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This Week in Civil Liberties (06/28/2013)

Rekha Arulanantham,
Litigation Fellow,
ACLU National Prison Project
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June 28, 2013

Which federal court ruled this week that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional?

True or false: Kansas public schools invited creationism advocates to teach students the “truth about dinosaurs,” also known as “God’s Gospel Lizards.”

The corrections department of which state responded to an ACLU lawsuit challenging the inhumane conditions in a state prison run by for-profit contractors?

In order to defend the massive NSA surveillance program, the government revealed that criminal defendants had no opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of which law?

How many of the women’s health clinics that provide abortions would have remained open in the Texas had the anti-abortion bill (the one Texas State Senator Wendy Davis filibustered for an impressive 13 hours) passed?

DOMA Unconstitutional! And Prop 8 Goes Down, Too!

The United States Supreme Court ruled this Wednesday that section 3 of DOMA violates the Constitution. This decision, in the ACLU’s lawsuit on behalf of Edie Windsor, marks a watershed moment in the movement for LGBT equality. It’s a monumental victory for Edie Windsor, for married same-sex couples, and for the bedrock American value of equality.

Creationism Follies: The 2012-2013 Edition

This past April, when an image of a fourth-grade science quiz on dinosaurs went viral, many people did not believe it was real. The incredible quiz asked students to affirm that the earth is not billions of years old, that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time, and that fossils were caused by a global flood. The quiz ended by asking, “Next time someone says that the earth is billions or millions of years old, what can you say?” The correct answer: “Were you there?” In fact,the quiz was authentic and had been administered by a private Christian school in South Carolina.

While the quiz is plainly contradicted by universally accepted scientific research, religious schools are well within their First Amendment rights to indoctrinate students in this manner. But a look back at the recently concluded school year provides a stark reminder that it’s not only private schools promoting religious beliefs and bad science to students: Creationism abounds in public schools as well.

The First Step to Fix a Broken Prison? Set the Record Straight

On Thursday, Mississippi Department of Corrections issued its first written response to our lawsuit challenging intolerable conditions at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in the form of a press release. Although the press release states that “it is the agency’s policy to let the facts play out in court,” it proceeds to lay out facts – “facts” that require correction.

Government Engages In Shell Game to Avoid Review of Warrantless Wiretapping

Less than a year ago, the government convinced the Supreme Court to dismiss the ACLU’s constitutional challengeto the FISA Amendments Act (FAA)—the controversial warrantless wiretapping statute that is the legal basis for the PRISM program—because our clients couldn’t prove that they had been monitored under it. The government repeatedly assured the court that criminal defendants who were prosecuted based on evidence obtained under the FAA would be informed of such and would then be able to challenge the statute. Based in part on this assurance, the Supreme Court in February of this year dismissed the case, Clapper v. Amnesty, in a 5–4 vote.

But now that the case is closed, we are learning that the government’s assurances that it would notify criminal defendants of its reliance on surveillance under the FAA were not what they seemed.

What Happens in Texas Doesn’t Stay in Texas

On Tuesday, the Texas State Senate was poised to give final approval to a sweeping anti-abortion bill that would have blocked most of Texas from access to safe and legal abortion care. Even though they knew this bill was unwanted, some politicians continued to push for a vote to quietly sneak the bill under the midnight deadline. The bill could have resulted in the closure of all but five women’s health clinics that provide abortions in the state. After hours of legislative dramatics led by a 13-hour filibuster by State Sen. Wendy Davis, the bill was defeated in the very early hours of the morning. Hundreds of protesters filled the capitol to watch the filibuster and debate, and 170,000 viewers watched the session online.

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