Tag Archives: ACLU

New coalition set up to push ‘criminal justice reform’

Press release from Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice
NASHVILLE – Leaders from advocacy, business and social service groups with constituents across the state came together today to launch the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice. The nonpartisan coalition is committed to advancing criminal justice reform. Founding organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“These diverse organizations from across the political spectrum came together because we all agree that criminal justice reform is both necessary and urgent,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Our current criminal justice system is functioning like a revolving door. We as a state can and must do better to ensure public safety, fair treatment and equality in the justice system. This coalition will be a powerful advocate for smart-on-crime policies at the legislature.”

The coalition will promote reforms that enhance public safety, promote rehabilitation and re-entry, and save taxpayer dollars in order to create a just and fair criminal justice system that offers every Tennessean the opportunity to become a productive member of society. Continue reading

ACLU settles lawsuit over student’s shirt slogan

News release from ACLU of Tennessee
NASHVILLE — In a victory for free speech, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee announced a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Richland High School graduate Rebecca Young, who was censored by her school system for wearing a shirt to school supporting equality for lesbian and gay people. The Giles County school system has modified its discriminatory dress code policy that banned pro-LGBT speech.

“This is a victory not just for one student’s right to free speech, but for all students in the Giles County school system,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. “Our settlement reinforces that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. We are pleased that Giles County students will no longer face unjust censorship if they choose to express support for the LGBT community while at school.”

The lawsuit, Rebecca Young v. Giles County Board of Education, et al., stemmed from an incident on August 5, 2015, when Young wore a shirt to school that read, “Some People Are Gay, Get Over It.” At the end of the school day, the principal publicly reprimanded Young for wearing the shirt, telling her that she could not wear that shirt or any other shirt referencing lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender rights to school because it supposedly made her a target and provoked other students. Young had worn the shirt the entire day without incident. Continue reading

Some TN reaction to bathroom lawsuit

From Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee:

“Title VII and Title IX have long prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, and federal courts and agencies have recognized that this includes protections for transgender people. Like guidance issued by federal agencies for decades, the guidance in question does not change the law, but explains what agencies think existing law requires.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that you cannot sue an agency just because you disagree with the agency’s non-binding guidance. Moreover, because the guidance is nonbinding, this lawsuit appears to be nothing more than politically-motivated.

“But underneath all of the political bluster are real students, young people who should not have to live in fear of punishment or harassment every time they use the restroom like their peers, or be made to feel like second-class citizens merely for being themselves. We will continue to work toward a day when all students in Tennessee are treated fairly under the law.”

From Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville

“On behalf of the Senate Republican Caucus, we are pleased that Tennessee will join with other states in challenging the Obama Administration’s actions regarding the redefinition of the term ‘sex’ in connection with Title VII and Title IX and local education, and state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment.”

“We remain hopeful that the Attorney General will demonstrate similar resolve regarding enforcement of the Refugee Act, public safety and state sovereignty pursuant to SJR467.”

From Family Action Council of Tennessee

Today the state of Tennessee, through the Tennessee Attorney General’s office, joined a lawsuit filed in Texas by that state and several other states over the Obama administration’s attempt to redefine “sex” in Title IX to mean the “gender” by which people subjectively identify themselves, risking the privacy and safety of our citizens. (Link to complaint HERE.)

We are still reviewing the complaint, but give a hearty “amen” to the following statement in it: “Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”
Continue reading

ACLU files civil rights complaint against transgender bathroom policy

News release from American Civil Liberties Union-Tennessee
NASHVILLE — The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stating that Sumner County Schools’ policy prohibiting transgender students from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity violates the requirements of federal anti-discrimination law and the United States Constitution. The complaint was filed on behalf of a transgender high school freshman and her parents.

“No student should have to endure the stigma and marginalization of being segregated from the rest of the student body,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Abby R. Rubenfeld of the Rubenfeld Law Office, PC. “These kinds of blanket bans prevent transgender students from being treated fairly and equally at school. This policy is not only misguided, it’s a direct violation of Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The complaint was filed on behalf of the Sumner County public high school student and her parents using pseudonyms, in order to avoid further stigmatization and bullying of the student because of the school district policy. The complaint seeks the Department of Education’s assistance in enforcing federal law regarding the treatment of transgender students in public schools. Continue reading

‘Some people are gay, get over it’ t-shirt draws ACLU lawsuit

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has sued Giles County school officials for prohibiting a student from wearing pro-LGBT rights apparel to school, reports The Tennessean.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit Monday against Giles County Schools’ superintendent, the school board and a high school principal.

The prohibition of pro-LGBT rights apparel violates students’ free speech rights, according to the lawsuit.

“Our goal in this case is to ensure that students are not censored for expressing their support for the equal treatment and acceptance of LGBT students,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee director, in an interview.

Richland High School senior Rebecca Young wore a pro-LGBT T-shirt on the first day of school in August. Young’s shirt read, “Some People Are Gay, Get Over It.”

Richland High Principal Micah Landers publicly reprimanded Young for wearing the T-shirt, the lawsuit says. Landers said Young could not wear the T-shirt to school because it made her a target for bullying and provoked other students, the lawsuit says.

In a phone call with Young’s mother, Superintendent Philip Wright said he supported Landers’ action. Wright said any clothing expressing support for the LGBT community, including a rainbow symbol, violated the school’s dress code, the lawsuit says.

Nashville police, ICE paying $310K to settle ACLU lawsuit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Five years after immigration agents and local police raided a south Nashville apartment complex, the federal and Nashville governments have agreed to pay $310,000 to 14 people who sued over constitutional violations.

Plaintiffs include 12 Hispanic immigrant men who were arrested, and an American woman and boy who were detained and questioned. As part of the settlement, deportation proceedings against eight of the plaintiffs were deferred for seven years.

Plaintiffs claimed in federal court that the immigration operation was intended to rid the Clairmont Apartments of Hispanic residents, at the request of management. Under the settlement, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit against police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, which have denied any wrongdoing.

The settlement with the officers was announced Monday. A separate settlement with the apartment owners and management was reached earlier this year. Terms of that settlement were not disclosed.

Plaintiff Marvin Benjamin Lopez Raxcaco had been about to go to the store with some friends on Oct. 20, 2010, when their car was surrounded by immigration agents, according to the lawsuit. Although the agents had no warrants, they detained and questioned the men, then arrested them on immigration charges.
Continue reading

ACLU protests TN school’s refusal to let girl play football

News release from American Civil Liberties Union, Tennessee
TREZEVANT, Tenn. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today sent a letter to the West Carroll Special School District urging it to allow a female student to join the junior high football team. The school district had refused the student’s request to join the team solely because of her gender.

“Schools cannot exclude girls from the sport of their choice based solely on their gender. The Fourteenth Amendment protects girls from such unequal treatment,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. “For over forty years, courts have made it clear that if a girl wants to play football and there is not an equivalent football team for girls, she must be allowed equal access to the boys’ team.”

The letter was sent on behalf of Thalia Townsend and her family. Townsend, a rising seventh grader at West Carroll Junior/Senior High School, has played left tackle in a community football league for two years. On May 11, 2015, Townsend was turned away from the initial meeting of the West Carroll junior high football team by the coach, who stated that girls are not allowed to play football at the school. Every boy at the meeting was allowed to join the team. When Townsend’s mother, Michelle Larsen, contacted the coach and, subsequently, Director of Schools Eric Williams, she too was told that the school had a policy against allowing girls to play football.

“I’ve never had a problem on the field because I’m a girl. Most of the time the boys don’t even realize I’m a girl until I take my helmet off,” Townsend said. “I just want a chance to play for my school because I love the game.”
Continue reading

ACLU claims victory in lawsuit over TN parents picking a new name for their children

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Department of Health has agreed to let a Brentwood couple give their child the surname of their choice, bringing to an end a contentious legal battle that began last year.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the parents, hailed the state’s decision as a victory for the rights of the couple.

“This is a free speech issue and parents should be able to name their children what they want to name their children,” said Tom Castelli, legal director for the ACLU of Tennessee.

The lawsuit against the state was dismissed Thursday and a birth certificate has been issued with the parents’ chosen surname, he said.

Dr. Carl Abramson and Kimberly Sarubbi sued in October after the state refused to allow the couple to give their third child the last name Sabr. The name is a combination of both their last names. Their two older children, who had been born in other states, were allowed to have the last name Sabr. But the state refused to put the name on their youngest child’s birth certificate, and instead listed the child’s surname as Abramson on the official birth record.

A state Attorney General’s opinion issued last year said Tennessee law does not allow the surname of a child listed on a birth certificate to contain only a portion of the father’s last name and a portion of the mother’s last name.

It’s not clear whether the state is interpreting the law differently and will now give Tennessee parents more leeway in deciding what last names they can give their children, or if this was just an isolated case where the government relented simply because officials wanted the lawsuit to go away.
Continue reading

ACLU, Beacon Center to jointly lobby for reform of ‘policing for profit’ laws

The American Civil Liberties Union, usually depicted as left-wing in politics, and the Beacon Center of Tennessee, usually depicted as right-wing, are jointly backing reform of state police forfeiture laws – known as “policing for profit” by critics.

From TNReport’s report:

One issue critics have taken with the operation of the state’s drug task forces is that they’re funded through asset seizures, which they say creates an incentive to seize cash and property, rather than focusing on drug seizures.

Beacon’s “top priority will be to send all forfeited property to the state’s general fund,” according to a statement from Lindsay Boyd, the center’s policy director. Taking this step would “remove the perverse incentives associated with the current system” by stopping officers from lining “agency budgets with the proceeds confiscated from search and seizures,” she said.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director Tennessee ACLU, said a step in the right direction would be to remove the appearance of the profit-seeking incentive. She added that they would also like to see a requirement for arrest and conviction before property can be seized, as well as shifting from the individual to the government the burden of proof to justify a seizure. Law enforcement agencies should also provide better data in instances where property or cash is seized from individuals, in order for the state to discover the true “extent and prevalence” of the practice, Weinberg said.

Both organizations said they’re still in discussions with lawmakers to work out the specifics of the legislative action.

State Sen. Mike Bell, a Riceville Republican and lest session’s chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, has said he is working on a bill to address the matter, but the particulars aren’t mailed down. “I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I’m going to approach this,” said Bell, who chaired a Senate hearing last year that took a look at the oversight of the state’s Judicial Drug Task Forces. He added that he expects several bills dealing with the issue this year.

ACLU reports poll workers providing ‘misleading’ amendment info to voters

Spurred by reports that some Monroe County poll workers provided “misleading” anti-abortion information to voters, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has demanded state officials make it clear to all 95 local election commissions that such activity is unacceptable, reports the Chattanooga TFP.

In her letter on Friday to Secretary of State Tre Hargett and State Election Coordinator Mark Goins, ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said the organization is “very troubled about reports that poll workers are distributing misleading and clearly partisan information” on all four of the proposed amendments to the Tennessee Constitution.

That includes Amendment 1, which would change the state constitution and hand new powers to state lawmakers to enact new laws on abortion.

“We received reports that poll workers gave voters a guide that states, among other things, that voting no on Amendment 1 indicates that ‘you believe later term [partial birth] abortions need fewer regulations,'” Weinberg wrote.

She said the voter guide also advises that by voting against Amendment 3, which bans state officials from ever enacting an income tax, “you are saying you believe Tennessee needs to eventually get a State Income tax.”

“Such statements are subjective and also driven by specific campaigns,” Weinberg said, and urged state officials to “immediately issue a directive to all county Election Commissions denouncing this practice and mandating that poll workers and other election officials are prohibited from distributing such material or otherwise attempting to influence a voter’s decision.”

…She said the reports came out of four precincts in Monroe County, including one each in Madisonville and Sweetwater. It wasn’t clear whether the voter guides were actually handed out or simply read to voters, she said.

Her letter warns that distributing “material designed to mislead and confuse voters is tantamount to influencing that person’s vote.” And, Weinberg noted in the letter, it is a Class A misdemeanor if someone “influences or attempts to influence the voter in casting such person’s vote.”

The ACLU-TN opposes the abortion amendment.