin admits that Tubbs did a great job during the large-scale protests as evidenced by the small number of arrests and the fact that no injuries occurred under Tubbs’ leadership.  Perhaps Erwin needs to learn how to defuse situations rather than engage in name calling. 

Do Four People Make a Rally? ACLU of WI Asks in Response to Miller-Erwin Letter Exchange

31 Aug

On August 28, Wisconsin State Senator Mark Miller sent a letter to Capitol Police Chief David Erwin expressing his concerns that the citizens of Wisconsin should have a free and open access to the Capitol building. In a letter of response by Capitol Police Chief David Erwin on August 30, Chief Erwin outlines why he believes permit requirements for political protests are reasonable.

Ultimately the ACLU of Wisconsin believes the new rules issued by the Wisconsin State Department of Administration, including the requirement for groups as few as four people to secure a permit for a “rally… for the purpose of actively promoting any cause,” are not reasonable. Particularly if the rules are applied to the Solidarity Sing Along which takes place at a reasonable time (the hours between noon and 1:00 p.m. are defined in the DOA’s rules as not being normal working hours) and place such as in the rotunda, where state of Wisconsin has long allowed the public to hold rallies of all sizes.

“Chief Erwin said the permit process has been in place for decades,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Communications Director Stacy Harbaugh. “However, I have been organizing volunteer legal observers to witness protests at the Capitol over the past six years and it has been my experience that Capitol Police have asked for voluntary compliance in filling out permits and in practice have only required permits for protests that require extra staffing, closed streets, access to building electricity and other logistical needs. There has typically been reasonable accommodation for protests large and small, planned or spontaneous.”

The Constitution allows “reasonable time, place and manner” regulations. But such restrictions on the use of space must be content-neutral. By requiring permits for “rallies” of four or more people, the DOA and Capitol Police must look at the content of the event to determine whether or not a group in the Capitol is a “rally” promoting a cause versus a gathering of four people who want to talk about where to get lunch.

In addition, any restriction must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest. Chief Erwin suggests that permits are required for police to adequately accommodate public safety interests, but it is unreasonable to suggest that a group as small as four would overwhelm the police force. Further, the First Amendment requires and the DOA’s own rules allow for defined, spontaneous events. It is the responsibility of the Capitol Police to have staffing plans in place to have the flexibility to protect the safety of all announced and unannounced visitors to the building.

The participants of the Solidarity Sing Along have worked with the Capitol police and staff to accommodate multiple users of the Capitol rotunda. This relationship can and should continue to meet the needs of police to make narrowly tailored, content-neutral space management decisions.

As for the public safety concerns outlined in Erwin’s letter, we believe it is the responsibility of the Capitol Police to ensure that the Capitol building is both a safe place to work and for demonstrators to engage in peaceful speech activity in the rotunda.  To threaten to enforce a permit requirement against peaceful, cooperative protesters on the basis of safety concerns arising from the alleged actions of a few individuals would punish those engaging in protected speech activity. If criminal harassment or intimidation is occurring against Capitol workers or singers alike, it is the responsibility of police to address it, not crackdown on peaceful protest.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will continue to coordinate volunteer legal observers to be witnesses of events at the Capitol over the weekday noon hour and monitor the enforcement of administrative rules.

A is for ACLU and Avenue Q

2 Aug

Tickets on sale now…

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, in partnership with Skylight Music Theatre, presents a special preview of the Milwaukee premiere of Avenue Q!

Join us on Thursday, September 20 for an evening of irreverent fun and free expression. Thursday night is the final, full-dress rehearsal for Avenue Q and a limited number of seats will be sold to benefit the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation.

When – September 20, 2012:

6:00 p.m. – Reception – cocktails and ample hors d’oeuvres

7:30 p.m. – Avenue Q in the Cabot Theater

Where – Skylight Music Theatre:

Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee WI 53202

Tickets for the September 20 event are on sale now! Buy tickets online or if you cannot make the event, consider making a donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation.

Find more about the Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Avenue Q on their website.

Winner of three Tony Awards including Best Musical and written by the composer of The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q is a hilarious adult-themed spoof of Sesame Street. Part flesh (human), part felt (puppets) and packed with heart, Avenue Q tells the story of Princeton, a recent college grad who moves into a shabby NYC apartment in the only neighborhood he can afford, all the way out on Avenue Q. He soon discovers that the residents of his building are not your ordinary neighbors. Together, Princeton and his new friends struggle to find decent jobs, stable relationships and a purpose in life, but ultimately realize the real world isn’t so bad after all.

This event is made possible by:

Birch Lodge Fund of

the Cream City Foundation

Pam Kriger

 Johnson & Pabst

LGBT Humanity Fund

of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation

Host Committee:

Ross Draegert & Robert Starshak

Paul Fairchild

Pam Kriger

Jennifer Morales

Joseph Pabst

Louis Weisberg

Paul Williams

Update: First Amendment Rights Affirmed in Glendale, Bayshore Mall

29 May

Collecting petition signatures and picketing on public sidewalks are classic examples of freedoms protected by the First Amendment. But Bayshore mall security ordered people who were collecting signatures from voters to recall the Governor and Lt. Governor on the sidewalks in front of the mall to leave. In another example, someone protesting the business practices of one of the mall’s merchants was arrested for picketing on the sidewalk. During the recall petition season, there were discussions around the state about where people had the freedom to collect signatures, including in the Milwaukee suburbs.

After mall management claimed it could control First Amendment activities because it “owned” the sidewalks along Port Washington Road and Silver Spring Drive, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation and volunteer attorneys took action to advocate for the rights of petitioners and picketers.

“A sidewalk is a sidewalk,” said Jeffrey Perzan, who was ordered to move by Glendale police while he collected recall petition signatures on the sidewalk along Port Washington Road. “The First Amendment protects my right to persuade my neighbors and the public to take action in the public places where they already congregate.”  Another protester, Lincoln Rice, picketed against Trader Joe’s business practices on the sidewalk outside its store and was arrested and issued a trespassing citation.

In December, the ACLU of Wisconsin opposed the actions by mall management and city police because every court to consider similar questions has held that private businesses cannot insulate themselves from criticism by artificially designating public sidewalks as private property. Despite a letter from the ACLU, mall security and Glendale police ordered Mr. Perzan to move from an allegedly “private” sidewalk along Port Washington Road as recently as January 6, 2012.

With the help of attorney Jim Gramling, citations were dismissed and negotiations with Bayshore Town Center and the City of Glendale  resulted in an acknowledgement of citizens’ First Amendment rights to picket and petition on public sidewalks.

“This is a victory for the most basic form of free speech,” said Gramling.  “Sidewalks and parks are places where people traditionally have exchanged ideas and tried to persuade their neighbors to adopt their views. And unlike other forums for expression, like television or the radio, they can be used without charge, so anyone, rich or poor, can seek an audience there.”

The perimeter sidewalks where First Amendment activity is permitted include:  (1) the entire sidewalk on the north side of and parallel to Silver Spring Drive from Port Washington Road on the west to Lydell Avenue on the east;  (2) the entire sidewalk on the east side of and parallel to Port Washington Road from Silver Spring Drive on the south to Carrigan Drive on the north; and (3) the sidewalks on the west side of and parallel to Lydell Avenue from Silver Spring Drive on the south to Carrigan Drive on the north.

Although some portions of these sidewalks are owned by private entities and other portions are owned by the City, assembly and other expressive activity, as long as it is peaceful, and does not in any way disrupt access, or impede public health, welfare or safety, is lawful on all of these sidewalks, regardless of their ownership. The mall has not agreed to allow protest on the interior streets and sidewalks of Bayshore Town Center where the public gathers. Anyone attempting to protest in these interior spaces may be subject to arrest and/or citation or prosecution.

In addition to Attorney Gramling, Attorneys Holden Brooks and Michael Halfenger of Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee volunteered their time in this case.

This story was also covered on dane101.com and in the Proof and Heresay blog of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with a lively comments section.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

No Sanctuary From Public Criticism: Meet Philip Krejcarek, Photographer

12 Apr

What would you do if you were an artist whose work was suddenly the topic du jour of a conservative talk show radio? Meet Carroll University Professor Philip Krejarek, a photographer who faced public criticism for his exhibit, “Sanctuary.”

While the subjects in Krejcarek’s  2008 show involved the female form and themes of early Catholic concepts of adoration of women, Belling described the art as being lewd and criticized Krejcarek’s work as being anti-Christian. Belling’s primary complaint was that the public relations official from Carroll University wouldn’t make comments about the exhibition. But despite criticism on talk radio, the university stood by Professor Krejcarek and allowed the exhibition to continue.

You can hear a ten-minute clip from one of Belling’s shows on the topic here:

Philip Krejcarek has been a Professor of Art at the Waukesha’s Carroll University since 1977 and has been the Chairman of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts since 2009. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has published books of his work including the 1997 “Digital Photography: A Hands-on Introduction” and the 2003 “An Introduction to Digital Imaging.” His collections have been featured in the Milwaukee Art Museum; Haggerty Museum of Art, Milwaukee; Denver Art Museum; Wustum Museum of Fine Arts, Racine and across the City of Milwaukee.

Gallery Night in the Historic Third Ward: Meet Professor Krejcarek

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation will host an event featuring three Milwaukee area artists who have faced some form of censorship or limits on their expressive work.  The “Eye of the Beholder: Censorship in Art from Eden to Milwaukee” event will be held on Friday, April 20, from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. Artists include Philip Krejcarek as well as Anne Kingsbury and Fahimeh Vahdat. Learn more about the artists on our blog.  The Robert Marshall Building is a sponsor of the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation event.

The Gallery Night event is free, but donations in support of the civil liberties litigation and public education work of the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation are welcome. You can RSVP to the event or share it on Facebook. For more information or to be a sponsor of the event, contact Marion Ecks at mecks@aclu-wi.org.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is a non-profit civil liberties and civil rights organization working to protect the rights of all Wisconsinites. For more on the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation of Wisconsin, visit our webpage, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @ACLUofWisconsin and @ACLUMadison. Read more news and opinion on civil liberties in Wisconsin on the Forward for Liberty blog.

ACLU of WI Announces Civil Liberties Awards, Bill of Rights Celebration for March 17

8 Feb

On Saturday, March 17, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and its supporters will recognize some of Wisconsin’s notable civil libertarians at the annual Bill of Rights Celebration. This year’s special guest will be Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU’s national Voting Rights Project. The event is themed “This is What Democracy Looks Like,” to celebrate Wisconsin’s commitment to civil liberties and democratic values.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will recognize accomplishments of civil libertarians over the past year through the following awards:

William Gorham Rice Civil Libertarian of the Year: Solidarity Sing Along, for expression of the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of assembly. The Solidarity Sing Along is an event that has occurred at the state Capitol every weekday since March 11, 2011 soon after the building was ordered to be reopened after massive demonstrations. For the past year, participants of the Solidarity Sing Along have demonstrated a clear commitment to protecting peaceful expression in the Capitol rotunda.

Eunice Z. Edgar Lifetime Achievement Award: Rose Daitsman, for her life-long dedication to economic and gender equality and social reform. Rose Daitsman has been a member of the ACLU of Wisconsin since 1989 and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Milwaukee ACLU Chapter. She worked to promote gender equity and the elimination of racial discrimination in engineering education, and has worked to promote the implementation of Civil Rights Law and the Human Rights Treaties of the United Nations. Daitsman’s lifetime of leadership and activism is rooted in a commitment to protecting peace and human dignity. A few of her recognitions include the US Department of Energy’s Math/Science Leadership Award, World Federalist Peace Award, and the Community Shares of Greater Milwaukee Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jack and Lucy Rosenberg Youth Civil Libertarian of the Year: Young Legal Observers for their immediate and energetic response to the need to document the rights of protesters in Madison and Milwaukee. These young people have been trained to be witnesses at demonstrations and to document any violations of First Amendment rights that may occur in our public spaces. Their volunteerism, no matter what the weather or long hours, helps to defend free speech in Wisconsin. 

Special guest speaker, Laughlin McDonald, has been the director of the Atlanta-based Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union since 1972 and has been an attorney and law professor. He has represented racial and language minorities in discrimination cases and specialized in the area of voting rights. He has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, testified frequently before Congress, and written for scholarly and popular publications on civil liberties issues. His most recent books are A Voting Rights Odyssey: Black Enfranchisement in Georgia, and American Indians and the Fight for Equal Voting Rights.

For updates on this event, follow #BoRC on Twitter. Register for the event online at: www.aclu-wi/BORCThe event is held annually as a benefit for the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s legal program and work to educate Wisconsin residents about their civil liberties and rights. This year’s event will be held at the Pfister Hotel at 424 East Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee and begins at 6:00 p.m.  To sponsor our awards, please contact Development Director Kristin Hansen khansen@aclu-wi.org or by phone 414-272-4032 extension 228.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

I ♥ Boobies! Bracelet Ban Stays in Place: WI District Court Denies End to Sauk Prairie Ban

8 Feb

This week a federal district court judge denied a request by the ACLU of Wisconsin and cooperating attorneys to end a ban on “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets at the Sauk Prairie Middle School. The decision described “I Boobies!” as a “vulgar and sexually provocative statement” despite the educational context of the Keep A Breast foundation’s national campaign.

We blogged about this lawsuit last year when the lawsuit was originally filed. We asserted that student free speech should include the right to wear these breast cancer awareness bracelets. “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets are a part of a national campaign by the Keep A Breast Foundation. The rubber bracelets are similar to other bracelets that promote awareness of health or social issues and are geared to educate young women about the need for breast cancer research, education and early detection of the disease.

“Our middle school client is dedicated to effectively and constructively educating her peers about breast cancer,” said Attorney Tamara Packard. “It is disappointing that this decision will leave in place a ban on student speech that conveys our plaintiff’s belief that breast cancer is a critical women’s health issue of our time. The very purpose of the bracelets is to educate other young people about cancer prevention, testing, research and treatment.”

While the decision recognizes that students’ rights to free expression must be protected, it leaves too much discretion in the hands of school boards and administrators to punish controversial student expression by relying on a too-subjective and vague definition of “vulgar, offensive or inappropriate.” In the future, schools may punish students arbitrarily based on nothing more than a hypersensitive principal’s “I know it when I see it” notion of vulgarity rather than on an objective standard for free speech.

The Wisconsin suit was filed in September, 2011 on behalf of a middle school student at Sauk Prairie Middle School who along with many classmates wore an “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelet to school for months without incident before the school district banned them. Last year, a federal district court in Pennsylvania stopped a ban on the bracelets and issued an opinion that the bracelets could not be considered lewd or vulgar. In B.H. v. Easton Area School District decision, as in the Sauk Prairie M. S., school officials failed to present evidence that the bracelets had or would cause a disruption at the school. The Pennsylvania case is facing an appeal by the school district. The ACLU of Wisconsin and the Sauk Prairie student plaintiff are evaluating their appeal options in the Wisconsin case.

You can read our press release on this decision on our website. You can also download and read the full U.S. District Court for Western District of Wisconsin ruling on K. J. vs. Sauk Prairie Middle School. This issue was covered in the Baraboo News Republic and the Wisconsin State Journal (while the text and author of the articles are the same, the comments sections of the stories are lively). The same week as the Wisconsin decision, the ACLU of Indiana filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of a Monticello, IN student. You can read more (and weigh in on the poll) in an article on the Huffington Post.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Protest Rights at the Capitol for State of the State

25 Jan

We first posted the “Top 5 Things to Know at Protests” on Feb. 16, 2011. The basics haven’t changed much, despite last year’s Capitol lockdown and the new rules restricting the rights of demonstrators issued by the state Department of Administration in December.

But as we gear up to send volunteer legal observers to the state Capitol to witness the rallies responding to Governor Walker’s second State of the State address, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation would like to reaffirm the rights of protesters to peaceably assemble at our Capitol. We want to remind activists about the top five things to remember when demonstrating:

1. Signs with sticks are not allowed in the Capitol building for safety reasons. New rules prohibit signs that attach to walls or that lean, so keep the banners hand-held. Newer prohibitions against musical instruments, including drums, may also be enforced.

2. Peaceful demonstrations are allowed, so long as they don’t violate other people’s rights. However ignoring police orders is not allowed. The police may not shut down a demonstration entirely, but may put reasonable limits on the time, place and manner of a protest, including closing the Capitol building after the State of the State speech event is over. If police issue orders to protesters to leave an area or to otherwise conform to announced rules, protesters who ignore orders could be subject to citation or arrest.

3. Be a good observer. Document any problems at demonstrations with notes (time, location, details) and especially with cameras. The National Lawyers’ Guild has a guide for trained legal observers that is an excellent resource on how to document protests (PDF). Be friendly to the ACLU observers who will be there in yellow t-shirts or safety vests.

4. An individual under arrest should say nothing to law enforcement without their attorney present. Please see the ACLU of Wisconsin Guide for Demonstrators (PDF) for more details on what is constitutionally protected activity. Criminal behavior is not protected by the First Amendment. For more information on interacting with law enforcement, please see our bust cards for Milwaukee (PDF) and Madison (PDF).

5. Protests in public spaces like sidewalks and in the Capitol within a reasonable time, place and manner are allowed. In general, protesters have the most rights in outdoor public spaces like public sidewalks and the Capitol grounds. As long as the protest is peaceful and does not block traffic, most protest activities are allowed in such spaces.

As protests continue, we remind everyone to take care of themselves, cooperate and continue to exercise their free speech rights without problems or incidents.

If you or your organization face restrictions on your right to demonstrate within these guidelines, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office at (608) 469-5540 or give your contact information to an ACLU legal observer.

Despite Some Improvements, State Capitol Access Policy Continues to Threaten First Amendment Rights

16 Dec

Today the Wisconsin Department of Administration issued modified its new state facilities access policy following intense criticism from the ACLU of Wisconsin, representatives of demonstrators, elected officials (letter from Rep. Taylor, Wisconsin Legislature) and editorial writers (including the Wisconsin State Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Capitol Times) . You can find the clarifications on the department’s website (PDF).

The ACLU of Wisconsin has conducted an initial review of the policy.  We recognize that the Department has made improvements to the policy, including clarifications regarding a permit requirement for distribution of literature (only those distributing commercial literature need a permit) and the policy’s non-discrimination provision (it now includes sexual orientation which was missing in the first draft).  The new version of the policy also appears to reduce the chances that peaceable demonstrations will be charged for extra law enforcement costs (prompted by counter-demonstrators).

However, the ACLU continues to have serious reservations regarding some provisions of the modified policy, including,

  1. The policy still defines a rally “as a gathering of four or more people for the purpose of promoting any cause.”  (Page 5)  There is no sound reason to require such a small group to obtain a permit.
  2. The policy still holds groups liable for damages incurred “as a result of” the event, whether or not there was any culpability, such as negligence on the group’s part for the damages. (Page 15)
  3. It remains unclear how the Department will determine how many “extra” officers, if any, might be needed for particular event, thus resulting in charges to a group.  Will the DOA make an estimate of the number of likely attendees?  Or determine whether “trouble” is likely?  On what basis would DOA make such determinations?

The ACLU of Wisconsin will seek further clarification from the Department.  In the meantime it requests that the Department delay the enforcement of the new policy: it is still too restrictive.  The ACLU of Wisconsin continues to consider legal action against the Department based on both the language of the policy and its potential enforcement.

The ACLU of Wisconsin and other supporters of free speech at the State Capitol will be holding a media conference there on Monday, December 19thbeginning at 11 a.m. in the Assembly Parlor to announce their reaction to the modified policy.

Yesterday we recognized the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Bill of Rights by distributing copies of the Bill of Rights and small U.S. Flags to visitors at Milwaukee State Office Building downtown. We reminded people that this act would have required a permit under the DOA regulations. The amended rules will now allow this activity on the steps of state buildings.

Today’s news was highlighted by the Associated Press in the Wisconsin State Journal and in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

“While We Still Can.” ACLU of WI Distributes Literature in Milwaukee in Honor of Bill of Rights Day

15 Dec

Today, the ACLU of Wisconsin is celebrating the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

We celebrated in Milwaukee by distributing copies of the Bill of Rights and U.S. Flags on the public area outside the State of Wisconsin Office Building at 819 N. Sixth Street.

The ACLU of Wisconsin distributes US flags and copies of the Bill of Rights for the 220th ratification anniversary.

Because of a new Department of Administration policy, this may be the last time we’ll be able to celebrate in this public area without a permit. The new DOA state facilities access policy, which covers the Milwaukee State Office building as well as the State Capitol in Madison, unduly restricts First Amendment activities.

The ACLU of Wisconsin believes the new policy is too restrictive, gives authorities too much discretion based on content, requires too high a price for free speech, and is too obviously designed to protect public officials from public criticism.

The new policy requires groups as small as four or anyone seeking to distribute literature to get a permit. In addition, groups would be liable for extra police costs based on the content of their speech.  We urge the Department to re-write the new policy so that it passes constitutional muster.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

DOA Information Session on Protest Permit/Liability Scheme Leaves Citizens with More Questions

6 Dec

Despite the information session offered today by Capitol Police and the state Department of Administration (DOA), the details of how they will enforce new permit and liability policies related to Capitol protest are still unclear. What is clear is that the new rules as written are too restrictive, give police too much discretion to suppress first amendment activity and are too obviously a reaction to the ongoing, critical protests that have occurred in the Capitol since February.

“I asked the representative of the DOA how decisions would be made to divide liability between a demonstration and a counterdemonstration, but that question was dismissed as a hypothetical situation on which they couldn’t comment,” said Stacy Harbaugh of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Although the discussion often became heated, valid questions asked by participants about how their First Amendment rights would be protected were not answered. We are all left with too many unanswered questions.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin calls upon the state Department of Administration to ensure that an attorney or other staff will be present at future information sessions (scheduled in the Capitol Basement for Thursday at 4:00 p.m. and Saturday at 9:00 a.m.) who are authorized to respond to the legal concerns and questions citizens have about the details of the new rules. While the DOA insists that these rules were written based on their authority under the Administrative codes, questions remain about policies for law enforcement discretion, defining what activity requires a permit, and the legitimacy of requiring permits for expressive activity and holding individuals liable for police costs at demonstrations.

“It is understandable that order must be maintained at the Capitol,” said Harbaugh. “But these rules simply provide too much opportunity to not only suppress the free speech of the demonstrators who have been a constant and critical presence at the Capitol, but also serve to intimidate future protesters through fees and liability. It is in the public interest to allow greater freedom of speech in the Capitol, not to restrict it through this permitting scheme.”

News coverage of the information session was featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, and the Oshkosh Northwestern (via AP). Tune into the Joy Cardin show on Wisconsin Public Radio on Wednesday, December 7 at 7:00 a.m. to hear the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Executive Director talk more about the First Amendment issues at stake.

Student Free Speech Includes “Boobies” Bracelets: Lawsuit Filed Against Sauk Prairie Middle School Bracelet Ban

8 Sep
I heart boobies bracelets

Keep A Breast Foundation's I heart Boobies Bracelets

Student free speech should include the right to wear breast cancer awareness bracelets, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation and cooperating attorneys today. The suit was filed on behalf of a middle school student at Sauk Prairie Middle School who along with many classmates wore an “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelet to school and prompted a school ban.

“While a public school can put some reasonable limits on expression that poses a credible threat of a disruption of its educational activities or school mission, the mere discomfort some may have with the bracelets’ slang language is not a justification for banning the bracelets and punishing students who wear them,” said Attorney Tamara Packard.

“I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets are a part of a national campaign by the Keep A Breast Foundation. The rubber bracelets are similar to other bracelets that promote awareness of health or social issues and are geared to educate young women about the need for breast cancer research, education and early detection of the disease.

The Sauk Prairie Middle School had deemed the term “boobies” to be inappropriate slang for the school setting. However, the term, especially in the context of the serious issue of breast cancer awareness, is not lewd, vulgar or indecent and should be allowed as a form of free student expression.

“It is the very social stigma of discussing women’s breasts that keeps breast cancer prevention, education and research from moving forward,” said Attorney Lori Eshleman, who is also a breast cancer survivor. “When nearly 40,000 Americans will die of breast cancer this year, we should engage in a national discussion about prevention rather than suppress young women’s speech that includes the term boobies.”

This spring a federal court issued an injunction stopping a similar bracelet ban and agreed that the “boobies” bracelets were not indecent or disruptive student expression. Pennsylvania’s Easton Area School District has appealed that decision.

The lawsuit against the Sauk Prairie Middle School comes after repeated requests for the school to drop the bracelet ban were ignored and rejected. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and cooperating attorneys hope the school will rescind the ban and allow this form of student expression without further legal action.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is a non-profit civil liberties and civil rights organization working to protect the rights of Wisconsinites. Cullen Weston Pines & Bach LLP is a well-respected full-service Madison law firm with a passion for the constitutional principles upon which our nation was founded, including free speech, equal protection, and participatory democracy.  Attorney Lori Eshleman specializes in health care and disability discrimination law at Traver, Haass & Eshleman.

For more on the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. You can also get news and opinion on civil liberties in Wisconsin on our Forward for Liberty blog. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.