Tag Archives: ACLU

ACLU files lawsuit on naming of Brentwood baby

News release from American Civil Liberties Union-Tennessee
NASHVILLE – In an effort to protect Tennessee parents’ First Amendment right to name their own children, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) today filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a Brentwood family.

When Dr. Carl Abramson and Kimberly Sarubbi married, they decided to keep their last names for personal and professional reasons. However, when their first child was born, they did not want her to share a last name with only one parent, nor did they want to hyphenate their names. Ultimately they determined that a combination of the beginning letters of both of their last names, Sabr, would be the best surname for their children. Their first two children, born in Nevada and California, share this last name. However this past summer, when their third child was born in Tennessee, the state Department of Health denied their request to use the name and issued a birth certificate for the child with the last name “Abramson.”

“Parents have a fundamental right to make decisions for their children,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Carolyn W. Schott of Sherrard & Roe PLC. “Naming our own children is not only a very personal decision, it’s also an act of free expression, protected by the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions.”

ACLU-TN filed the lawsuit, Abramson et. al. v. Dreyzehner et. al., in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee today.

“Like all parents, we thought long and hard about what we wanted to name our kids,” said Sarubbi. “The name Sabr reflects both our individual families and the union of those families through our marriage and our kids.”

“As two states have already recognized with our older children, we have the right as parents to name our children what we want,” said Abramson. “Our children’s names do not impact the state in any way, but they mean a lot to our family.”

In addition to Schott, the Sabr family is represented by Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. The plaintiffs are seeking an order from the court declaring this state law unconstitutional.

A copy of the complaint filed today is available HERE (with some information redacted)

Four, so far, blocked from welfare benefits by new TN law requiring drug testing

A controversial new Tennessee law to drug-test applicants for public benefits has already resulted in the Department of Human Services disqualifying people seeking aid since the rules went into effect July 1, reports The Tennessean.

Four people were turned down because they refused to participate in any part of the drug screening process. Six other people willingly submitted to a drug test, and one tested positive. Officials with the Department of Human Services say they are making contact with that applicant for further action — which could include referral to a drug treatment program as a condition of receiving benefits or disqualification if the person refuses.

The 10 people affected by the new rules are a small fraction of the 812 people who applied for Tennessee Families First cash assistance program since the measure took effect. The vast majority — 802 — passed the initial written drug screening.

But opponents and backers of the law say they are keeping a close eye on how the rules affect low-income welfare applicants: Will they root out drug users who could potentially abuse the small cash stipend intended to aid families with children? Or are the new rules an unconstitutional intrusion into the privacy rights of poor Tennesseans?

“I think this is a positive step, and I hope that individuals get the help they need,” said state Sen. Stacey Campfield, author of the law, who noted that new rules direct state officials to connect applicants who test positive to treatment programs.

But Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said the law is unconstitutional and the group intends to challenge it in court.

“We don’t test individuals who are seeking government support like farmers, veterans and students, so we have to take a step back and question why limited-income people are being targeted and have to submit to these intrusive searches,” Weinberg said.

ACLU eyes lawsuit against TN welfare drug-testing law

News release from American Civil Liberties Union-Tennessee
NASHVILLE – A new law mandating drug testing for some Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) applicants goes into effect today. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) lobbied against the legislation and opposes the law, which raises serious constitutional concerns.

The state legislature passed the drug testing law, T.C.A. § 71-3-1201-1206, in 2012 and gave the Tennessee Department of Human Services two years to develop a plan for implementing the drug-testing program.

ACLU-TN had sent a letter to Governor Haslam urging him to veto the bill, citing concerns that the bill was unconstitutional because it was vague, singled out a particular group for differential treatment, and allowed for an intrusive search without probable cause.

The following can be attributed to Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee:

“This law singles out limited-income people and requires them to submit to humiliating and intrusive searches of their bodily fluids because they need temporary help making ends meet. Research indicates that TANF recipients are no more likely to use illicit drugs than farmers, veterans, and students, who also receive government support. ACLU-TN wants to hear from any potential TANF recipients who do not want to submit to the required drug testing.”

TANF-eligible Tennesseans who are concerned about how this law will affect them should contact ACLU-TN at http://www.aclu-tn.org/gethelp.htm.

Tennessee ACLU launches ‘public awareness’ campaign criticizing Corrections Corp. of America (CCA)

News release from American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee:
In an effort to increase public awareness about special interest groups with a stake in mass incarceration, the ACLU of Tennessee recently launched the “Who Is CCA?” campaign. This public education initiative focuses on the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America. With over sixty correctional facilities across the country, including six in Tennessee, CCA is the nation’s oldest and largest for-profit prison company.

CCA is currently under criminal investigation by the FBI after admitting in court to falsifying 4,800 hours of guard posts required under an Idaho contract. An independent auditor found that CCA failed to fill at least 26,000 hours of required posts in 2012 alone, for an average of 500 hours per week of missing security staff.  CCA continued to collect payments from the state for guards who were never assigned to work, while the facility in question amassed four times the number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults than the state‘s seven other prisons combined. The Idaho Department of Corrections identified inadequate staffing as the primary cause of the violence.

In a 2012 audit, the Tennessee Comptroller’s office found that a “recurring issue was apparent” at CCA facilities with Department of Corrections staff noting several noncompliance issues “due to CCA staff not entering information, not entering information in a timely manner, entering inaccurate information, and/or entering insufficient information” into the system for managing inmate data.

In addition to mismanagement, evidence of cost-savings in private prisons is mixed at best.  Numerous studies have found no cost advantage to private prisons. Tennessee pays CCA nearly $97 million annually, including contractual obligations to pay the corporation for empty beds.

The “Who Is CCA?” campaign’s focal point is an online resource center housing an infographic, statistical information, a video, a policy report, a petition urging the state of Tennessee to end CCA contracts, blog posts and other resources.  The campaign is launching online.
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ACLU’s ‘Countdown to Colbert’ gets columnist’s attention

The American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee is hosting a “Countdown to Colbert” website devoted to counting the days until the state Legislature gets mentioned on the Comedy Channel’s show starring Steve Colbert. Robert Houk, in his weekly column, predicts there won’t be many – though on Thursday, 17 days had passed without a joke on the Tennessee Legislature. (Note: the website is HERE.)

Excerpt from Houk’s column:

It’s an effort “to raise awareness about pending legislation in Tennessee that could limit our freedoms, and to engage Tennesseans in taking a stand against the kind of bills that land us on political comedy shows,” Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-Tennessee’s executive director, said in a recent news release.

…I would wager we won’t have to wait very long before Tennessee is mentioned on a comedy show.
It’s just weeks into the session and lawmakers have already filed bills to do away with lunch breaks for service employees and allow local school boards to do their part to defend pupils from the so-called “War on Christmas.”

My money is on Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville. His skill for legislative buffoonery is unequaled in the General Assembly.

Last year, he was thoroughly lampooned on “The Daily Show” for his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Campfield also had a memorable appearance on MSNBC, where he defended his bill to reduce welfare payments to families with a child failing in school by saying that while he doesn’t expect poor children to be “rocket surgeons,” he does believe they should be getting good grades.

It’s only a matter of time before Campfield’s antics are mentioned again on “The Colbert Report.”

Devaney stands with football prayers against ACLU

State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney is accusing the American Civil Liberties Union Tennessee of using “scare tactics” to “intimidate” public schools on the issue of prayer at high school football games.

After the ACLU-Tennessee last week sent a letter to school superintendents warning about reports of “school-sponsored prayer in numerous” football programs, Devaney today fired off his own letter to the superintendents, calling the ACLU a “far left” organization.

He also says he’s started a petition.

“With a new week of football games set to kick off, we write today to tell you we stand with you and the millions of Tennesseans who want to express their rights and not cower to the liberal self-interests of a leftwing organization,” Devaney says in the letter.

He charges the ACLU-Tennessee letter “misses a very basic principle about the First Amendment: It was written—not to protect government from religion—but to ensure religious freedoms are not violated by the government.”

Moreover, Devaney said, the ACLU-TN willfully misrepresents a point in the U.S. Supreme Court case Sante Fe Independent School District v. Doe case it cites. The Court has found “(n)othing in the Constitution…prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday,” Devaney said.

Note: Previous post HERE (on the ACLU letter). The text of Devaney’s letter is below.
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ACLU asks TN schools to stop praying at football games

The American Civil Liberties Union has sent a letter to school systems across Tennessee urging that no prayers be conducted prior to school football games, reports The Tennessean.

“Our experience is that many public school administrators and educators struggle with how the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom apply to prayer during their school-sponsored events,” said Hedy Weinberg, the ACLU’s executive director. “Our goal is to make sure that school systems statewide understand these First Amendment guarantees and commit to protecting religious freedom for all students, including athletes, and for their families who attend the games.

n a later interview, Weinberg said the organization sent out letters to 135 county and ciy school superintendents and directors in the state after reading reports from East Tennessee of coaches publicly endorsing prayer before games, which two Supreme Court decisions said violated the rights of those who didn’t want to take part.

The letter, which asks for school districts “to commit to protecting religious freedom,” does not mention potential legal action against the school systems if prayers continue. Instead, Weinberg called the notifications “a gentle reminder” about the issue.

“This isn’t a race to the courthouse, but I’ll tell you when we’ve not been able to resolve these issues, we have, on behalf of families, pursued litigation,” she said.

ACLU, Animal Protection Groups Hail Haslam’s ‘Ag Gag’ Veto

The Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Civil Liberties Union promptly issued news releases to hail Gov. Bill Haslam’s veto of a bill requiring anyone making a photo or video of livestock abuse to turn it over to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours.
Here they are:
News release from Humane Society of the United States:
(May 13, 2013) NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the anti-whistleblower “ag-gag” bill, SB 1248/HB 1191, after hearing from thousands of Tennesseans urging the veto and a report deeming the bill constitutionally suspect by the Tennessee Attorney General.
Animal protection groups, First Amendment advocates and newspaper editorial boards across Tennessee opposed the bill, which would criminalize undercover investigations at agribusiness operations and stables. More than 300 Tennessee clergy also spoke out against the bill, as did several Tennessee celebrities, including Priscilla Presley, singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris, and Miss Tennessee USA 2013. The bill also received national criticism from talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who invited Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, on her show to discuss the issue.
Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS, said: “We thank Gov. Haslam for listening to his constituents and honoring the Constitution by vetoing this recklessly irresponsible legislation that would criminalize the important work of cruelty whistleblowers. By vetoing this bill, the governor is supporting transparency in horse stables and our food system.”

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ACLU, Animal Protection Groups, Press Hail Haslam’s ‘Ag Gag’ Veto

Here’s a collection of statements to media from various groups on Gov. Bill Haslam’s veto of a bill requiring anyone making a photo or video of livestock abuse to turn it over to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours.
News release from Humane Society of the United States:
(May 13, 2013) NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the anti-whistleblower “ag-gag” bill, SB 1248/HB 1191, after hearing from thousands of Tennesseans urging the veto and a report deeming the bill constitutionally suspect by the Tennessee Attorney General.
Animal protection groups, First Amendment advocates and newspaper editorial boards across Tennessee opposed the bill, which would criminalize undercover investigations at agribusiness operations and stables. More than 300 Tennessee clergy also spoke out against the bill, as did several Tennessee celebrities, including Priscilla Presley, singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris, and Miss Tennessee USA 2013. The bill also received national criticism from talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who invited Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, on her show to discuss the issue.
Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS, said: “We thank Gov. Haslam for listening to his constituents and honoring the Constitution by vetoing this recklessly irresponsible legislation that would criminalize the important work of cruelty whistleblowers. By vetoing this bill, the governor is supporting transparency in horse stables and our food system.”

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ACLU Questions ‘In God We Trust’ on Courthouse Display

Anderson County officials Wednesday were continuing to ponder the consequences of an emotional 12-4 vote Tuesday night to put the country’s motto, ‘In God We Trust,” on the exterior of the courthouse, according to the News Sentinel.
The executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, criticized the move.
“People of all faiths, as well as non-believers, should feel welcome in their government buildings,” ACLU official Hedy Weinberg said in a statement.
“The County Commission should focus on doing real work that represents the interests of all residents, not sowing the seeds of religious divisiveness in the community by challenging the fundamental founding principle that government must remain neutral when it comes to matters of faith,” Weinberg wrote.
Commissioners, after hearing impassioned arguments from a standing-room-only audience, voted to proceed with the proposal but asked the law director and the panel’s operations committee to look into possible legal roadblocks and liability issues.
Robin Biloski, committee chair, was one of four Oak Ridge commissioners that voted against the measure. She said the committee is scheduled to meet March 11. “This was such a quick vote,” she said of Tuesday’s decision. “Will we have people to come (to the operations committee) to voice their opinion on the direction we’re going?”
Biloski said the full commission “didn’t follow the rules,” which normally require such proposals to go before committee before advancing to the full 16-member panel. “We’re jumping into something not knowing the ramifications, the liability,” she said.