Blog of Rights

Pennsylvania Voter ID Victory

Pennsylvania Voter ID Victory

By Vic Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania at 4:22pm
The bad back that awakened me at 6 a.m. on this birthday morning and that spurred unpleasant thoughts of growing old dissipated in an instant with an email alert that our long-awaited decision in the voter ID had issued. I didn't have the opinion, but I had the result – we won! Thousands of hours of hard work in collaboration with my fantastic colleagues had not been a total waste. And that adrenaline rush only increased when I read the opinion.

Just for Jesus

By Vic Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania at 6:24pm

When people toss out the accusation that the ACLU is anti-religious or, specifically, anti-Christian, I react somewhere between being bemused and annoyed, depending on the day's stress level. Bemused because they'd flunk Constitutional Law 101; and annoyed because it's so not true. If it were, why do we regularly help Christians when the government intrudes on their activities? You can read more about some of these cases at /defendingreligion.

As the ACLU's Legal Director for Pennsylvania, I've been responsible for many cases helping religious believers exercise their constitutional rights. Last week the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit on behalf of the "Just for Jesus Challenge Homeless Outreach," a ministry of the First Apostles' Doctrine Church in Brookville, Pennsylvania, which was founded a few years ago to bring shelter and Jesus Christ to homeless people in this rural area, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The ministry aids pretty much anyone in need. When I last visited, the group included disabled military veterans, teenagers forced from their homes, senior citizens who couldn't afford their personal care homes, recently released low-level offenders, people referred by county mental health agencies, and people evicted from their homes and apartments.

Exterior of the Just for Jesus church.

This past summer Brookville shut down the ministry, falsely charging that the ministry had violated local zoning codes. Then on September 4, Brookville zoning officials and police officers, thinking they would catch people sleeping in the church, forced their way inside by climbing through a window, without a warrant or consent. The minister sought help from "Christian" public-interest groups, but was turned down. As so often happens in these situations, when rights are violated and no one else will help, the ACLU rides to the rescue.

Giving the First Amendment a Beating at the G-20

By Vic Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania at 11:01am

(Originally posted in Jurist.)

Law enforcement officials have, over the past decade, used gatherings of national and international leaders as license to suspend civil liberties. During the recent G-20 Summit, Pittsburgh proved to be no exception. The city was transformed into a police state where our most cherished freedoms, especially the freedom to dissent, were subject to the martial law-type tactics I witnessed behind the Iron Curtain.

While world leaders were quietly secluded behind closed doors, 8-foot-high steel and mesh fences lined most downtown streets. Six thousand police and National Guard troops manned checkpoints, roamed the streets in armored humvees, and were visible everywhere in large groups. In this militarized ghost town, neither common folk nor demonstrators ever got close to the dignitaries.

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