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This Week in Civil Liberties (2/17/2012)

Rekha Arulanantham,
Litigation Fellow,
ACLU National Prison Project
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February 17, 2012

Which lobbying group wants to redefine religious liberty in order to prevent women from access to birth control?

The ACLU is challenging which law that ratified warrantless wiretapping?

Spoiler Alert: What does the documentary Let’s Talk About Sex talk about?

The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing to learn more about social media surveillance by which agency?

In which state did the governor sign a bill recognizing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples?

The Bishops Exposed: Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
The bishops’ true colors have at last been fully exposed. For weeks now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the lobbying arm of the Catholic Church, has been decrying the requirement from the administration that new insurance plans cover birth control. On Friday, the administration weighed in again, announcing that religiously affiliated institutions will not have to buy coverage that includes contraception. And, under the administration’s plan, these institutions won’t even have to tell their employees that there is insurance available. According to the bishops, religious liberty means that no insurer could be required to cover contraception. “Religious liberty,” in effect, would mean that the bishops get to impose their views on the rest of us.

A Brewing Battle Over Warrantless Wiretapping
It’s almost certain that we’ll have an equally hard-fought battle over Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the post-Watergate statute that was meant to rein in domestic surveillance undertaken in the name of national security, this year, both in the courts and in Congress.

The first volley may come as early as next week, because the administration must decide by Tuesday whether to ask the Supreme Court to intervene in the ACLU’s constitutional challenge to the FISA Amendments Act, the 2008 law that ratified and expanded the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. And that law is scheduled to sunset in December, which means that the litigation will unfold against the background of a congressional reauthorization debate.

This Valentine’s Day, Let’s Talk About Sex
“The talk” is never an easy topic to broach, but the producers of the documentary, Let’s Talk About Sex, are making it a little bit easier. As of this Valentine’s Day, the documentary will become available on Hulu free of charge.

Let’s Talk About Sex is a documentary about what we are teaching — or failing to teach — our kids about sex. The film offers some clues as to why we are so stuck, and how we might move forward. The film does a really cool job featuring a research project on sexuality that the ACLU commissioned from the linguists at Real Reason. We tried to figure out why policy makers are so reluctant to set good sex education policy when poll after poll shows that Americans, in every corner of the country, want their public schools to prepare young people to make healthy decisions by teaching them both about waiting to have sex and using contraception effectively.

Facebook, Twitter and DHS: Which One of These Things is Not Like the Others?
It’s tricky monitoring public information online, especially if you’re the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Having the government turn a blind eye to information that anyone can read seems strange, yet the practice raises significant questions. Apparently the House Homeland Security Committee feels the same way — that’s why it held a hearing this week on the Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Love Is in the Air: Update on Efforts to Expand the Freedom to Marry
This week, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill making Washington the seventh state to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. It’s getting hard to keep up with all the good news from around the country on the freedom to marry, so here’s a quick guide to what’s happening with efforts to expand marriage for same-sex couples on the ground now and what’s in store for us during the rest of 2012.

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