The ACLU Freedom Files - Episode Synopses

Religious Freedom
Voting Rights
Gay & Lesbian Rights
Women's Rights
Youth Speak
Drug Wars
Beyond the Patriot Act
The Supreme Court
Racial Profiling

Religious Freedom
The right of every American to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all, is among the most fundamental of freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. But while the United States is home to more than 1,500 different faiths and some 360,000 houses of worship, religious freedom faces threats on many fronts.

This episode of The ACLU Freedom Files includes the story of Abbey Moler, a high school valedictorian who was asked to include some words of wisdom in her yearbook and selected a Bible verse. When the yearbook was published, her choice was omitted, and she successfully took on the school district.

You'll go to the front lines of one of the most heated civil-liberties controversies in recent history and hear from parents and teachers who were part of a lawsuit in Dover, Pa., to keep intelligent design out of the classroom.

You'll learn about Billy Warsoldier, a Native American who was in prison for a nonviolent offence and was punished severely for refusing to cut his hair, which would have violated his religious tradition. He was denied visitation rights and kept in jail beyond his original sentence for practicing his faith, but fought the order and won.

Also featured is the harrowing story of Joann Bell, a devout Christian whose home was firebombed because she objected to her son's school pressuring him to attend a prayer meeting.

This program is a crucial reminder of the founders' intent regarding religion — that it be a matter for individuals, not the government.

Voting Rights
The right to vote is a keystone of democracy, but many Americans still fight for this fundamental freedom despite the passage 41 years ago of the Voting Rights Act, which aimed to ensure fairness in the political process. With vital parts of the VRA up for renewal in 2007, even more citizens could find themselves disenfranchised.

"Voting Rights" takes you to communities where people's electoral power is diluted through the manipulation of political districts, intimidation at polls, and unfair laws, and introduces you to individuals who are doing their part for true democracy.

Native Americans living in some of the nation's poorest communities talk about how underrepresentation cheats them of basic services such as health care, and hail the legal victory that led to a redrawing of district lines.

Hispanic activists in Texas work to change a discriminatory "at-large" voting system, which results in stark disparities in government spending in white and Latino neighborhoods.

In South Carolina, where black voters have faced intimidation at the ballot box since the days of Jim Crow, a retired judge describes his battle to ensure that African Americans get their fair share of political power.

In New York, Asian American community advocates explain how the Voting Rights Act helps people with limited English proficiency make their voices heard.

People with felony convictions are also among the disenfranchised in many states, though they've served their time and pay their taxes. Citizens who are playing active roles in society talk about being shut out of a process in which they desperately want to participate.

"Virtual Voting Booth," an interactive game on, explores the ways in which disenfranchisment works.

Gay & Lesbian Rights
Children separated from parents, loved ones left alone to battle illness, shared property seized by the state — these scenarios may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but they're all too real for gay and lesbian families.

This program shows how the members of gay and lesbian families in America are treated as second-class citizens under the law, lacking rights that many take for granted.

Alvin and Nigel are in the process of adopting three children from the foster care system. Because Maryland law says they both can't adopt at the same time, Alvin currently has no parental rights — and worries that he would lose the children if something happened to his partner.

Carol and Heather had to fend off challenges about their relationship from hospital staff even as Carol was fighting breast cancer. Even after they got a medical power of attorney and other legal documentation, the problems didn't end: When Carol was hospitalized after a cardiac event, Heather was again forced to defend her right to be at her partner's side.

Sam and Earl lived together for 23 years on a ranch in Oklahoma, but when Earl died, Sam had none of the protections that marriage would have given him. A judge was able to hand over Sam's longtime home to Earl's distant relatives.

This episode of The ACLU Freedom Files — which also includes humorous takes on heavy issues by comedians Judy Gold and Margaret Cho — shows the harm that occurs when loving couples' relationships aren't recognized.

Women's Rights
Women have made great gains in the fight for equality, but gender bias continues to create huge barriers for many — especially for immigrants, women with low incomes, victims of domestic violence, and women seeking reproductive health services.

"Women's Rights" introduces you to strong women who overcame violence, exploitation and discrimination, and took action to change the world.

You'll hear immigrant retail workers in New York describe how they stood up to their abusive boss, who paid them less than minimum wage and sexually harassed them. Maria Gonzales and Angela Peralta successfully fought for their rightful compensation, blazing a trail for other immigrant women whose fear of losing their jobs makes them vulnerable to exploitation.

Amorette Avila describes a childhood spent on an uneven playing field — literally. Her California town neglected girls' sports facilities, sending a message to young women that they were less deserving than boys, so she challenged the government to play fair.

You'll hear about women whose health was endangered because Medicaid wouldn't cover their abortions, and learn about efforts to ensure that reproductive rights are respected.

The program also includes the powerful story of Jessica Gonzales, whose estranged husband kidnapped and murdered their three daughters while the police ignored her pleas to enforce a restraining order against him. She made it her life's mission to help other women in her situation, and took her case to the Supreme Court with the ACLU's help.

This episode of The ACLU Freedom Files features these stories and others, told by the courageous individuals behind the headlines.

Youth Speak
Young people in this country are often treated as if the Bill of Rights applies only to those over 18. In many schools, for instance, students' writings are censored, backpacks and lockers are searched without cause, and low-income students are expected to learn in wretched conditions. In this episode of The ACLU Freedom Files, you'll meet young people whose rights were violated and who fought back.

Aaron Peckham created a slang Web site called Urban Dictionary and then found he could be jailed or fined under legislation being challenged by the ACLU. He is now part of a lawsuit to protect speech on the Internet.

After eighth-grader Anthony Latour posted provocative rap lyrics on the Internet as part of a competition with another student, he had his house searched by a SWAT team and was arrested and expelled from school. He fought the school's order on First Amendment grounds and was able to return.

Chloé Smith was terrorized at her middle school when a drug-sniffing dog found prescribed medication in her purse. She was suspended and nearly forced into a drug program, until she stood up for her right to privacy.

Alondra Jones was tired of the filthy conditions and lack of books at her California high school. Hear about how she joined forces with students across the state in a lawsuit, which resulted in millions of dollars going to improve the educational system.

These and other stories — along with a special message by actor Noah Wyle — show the power that young people have in a democracy.

Drug Wars
America's "war on drugs" has done nothing to reduce drug abuse, despite massive spending on law enforcement. Instead, it has diverted resources from fighting other crimes, fostered racial profiling and put millions behind bars. Meanwhile, people with serious illnesses are cruelly prevented from accessing medications that could help them.

"Drug Wars" takes you to Hearne, Texas, where 27 young African Americans were arrested in a drug bust, based on the word of one unreliable informant. Regina Kelly, a mother of four, was at work when police officers took her into custody without telling her why. She took action to prohibit arrests based on such flimsy evidence.

In South Carolina, Le'Quan Simpson and Kayla Dandiles recall a raid at their high school, when a SWAT team targeted black students — holding guns to their heads as dogs ripped apart their backpacks. No drugs were ever found.

Three sisters describe the devastating impact on their family of mandatory minimum sentences. Their mother was sentenced to 27 years in prison because of her involvement with a man who was dealing drugs, though she never sold or used drugs herself.

After Valerie Corral found that marijuana relieved her debilitating seizures, she helped author the first state law allowing the use of medical marijuana and started a hospice to help people with terminal illnesses. Nevertheless, federal agents stormed her home and arrested her and her husband.

Through these true stories, this episode of The ACLU Freedom Files shows how the "war on drugs" has become a war on the American people.

Beyond the Patriot Act
Through the personal stories of ordinary Americans, "Beyond the Patriot Act" tells how a misguided law and other government overreactions to Sept. 11 are restricting our most basic constitutional freedoms and threatening America's system of checks and balances.

"Beyond the Patriot Act" features people like Patricia David, who was left nearly destitute with a young daughter to raise after her husband became one of the thousands of immigrants to be deported after Sept. 11.

Also profiled is Abdulameer Habeeb, an Iraqi artist tortured under Saddam's regime who was arrested while traveling across the U.S. to start a new job. He describes the shattering experience of being interrogated and imprisoned in the country he'd hoped would be a refuge from injustice.

You'll hear a university librarian talking about the need to dump library records to protect the privacy of her patrons, and the owner of an Internet company who was ordered by the government to turn over customer records and to keep silent about it.

The episode also tells the story of Pittsburgh resident Allison Smith and City Councilman Bill Peduto, who led a drive to pass a local resolution against the Patriot Act. They are part of a grassroots campaign that has led to the passage of more than 400 such community resolutions across the country.

The Supreme Court
"The Supreme Court" tells the story of a teenage girl from Oklahoma who stood up for something she believed in, only to find herself in the highest court in the country. Lindsay Earls was a sophomore at Tecumseh High School, a member of the debate team and a performer in the choir, when a mandatory drug-testing policy was instituted for anyone involved in extracurricular activities.

With the help of the ACLU, Lindsay set out to fight the order as an invasion of her privacy. She and her family faced a town full of resistance, and nine Supreme Court justices who remain elusive to most Americans.

The show does more than follow a principle through the legal system. It demystifies the arcane workings of the High Court, with Lindsay and her family describing their personal experience in dramatic detail, and ACLU attorneys offering behind-the-scenes perspectives on the justices' character and voting records. As we find out how each judge voted on Lindsay's case and wait with her for the final verdict, the suspense builds.

Ultimately, we learn the importance of one vote and why the makeup of the Supreme Court is as vital to our civil liberties as the Constitution itself.

"Justice Match," an interactive game on, lets you find your Supreme Court match. Consider some of the issues faced by the court and see which of the justices would support your decision.

"Dissent" tells the stories of average Americans who were exercising their right to free speech and dissent, only to be harassed or arrested.

Take Marine and Gulf War veteran Eric Shaw, who fought for the freedoms we take for granted. But when he took part in a peaceful demonstration against the current Iraq war, he ended up getting shot with wooden pellets by the Oakland, Calif., police. Willow Rosenthal, who was at the same protest, was severely injured and says the incident has deterred her and her friends from participating in demonstrations. Both continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident, which made national headlines.

In West Virginia, Nicole and Jeff Rank thought they'd speak out in their own way, by wearing anti-Bush T-shirts to a presidential event. When they were told to cover their shirts, they refused — and landed in jail.

Then there's Muslim hip-hop poet Amir Sulaiman, who spoke his mind on national television, only to find the FBI on his doorstep. And protesters at the Democratic and Republican national conventions who were relegated to "free speech" zones far from the politicians with whom they disagreed.

"Dissent" also features Lewis Black from Comedy Central's The Daily Show — "America's foremost commentator on almost everything" — who gives his take on the current state of dissent with his trademark biting wit.

Racial Profiling
More than four decades after the civil rights movement began, people in America continue to be harassed, threatened and jailed because of the color of their skin.

Felix Morka and Laila Maher were driving on the New Jersey Turnpike when they were pulled over by the police for no reason and assaulted. Felix, originally from Nigeria, was slammed repeatedly into his steering wheel, and Laila, an Egyptian-American, had a gun held to her head. They were part of a successful lawsuit that resulted in procedures to prevent this type of profiling.

Hip-hop artist M-1 and members of his group, dead prez, were in the middle of a sidewalk photo shoot when police officers approached them and asked for identification. When the rappers asked why, the officers attacked them, and then jailed them for three days without bringing any charges.

Daniel Joyce and Mohammad Afreedi immigrated to Massachusetts from South Asia to pursue the American dream, but were arrested and imprisoned as part of a post-Sept. 11 sweep of medical labs. The arrest was later found to be without probable cause, but as a result of the experience and the attendant publicity, they were financially ruined and ostracized by the community.

"Racial Profiling" includes these stories and others about people who have had their careers, families and peace of mind shattered by an illegal and ineffective practice.

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