Blog of Rights


Will Matthews is the senior communications officer at the ACLU of Northern California, where he leads the strategic communications component of a statewide ACLU campaign to reform California’s criminal justice system. Previously he was the senior media relations associate at the ACLU’s national office in New York, where he primarily worked on the ACLU’s campaign to reduce over-incarceration. A graduate of Chapman University in Orange, Calif, and the recipient of the Master of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt University, Matthews formerly was an award-winning investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Wilson County Schools Are Well Worth a Mass

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 4:02pm
In an op-ed published in The New York Times last week, Roger Cohen relates the insight of a former French king who, surveying the destruction that rained down upon 16th-century Europe as a result of pre-Enlightenment religious fervor, said, "Paris is well worth a Mass." Folks in Wilson County, Tennessee would be wise to heed this monarch's words. Check out the chatter tagged to Wednesday's front-page story about the ACLU of Tennessee's lawsuit challenging the ongoing practice by Wilson County Schools' officials of promoting and endorsing specific religious beliefs. While the chatter certainly pales in comparison to the smoldering cathedrals that dotted the European landscape in the wake of Reformation-era violence, the culture war being played out on The Tennessean's website is indicative of the very same ill: religion and the state becoming too enmeshed with each other. In this particular case, there are teachers who are leading prayer and religious song during class time. And a group of self-named "Praying Parents" who pray together on campus as students arrive for the school day and then deliver personalized notes inside classrooms informing individual students and teachers that they have been prayed for. And so now, instead of being focused on the altruistic task of improving public education, some folks in Wilson County are insisting on enlisting public schools to promote their particular religious views. They simply don't understand why public school officials - rather than individual parents and families - are barred from deciding what sort of religious education the children of Wilson County receive. The answer is simple: the Constitution of the United States says they can't - and with good reason. Religious freedom is alive and well in America precisely because the government - and especially our public schools - don't take sides in matters of faith. Our friends at the Alliance Defense Fund - one of a slew of fundamentalist Christian law firms that have popped up in the past couple of decades who purport to defend religious freedom but who in actuality promote freedom for one small niche of Christians at the expense of all other religious and non-religious Americans - will scream until they're hoarse that if the ACLU wins its lawsuit in Tennessee that it will have a chilling and precedent-setting effect on the rights of Christians to freely express their religious beliefs. But all they are really doing is fueling the fire of the culture wars they concoct, feed upon and use to arouse good folks like those who have chimed in on the Tennessean's website. There in fact will be little precedent set by an ACLU victory. Indeed, the Constitutional principles that are at stake in this case have been clearly communicated in the Bill of Rights for over 200 years: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." By requiring that teachers not promote explicitly religious beliefs in public school classrooms and barring schools from giving certain individuals and faiths preferential use of school resources, the ACLU will in no way be limiting people's constitutional right to be religious. Instead, by ensuring that the government stays out of deciding which religions to promote, the ACLU will be making sure that religious liberty continues to be a hallmark of our democracy. And instead of being a battle field for wars rooted in religious fervor, Wilson County Schools can once again resume the essential task of providing a quality public education to its students. Echoing the words of the king from a generation long since passed, Cohen argued in his New York Times op-ed that Washington is well worth a Mass. So too are the Wilson County Schools.
Under ACLU Fire, Baca Running for Cover

Under ACLU Fire, Baca Running for Cover

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 6:02pm

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca has put together a task force to investigate allegations of abuse inside his jails. But an internal investigation is not enough.

Act Now! Tell Gov. Strickland to Grant Kevin Keith Clemency

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 2:42pm

It is more important than ever that Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland grant clemency to Kevin Keith, a 46-year-old man awaiting execution on Ohio’s death row, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit earlier this week denied one of Keith’s…

When the "Worst of the Worst" Describes the Prison, Not the Prisoners

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 3:43pm

Less than a decade ago, Unit 32 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Miss., was one of the very worst prison facilities in the nation. As the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports:

The supermax unit at the State Penitentiary at Parchman…

ACLU and ADF: Protecting Prisoners' Rights Together

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 4:28pm

As the New York Times reported this week, the ACLU and the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) — a conservative Christian organization that is currently promoting a publication entitled The ACLU vs. America — are typically on opposite sides of contentious issues like religious expression in schools and same-sex marriage.

But there is at least one thing that we can agree upon: the right of federal prisoners to have access to religious material while in prison.

David Shapiro of the ACLU's National Prison Project and the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office on Tuesday filed formal comments opposing a proposed rule by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) that would illegally empower prison officials to ban vital religious works from prison chapel libraries. The proposed rule, which would allow material to be banned based on a determination that it "could…suggest" violence or criminal behavior, directly contradicts the Second Chance Act, a law passed last year which places strict limits on what material BOP officials may outlaw.

The comments were signed by a group of religious organizations that included the American Jewish Congress, Muslim Advocates and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. And in a one-page letter submitted to the BOP Tuesday, ADF said, "ADF concurs with the vast majority of comments submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union today — a somewhat remarkable statement given that we often do not agree with the ACLU."

See that — even supposed enemies can find ways to be friends.


By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 2:40pm

It's a long way from Capshaw, Ala., home of the Limestone Prison, to hosting your own national cable television program from a swanky studio in the heart of New York City.

Most everyone by now knows Rachel Maddow as the host of the nightly…

Death by Harsh Sentencing and Deliberate Indifference

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 12:32pm

As Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King rightly points out in a 2004 column, Jonathan Magbie's death four years ago was unlike those of so many other young, African-American men in Washington D.C. He wasn't gunned down or stabbed on the streets,…

ACLU in NYT: Commutations are Good, Addressing Systemic Injustice is Better

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 1:19pm

Borrowed from the British monarchy and codified in the United States Constitution after lively debate at the Philadelphia Convention, the power of pardon and commutation was bestowed upon American presidents because of the recognition that injustices…

The Big Business of Inhumane Detention of Immigrants

The Big Business of Inhumane Detention of Immigrants

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 5:13pm

The inhumane and abusive immigration detention system is good business for one particular special interest group — the private prison industry.

Death Row Inmate's Former Prosecutor Asks Texas to Halt His Execution

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 6:08pm

In an important development, a former assistant district attorney in Harris County, Texas on Friday sent a letter to members of the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles and other state officials — including Gov. Rick Perry — urging them…

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