Archive for March, 2010:
By Terri Burke, ACLU of Texas Executive Director
We missed Liz Carpenter’s memorial service. The ACLU of Texas was observing Final Friday in Philadelphia. Given our proximity to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the occasion, Liz probably would have approved.
Our Final Friday party was a night to remember one of our other leading ladies, another true Texas daughter of the revolution.
The Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, starring a spot-on Kathleen Turner, opened in Philadelphia last week. Some 30 to 40 fellow Texans were there to relive another time in our history as chronicled by our saucy, native pundit laureate.
Playwrights Allison and Margaret Engel smartly interweave the life of the private Molly with that of the social and political commentator whose words were considered scriptural by her followers and thought by her detractors to be proof of the country’s demise and the liberal bent of all the newspapers that published them. As Molly’s co-author and long-time friend, Lou Dubose said, “The sisters Engel avoided caricature and cliché, and managed to capture the complexity that was Molly. Kathleen Turner avoided impersonation, although at times she seemed to be channeling Molly.’’
Kathleen Turner and the Engel sisters gave us a night of laughter, tears, and memories. Could we ever forget Texas house Speaker Gib Lewis, whose speech patterns Molly dubbed Gibberish. (New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, sitting next to me, asked, “Did he really talk that way?”) “Molly” onstage reminded us that she had coined the name “Shrub” for another famous Texan. She reflected on one more of our revolutionary daughters, the friend she called “Annie,” Gov. Ann Richards. And there were the tales once again of Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.
Within the first 15 minutes, it was as if Molly with her whiskey-laden voice was back. Betsy Moon, Molly’s longtime “Chief of Stuff” who also attended, said, “This portrait of Molly moved me to tears and laughter, as if I were once again in her presence.”
Those of us who cherish the Constitution were moved all over again by her words. She reminded us that our history has been one long fight to add groups to the protections in that Constitution who should have been included in the first place. Why do we let extremists take words like “freedom,” and “liberty” from us? Why do we stand still when they stake their claim to prayer and God? Why do we allow people who are unburdened by any sense of history to hijack the word “patriot” and claim the Fourth of July as their own?
In 2004, explaining why, after her bequests to her family, she left the remainder of her estate to the ACLU and the Texas Observer, Molly wrote, “Looking down the road at the future of freedom, you know they’re going to need help…very few of our constitutional freedoms are tamper-proof. Our reproductive rights are on the chopping block, the line between church and state grows ever thinner…our right to free speech…have been curbed in the name of security.about that bequest
Yes, it seemed as if little has changed, and we could have been observing Final Friday with her in Austin. Yet there we were celebrating Molly, and remembering Ann and Liz. I suspect the three of them may have been sitting together on a cloud of angels, joining in the party, smiling at the irony of our location. Of course, they probably were disappointed that we didn’t try to sneak past the guards and ring the hell out of the Liberty Bell. We thought about it.
I write to tell you about two recent successes and to assure you that we are not standing still while our state becomes the butt of national jokes.
This week, a federal judge invalidated Ordinance 2952, the third in a series of anti-immigrant ordinances enacted by the city of Farmers Branch. The ordinance was adopted by the City Council in January 2008. U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle’s decision forbids the city from ever enforcing the Ordinance.
In a carefully written opinion, Judge Boyle determined that the ordinance was preempted by federal law. The Court resoundingly rejected the City’s claim that it had the authority to regulate the residences of noncitizens within its borders. Noting that the city building inspector would be charged with interpreting and applying immigration information to prospective tenants, the court concluded that Ordinance 2952 “is an invalid regulation of immigration” and that the “Ordinance stands as an obstacle to the uniform application of federal immigration law.”
Together with MALDEF and the National ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project we began working to repeal these ordinances in 2006. With this third strike, we hope the city will get out of the immigration enforcement business and move on to address its municipal obligations through more constructive and constitutional local policies.
The State Board of Education is the gift that keeps on giving to late night comedians and faux newscasters. Although I, like many of you, have gotten plenty of chuckles from the laugh lines, we all know that distorting history to accommodate a religious or ideological agenda isn’t funny at all. The SBOE is no laughing matter.
Our ACLU of Texas phone lines and in-boxes have gotten a workout from those of you who are irate about the spectacle this elected body has made of our state. You know as do we that this isn’t just about being embarrassed by a bunch of extremists. It is about our shared outrage at a group of elected officials trying to use public schools to indoctrinate students while providing a substandard education that won’t equip Texas graduates to compete nationally and internationally.
While we’ve tried to respond personally to you in many instances, I want to assure you that we are on the case. Early this year our Public Education Director Dotty Griffith testified before the state board urging them not to inject religious indoctrination into social studies curriculum.
Make no mistake. We do not intend to stand by quietly while the State Board of Education launches repeated attacks on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by rewriting history one distortion and omission at a time. We are studying our options. We will continue to speak out.
In the meantime, we urge you to exercise your right to vote. Extremists got elected because not enough reasonable people took the time and energy to learn about the track records and endorsements of SBOE candidates. Reasonable people can begin to take back the SBOE in the upcoming runoff election and again at general election time.
This fight isn’t over by any means. Stand strong with us and we’ll keep you posted on what we are doing – and what we need you to do.
On another matter, it isn’t always easy being us. We are known for taking principled stands on difficult issues. Last week we won a victory for the First Amendment by defending the right of Tarrant Community College students who wanted to wear empty holsters on campus to protest laws prohibiting concealed firearms on campus.
To be clear: The ACLU of Texas does not, nor does the national ACLU, have a position in favor of or against handguns on college campuses. But what the ACLU has and always will favor is the First Amendment.
Even when an issue is controversial, every individual has a right to speak out on matters of public policy, including arguing against laws with which they disagree, in a peaceful and orderly manner. Speech, in the eyes of the First Amendment, includes not only spoken and written words, but also demonstrative conduct like wearing a symbolic armband, saluting or refusing to salute the flag, or, in this case, wearing an empty holster to convey a message about a ban on concealed weapons.
That’s the right we went to court to protect. I am proud of our legal team – Lisa Graybill and Fleming Terrell – and grateful to our cooperating counsel, David Broiles and Karin Cagle of Ft. Worth. I know you are, too.
We can’t do this work without your support. We are grateful for your financial gifts that make it possible for us to continue the fight on behalf of the principles we all hold so dear.
With liberty and justice for all,
ACLU of Texas
By Anna L. Russo, Public Education Intern
The year 1973 was monumental in the fight for civil liberties. Texas’ own Sarah Weddington succeeded in arguing that a woman’s right to “bear and beget a pregnancy” is protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. Arguably the most important case in the history of women’s rights, Roe v. Wade has continued to be a controversial decision and the freedoms the case established are still under attack today.
Given the recent 37th anniversary of Roe, it is important to understand the status of a woman’s right to choose today and the continued fragility of a woman’s right to choose. Roe is under attack from many fronts. Most notably, recent health care reform initiatives have threatened to limit a woman’s access to an abortion.
Some of Congress’ recent health care provisions seriously intrude on a woman’s privacy and her right, along with her family, to make important health decisions. With the Stupak and Nelson amendments, lawmakers inserted arbitrary and burdensome requirements related to a legal procedure that stigmatize a woman’s right to choose and create hurdles for insurers who want to include a full range of care in their health plans and for the insured that want the coverage.
First, the House of Representatives included an abortion coverage ban in its health care reform package and then the Senate followed suit with its own restrictions. The Senate bill requires anyone purchasing an insurance plan that covers abortion to write two separate checks – one to pay for the cost of the abortion services and another to pay for the rest of the covered care.
Requiring a woman to jump through hoops in order to obtain a procedure that has already been established as her right is unacceptable.
Everyone’s circumstances and health care needs are different. Women should be able to decide what is best for their health and their family. Health care reform should ensure that basic health care is covered, and that we all have something to fall back on when we need it most.
Access to women’s reproductive services has also been threatened in Texas as well. Recently in Austin the Travis County Healthcare District board was considering renewing two contracts with organizations that offer comprehensive reproductive health services for women. In 2004, the district inherited the contracts, which total $450,000 per year, from the city of Austin. The contracts with Whole Women’s Health of Austin and Austin Women’s Health Center were set to expire last December.
The Medical Assistance Program, which these contracts cover, provides full reproductive coverage, including abortion, for women in Travis County who are uninsured or who fall 100 percent below the poverty line. The clinic receives no other government money. “The rest of its financial support comes from its clients who have insurance, their own money or some other source to pay for their services,” Terry Sallas Merritt, vice president of Whole Women’s Health, told the Austin American-Statesman.
The Board did vote to renew the contracts in December, but amidst large amounts of controversy. The issue generated more than 2,000 e-mails, calls and letters to the board, most in opposition, and drew more comments than any other the board has considered since voters created the district in May 2004.
The recent situation in Austin proves that even in a reasonably progressive city there is a strong, outspoken, and motivated opposition to a woman’s right to choose, an opposition that is working hard to deny women their civil liberties.
The last threat to abortion is even more serious than the first two. The recent murder of Kansas abortion doctor, George Tiller, has exposed the violent tactics of some opponents of a woman’s right to choose.
On May 31, 2009, Scott P. Roeder gunned down Dr. Tiller in the lobby of his church as he handed out flyers before the service. In his recent trial, Roeder claimed that he was less culpable for Tiller’s murder because he honestly believes that the Constitution should not protect the right to abortion.
The court did convict Roeder with the murder of Dr. Tiller. In response to the verdict Louise Melling Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project had this to say, “Today’s verdict sends a clear message to all would-be vigilantes that nobody is above the law. Disagreement with the constitutional right to abortion does not justify criminal violence against those who provide or access this care. Dr. Tiller devoted his life to ensuring that women can get the health care they need. Our thoughts continue to be with Dr. Tiller’s family.”
The murder of Dr. Tiller caused many women to lose accessibility to a very skilled, compassionate, and caring doctor. The women’s health services that Dr. Tiller provided were specialized in a way that will be hard to match and located in an area of the country were comprehensive reproductive services are scarce.
With laws threatening the accessibility of comprehensive reproductive services and with some opponents of a woman’s right to choose employing violent tactics, the threat to Roe is imminent. It is important now, more than ever, that supporters of Roe speak out against laws that threaten to limit a woman’s right to “bear and beget a pregnancy” and stand strong behind the brave clinic workers and doctors who face violence on a daily basis to ensure that woman still have a choice.
In the words of our National Executive Director, Anthony Romero, “We proudly stand with abortion providers throughout the country who care for women every day and demonstrate what it means to ensure everyone’s constitutional right to make private health care decisions free from violence, harassment and intimidation.”