Welcome to Banned Books Week, Sept. 25 – Oct. 2

By Jose Medina
ACLU of Texas Media Coordinator

Banned Books Week starts today. And as the ACLU of Texas does each year, it has released “Free People Read Freely,” a report on challenged, restricted and banned books in Texas public schools.

Why we do this
Books are a tangible representation of our freedom of expression. Banning books is often an expression of fear – fear of differences, fear of new ideas and thoughts, fear of the unknown. No matter how well-intended, banning books – especially by those who won’t even read the ‘offensive’ material to see if the educational value meets or exceeds the weight of the objections against them – is censorship and infringes on the rights of a free society. Parents should exercise their rights to decide what is appropriate reading material for their own children; but they overreach when they seek to decide for other parents what is good for all children.

This year we’re happy to report only 20 books were banned in Texas schools. But that’s still 20 cases in which censorship was successful.

Some examples of documented bans in this year’s report include “The Gossip Girl” series, Judy Blume’s “Forever…” and Lauren Myracle’s “ttfn.” See the full list in our report.

In observance of Banned Books Week, we’re asking you to pick up a book and read. Don’t have time? Fine, then give the gift of a book. There are also plenty of Banned Books Week events all over the country, including those listed below and sponsored by the ACLU of Texas. For more Banned Books Week events all over the country, visit the American Library Association Banned Books Week Web site.

Now get readin’.

ACLU of Texas Banned Books Week Events

Corpus Christi
What: Readings of banned books
Where: Half Priced Books, 5425 South Padre Island Drive
When: Saturday, Sept. 25, 4:30 p.m.

Celebrity readers will include Reverend Phil Douglas of the Unitarian Universalist Church and Leanne Libby, columnist for the Caller-Times.

What: Houston Chapter Banned Books Event
Where: Central Library, 500 McKinney, www.houstonlibrary.org
When: Saturday, Oct. 2, 11 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.

11 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Banned Books Discussion: J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”

12 p.m. – 3 p.m.
2nd Annual Banned Books Readout
Celebrate your freedom to read with local educators, poets, authors, avid readers and more join members of the Houston Chapter of the ACLU of Texas and staff of the Houston Public Library to read passages from your favorite banned books.

3:15 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.
Banned Books Movie: James and the Giant Peach
A special presentation of the film based on Ronald Dahl’s classic book. Directed by Tim Burton. Rated PG.

San Antonio
What: Readings and discussions
Where: Central Library Gallery, 600 Soledad St. (Downtown)
When: Thursday, Sept. 30, 7 p.m.

Dotty Griffith, Director of Public Education for the ACLU of Texas will discuss 2010 Banned Books Report and the continuing impact of “To Kill a Mockingbird” 50 years later.

Event is free and open to the public.

Is There No End to the Costly Political Game the SBOE Keeps Playing?

By Frank Knaack
ACLU of Texas Legal Advocacy Coordinator

Today, the Texas State Board of Education boldly and clearly announced: we are not capable of placing the educational needs of Texas’ children above our need to further our personal political agendas.

Well, close enough.

The Board on Friday approved a resolution that singles out Islam for denigration. Add this to the list of the Board’s past abuses, as we documented in our report (PDF), and it is clear … the Board’s power over the curriculum content for Texas public schools must be removed. You can help by writing your legislators and demanding that scholars, not politicians, determine our children’s public school curriculum.

The ostensible purpose of the resolution adopted today was to ensure that Texas’ public school world history textbooks portray all religions in a fair and balanced manner. To achieve this, the majority of the Board felt it necessary to demonize Islam. This logic, as is often the case with the Board’s actions, defies reason. As if to further clarify the true political nature of this resolution, the Board voted down two sensible amendments.

First, the Board voted down an amendment that would have simply stated that the Board will reject any textbooks that ill-treat the world’s major religious groups by “demonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others … .” Second, the Board voted down an amendment that would have delayed the vote on this resolution until the Texas Education Agency could verify the claims of pro-Islam/anti-Christian bias past Texas textbooks. (If the majority truly believed there was an anti-Christian bias in Texas textbooks then what did they have to fear?)

As the failure of these sensible amendments makes clear, today’s vote was not about ensuring the fair and balanced treatment of world religions, but instead about scoring political points. The Board’s flagrant disregard for the educational well-being of Texas’ children is nothing less than shameful, and cannot stand. Help ensure that such actions do not happen again. Contact your legislator today!

Agreeing with the SBOE. Well, Sort of.

By Frank Knaack
ACLU of Texas Legal Advocacy Coordinator

Take Action: To put a halt once and for all to the Board’s abuses, we need your help! The ACLU of Texas and our coalition partners are pushing our legislators to strip the Board of its power over Texas public school curriculum development, and instead place control over curriculum where it belongs, in the hands of experts.

I never thought I would say this, but I could not agree more with the Texas State Board of Education. When the Board reconvenes this week, they will vote on a resolution that would send a clear signal to textbook publishers. Under the proposed resolution, the Board will:

“…look to reject future prejudicial Social Studies submissions that continue to offend Texas law with respect to the treatment of the world’s major religious groups … by demonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others … .”

Sound too good to be true? It is. While the Board’s words may sound inclusive, their actions have been anything but. For example, this resolution claims that some Texas Social Studies textbooks have had a “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias.” According to this resolution, the Christian Crusaders were unfairly labeled as “violent attackers,” or “invaders.” While the outdated, no-longer-in-use textbook over which this resolution expresses concern may have unfairly portrayed one group of people traveling from their land to another’s land for the purpose of gaining control of that land (I am not a historian), the concern over negatively painting one religion seems familiar. Oh yeah, it is similar to how the Board painted Muslims (and “Middle Easterners”/Palestinians) in the new Social Studies curriculum.

Throughout the new Social Studies curriculum, the only group specifically linked with “terrorism” is the Palestinians. This claim is not only subjective, but also attempts to equate Palestinians with “terrorism.” (This claim is made in the section discussing “radical Islamic fundamentalism.”) In addition, because the examples of bias against Christianity are drawn from outdated textbooks, the resolution justifies its relevancy by stating “more such discriminatory treatment of religion may occur as Middle Easterners buy into the U.S. public school textbook oligopoly, as they are now doing.” This resolution and the Social Studies curriculum both ignore the many religions practiced by “Middle Easterners”/Palestinians, including Christianity itself.

While the Board’s latest misuse of their power is regrettable, as we have documented, it is certainly not surprising. The timing of this resolution, as Abby Rapoport pointed out in the Texas Observer, is convenient for those Board members who need some last minute campaign contributions or want to rally their base. As we have seen with the protests a few blocks from Ground Zero or the (almost) Koran burning in Florida, jumping on the anti-Islam bandwagon is a great way to get media attention.

Even though it is important to address the Board’s latest shameful act, this toothless resolution will not impact the selection of Social Studies textbooks. But, the Board’s actions last May when they approved the new Social Studies curriculum most certainly will. You can help us by letting your legislators know that educational experts, not ideologues, should determine what ends up in our children’s textbooks!

Bring the Kids!

By Tracey Hayes
ACLU of Texas Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator

Interested in Youth Lege Team? Sign up or get more info by contacting Tracey at thayes@aclutx.org or 512.478.7300 x 124

The ACLU of Texas is looking for a few enthusiastic, hard-working, savvy teens to join our Youth Lege Team. We are offering a legislative training program for teens 15 and older. They may join with our other experienced volunteers and our professional advocates to influence lawmakers in the 2011 legislative session.

Our program meets the fourth Sunday of each month at 2 p.m., at the offices of the ACLU of Texas in Austin. If you know teens who may be interested in this program, please have them contact us and we’ll welcome them to the team.

Through our training, we demystify the legislative process (as much as anyone can) and teach youth the proper ways to advocate on issues that matter to them. When the legislative session begins, we will support the efforts of our youth advocates if they choose to apply their skills during the legislative session.

Here’s a link to our Bill Book (PDF) outlining our legislative agenda for the previous session to give you some idea of our issues.

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Don’t Work

By Jessica Cohen
ACLU of Texas Intern

“The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act infringes on the fundamental rights of United States servicemembers in many ways … .”

The ACLU has long maintained that the Act, which bars active duty servicemembers from disclosing their homosexuality, violates basic constitutional rights like Equal Protection. So what’s the difference now? Well, the quote above is not from an activist calling for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it is from a federal judge (PDF), and that makes quite a difference.

Last Thursday, Judge Virginia A. Philips of the U. S. District Court for the Central District of California declared DADT unconstitutional. Specifically, Judge Philips found that the policy violates the constitutional rights of servicemembers on both Fifth Amendment Due Process and First Amendment grounds. In the 85-page opinion in Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S., Judge Philips found that the government failed to establish that the policy significantly furthers its stated aims of ensuring military readiness and preserving unit cohesion.

Not only does it fail to affirmatively advance the government’s stated interests, Judge Philips held, but it actually serves as an impediment to both objectives. Since DADT has been in effect, over 13,000 trained and qualified service members have been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. That’s quite an astounding number, especially at a time when the need for military enlistment has reached a critical level. In short, the ill-thought DADT doesn’t just discriminate, it harms our national security by driving well qualified servicemembers out of the military.

Judge Philips ordered a permanent injunction, barring the enforcement of the Act.

What Happens Next?
Normally, when a decision as politically charged and controversial as this comes down, the appeal is a mere moment behind. However, because of the current political climate, it isn’t clear if the government will appeal. President Obama has, on several occasions, vowed to overturn the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and has been advocating for Congress to change the law. Despite these promises, the Department of Justice has vigorously defended the policy, and many experts are predicting an appeal, all the way up to the Supreme Court. That is unless Congress settles the dispute first. YOU can help push Congress to repeal this discriminatory and dangerous law – take action here!

Judge Philips’ decision marks a very important step toward the ultimate repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and another important victory for LGBT rights. On the heels of the groundbreaking Proposition 8 decision, this second strongly worded opinion upholding LGBT rights further confirms 2010 to be a revolutionary year for the LGBT community and their supporters! And now, with judicial headway made and support from the current President, it is time to lay Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to rest. Please, take a moment to take action!

Operation Streamline: ‘unlike anything in U.S. judicial history’

By Jose Medina
Media Coordinator of the ACLU of Texas

Update: All three parts of the series are now available: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

This morning National Public Radio aired the first of a series of reports on a federal program underway in federal courts along the U.S. border with Mexico and that the ACLU of Texas has been monitoring: Operation Streamline.

The program hasn’t received much public attention, even less public scrutiny, and its successes are highly questionable.

Here’s the first report, which aired on today’s Morning Edition. We’ll post a link to the second part when it airs on All Things Considered this afternoon.

We’ll let NPR take you through how the program works and why implementation of the program raises serious questions about due process being sacrificed for expediency.

What are ACLU of Texas concerns with Operation Streamline?

  • ● The program diverts scarce resources from core law enforcement priorities and community safety, and strains U.S. courts, particularly in the Southwest. Federal judges, prosecutors, and defenders report that the explosion in immigration prosecutions siphons resources from other criminal prosecutions.
  • ● Rather than spending time prosecuting serious crimes, including gun and drug trafficking and organized crime, federal lawyers now spend much of their time on misdemeanor illegal entry cases. Local communities are left to deal with more dangerous crimes that are now routinely referred to state and county officials. Local law enforcement often lacks the finances or authority to prosecute these cases effectively.
  • ● Operation Streamline politicizes prosecutorial decisions and calls into question the priorities and judgment of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and United States Attorneys.