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.

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.

Death Penalty in the U.S.: Desmond Tutu Asks "Why?"

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 1:01pm

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

The venerable Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, can still remember a day from his childhood growing up in the abject poverty of a South African township when he happened to stumble upon a tattered old copy of Ebony magazine.

Inside that particular issue were stories and images of a man named Jackie Robinson, and of a baseball team called the Brooklyn Dodgers, stories and images that Tutu says were captivating for a young man who wasn't normally allowed to dream very far beyond the seemingly hopeless segregation that defined the world in which he lived.

"I didn't know baseball from ping-pong," the man who would grow up to become the primary architect of South Africa's historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission said last week in front of an audience at the Riverside Church in New York City, one of the nation's most prominent Protestant cathedrals. "But that didn't matter. I can't tell you how meaningful it was for me to know that someone who looked like me could overcome such obstacles and play Major League Baseball."

And so began a love affair with the United States, the country that for Tutu and his contemporaries symbolized hope and the promise of equality, and which was equally epitomized by the exploits of the heavyweight prize fighter Joe Louis and the resilient spirit of the civil rights movement.

"All of us kids knew by heart the Gettysburg Address," Tutu said.

Arizonans Deserves Better

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 8:20pm

Perhaps nothing better crystallizes the significance of yesterday's landmark judicial ruling mandating that infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio take a number of concrete and substantive steps to improve the conditions and level of health care delivered to prisoners at the Maricopa County Jail then a letter received by the ACLU of Arizona from a criminal justice and sociology professor in southern Kentucky.

The professor begins his letter by making clear that he has never been much of a fan of the ACLU. He writes that he’s a supporter of the death penalty and that he believes we often are too soft on the inmates in our nation’s prisons and jails. But then he acknowledges that a vast majority of the prisoners that spend time behind bars at some point or another return to their communities, that, as a result, rehabilitation needs to be a primary aspect of incarceration and that increased education and enhanced mental health for prisoners are in fact achievable goals if the taxpayer money used to lock them up was used effectively.

“In this case, you all are bringing attention to a bad situation that has been going on for too long,” the professor writes.

North Carolina Man Exonerated After 14 Years on Death Row

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 1:51pm

The American Civil Liberties Union's Capital Punishment Project won a huge victory today when a North Carolina court dropped all charges against a man who spent 14 years on death row and freed him from prison. As stunning as it might sound that…

Married in Bucks County: Are you Really?

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 8:38pm

Jason and Jennifer O’Neill were married in Bucks County, Penn. in 2005, and for over two years they experienced all of the typical joys and challenges that invariably come during a young couple’s first years of matrimony. But then, without…

Love Is Apparently Not All You Need

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 5:08pm

Peter Goldberger and Anna Durbin have been married for 30 years and have raised three children. But on this Valentine's Day, when the Ardmore, Pa. couple's only concern should be celebrating three decades of unyielding devotion to each other, Peter…

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