December 23, 2014
By Brian Hauss, Legal Fellow, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project
Emily Herx never imagined that she could lose her job for trying to get pregnant. But after working for more than seven years as a literature and language arts teacher at a Catholic school in Indiana, she was shocked to learn that her teaching contract would not be renewed: All because the in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment she was undergoing in an attempt to have a second child made her a "grave, immoral sinner" in the eyes of her religious employers.
Emily filed a federal lawsuit against the school and the local diocese for sex discrimination, pointing out that they had never fired a man for his involvement in infertility treatment. Her former employers responded by arguing that they should be exempted from federal anti-discrimination laws because their decision to fire Emily was motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs. Fortunately, the court held that religious schools do not have blanket permission to discriminate against lay teachers and allowed a jury to hear Emily's case.
Read the ACLU's friend-of-the-court brief here.
After a four-day trial, the jury found that the school and diocese discriminated against Emily on the basis of sex and awarded her $1.9 million in damages. This resounding victory for women's equality should send a message to employers everywhere that they cannot use religion to justify discrimination. And we owe it all to Emily's decision to stand up for her rights.
As Emily herself wrote in a blog post for the ACLU:
The emotional strain of infertility treatments, the loss of a job I loved so dearly, and my involvement in this case have all taken a toll on my family, my friends, and me. While I am grateful for the outpouring of support I have received from individuals across this nation, this has been a challenging and traumatic road. However, it is important to me to right the wrong that has been done when the Diocese and school discriminated against me.
My husband and I teach our son that doing what is right is important, even when it is hard. I am heartened that one day my son will be able to look at his mom with pride for standing up for what is right and just, even when it was a struggle to do so.
We all have a right to our beliefs, but the fundamental right to exercise religion is not an excuse to discriminate against others. That is why the ACLU works tirelessly to end the use of religion to discriminate.
October 02, 2014
By Jennifer Dalven, Reproductive Freedom Project
Picture this: You are 17 years old, in your senior year of high school, and you've just learned you're pregnant. You'd like to be able to turn to your parents for support but you know you can't. After all, they kicked your older sister out of the house when she got pregnant. But you have discussed your options with your aunt and a trusted counselor and decided to have an abortion.
You call a women's health center to make an appointment and are told that unless you get your parent's consent, you will have to go to court and essentially be put on trial in order to get the care you need.
That's right. Instead of a doctor, you get a trial.
Thanks to a new Alabama law, a teen who can't get a parent's consent has to undergo a gauntlet of questioning to get the abortion she needs. Because of this law, a prosecutor and a representative for the fetus, both of whom are charged with protecting the "state's interest in fetal life," (a.k.a. making sure the teen doesn't get an abortion), will cross-examine her.
That isn't even the half of it. In their quest to ensure that the teen can't get an abortion, the new law allows the prosecutor and fetus's representative to tell other people in the young woman's life -- including her teachers, pastor, employer, relatives, and friends – that she is pregnant. And to haul them in to court to testify against her.
No, I am not kidding.
Now, we all want our daughters to come to us if they get pregnant, and thankfully most do. But we all know that, unfortunately, some just can't. Some teens don't come from good families, and some teens don't come from safe homes. Putting these teens on trial is not the answer. The cruel irony of this law is that it means teens from troubled families, those who need our help and support the most, will struggle the most to get it.
I have been working for almost two decades to ensure that teens like these are able to get the medical care they need. In all that time, I don't think I have ever seen a law aimed at young people as misguided and mean spirited as this one. That's why I am proud to say that this week the ACLU went to court to challenge it. We did it because not only is it wrongheaded and dangerous, the new law is also flat-out unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court has made clear that if a state decides to require teens to get a parent's consent to get an abortion, it must also have a confidential and expeditious alternative for those teens who can't turn to a parent. In passing this law – which allows the prosecutor and a representative for the fetus to tell anyone they want about the minor's pregnancy – Alabama politicians snubbed their nose at this long-standing constitutional requirement and thoroughly eliminated any expectation of privacy.
And worse than that, they have put young women in harm's way, creating a situation that might force them to take matters into their own hands. Given what we have seen the last few years, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. In state after state, from Texas to Ohio to Wisconsin and so many others , we have seen extremist politicians who are willing put women's health in jeopardy all to score political points. This is one more example of that.
We all want teens to be safe, but this law is cruel, dangerous, and unnecessary. To protect the young women of Alabama, we can't let it stand.
August 08, 2014
June 30, 2014
Employers Allowed to Use Religious Beliefs to Refuse to Comply With Law Requiring Contraception Coverage
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of closely held corporations that sought an exemption to a federal law requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception. The owners of the plaintiff companies – Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based craft supply store chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania furniture company – cited religious objections to contraception as a reason not to comply with the law.
The American Civil Liberties Union, religious organizations, other civil rights and women’s health groups, business leaders, and members of Congress filed friend-of-the-court briefs arguing that the companies’ owners cannot impose their personal religious beliefs on employees to withhold coverage for health services with which they disagree.
"This is a deeply troubling decision. For the first time, the highest court in the country has said that business owners can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law," said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. "Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but that freedom does not include the right to impose beliefs on others. In its ruling today, the Court simply got it wrong."
More information about these cases can be found at:
April 01, 2014
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
Dr. Martin Luther King
A year ago, I wrote an email to my pastor advising him of my decision to accept the task of directing the work of the ACLU of Mississippi. On this the anniversary of my first year as the Executive Director, I would like to share excerpts from this personal communication.
As you may know God has placed in me a passion to stand in the gap for others and to extend equality and justice to those less fortunate than some of us. I know that Isaiah 61 is the call God has on my life to minister to the neglected, the informed, and the poor. My gift includes a boldness and fearlessness to give voice to the voiceless and those others just refuse to hear. Like the Lord I love justice. This is what I am anointed to do.
God has opened the door for me to return to my passion. I have been offered and have accepted the position of Executive Director of the Mississippi affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.
As I completed law school and prepared to leave MS, the Holy Spirit told me to stay for "there is still work to be done". I did that and was not only successful in my task but as a result of the work God gave me to do significant changes were made in MS's juvenile defense system. All Glory given to the Father. After many years of fighting institutions . . . I grew weary. . . . I am renewed and ready to return to the fight for freedom and justice for all. There is yet still work to be done. I solicit your prayers.
Please know my belief in and reliance on God's word have not wavered. It is God who has brought me this far and it is He who will lead me on. I believe it is God who has brought me to this hour in my life. The ACLU under my direction will tackle many issues which will prayerfully make Mississippi a more even playing ground.
I wanted to discuss this with you because many people forget that the ACLU's mission is to defend the Constitution. This mission which includes voter rights, racial justice, education rights, health care disparities, access to the courts etc. (issues important to the African American community and other disenfranchised populations) is often forgotten when issues such as women's right to make their own health care decisions are overshadowed by abortion debates.
As the ED of ACLU-MS, I will also be the spokesperson for our work. On occasion, however, the position I take may differ from yours. . . . I would ask that you respect that as I extend justice to some I may be asked to extend justice to all.”
I shared this letter not to promote my passion but the commitment shared by the team of social justice professionals that make up the staff of the ACLU of MS. My story is but one example of the conscience decision it takes to do the work we do to bring about positive change. The positions we take are not often not popular or safe but they are necessary as someone must stand in the gap.
The ACLU of MS has assembled a team of guardians who stand ready to defend the Constitution and extend civil liberties to all Mississippians. This year alone we stood in the gap with a child who had been literally left behind by the bus when his school unconstitutionally denied his right to attend school. We stood with a doctoral student when she was racially profiled. We stood with a Sikh truck driver when he was harassed not only by the highway patrol and discriminated against by judge before whom he was compelled to stand. We stood with the LGBT community when they stood at the Capitol to let policy makers know they are here and they count. We will continue to stand in defense to equal access to the voting booth. We will stand with women to ensure their right to make personal health care decision. We will continue to stand in protection of children against the funneling of the school to prison pipeline.
I start my second year knowing and more importantly wanting you to know that the ACLU of Mississippi will stand with you.
March 05, 2014
We spoke out earlier in the legislative session about some bad and some good bills. Now those bills have moved forward and are up for a vote in either the House or the Senate. Here’s an update on some of those bills and an opportunity to take action.
- Remember HB 49, the bill that would require drug testing for TANF recipients? That bill is still alive and likely to be voted on in the Senate.
Contact members of the Senate and tell them to oppose HB 49 and not to take away important resources for Mississippi’s neediest families!
- The Mississippi Student Safety Act is a bill that we want to move forward! SB 2594, is a bill designed to keep students safe by limiting the use of seclusion and restraint on students.
This act will ensure the safety of students in school and promote a positive culture and climate which has been shown to lead to greater academic achievement. A high percentage of students who have been restrained are not exhibiting behavior that would warrant those interventions and the students that are often affected by restraint and seclusion were young students with disabilities, often with no verbal means of communication.
Contact members of the House and tell them to protect our students and pass this bill!
- HB 765 and SB 2325, are disingenuous bills that would not accomplish what the title says they would do. They are both called the “Equal Opportunity for All Students with Special Needs Act,” but do not create equal opportunity for students with special needs. The act restricts the academic programs offered to children with special needs. They violate a child's right to equal protection and discriminate against children with special needs attempting to exclude them from the civil right to education in public schools.
Contact your representative in both the House and the Senate and tell them that this act does not create equal opportunity for students with special needs and does the opposite.
- SB 2430, is a bill to require DNA collection from individuals arrested for a certain crime.
This bill violates equal protection, takes away right to privacy and could exacerbate racial disparities in our criminal justice system. We are innocent until proven guilty and innocent people don’t belong in a criminal database.
DNA collection, analysis and retention is expensive. Given the current economic conditions, storing genetic samples of individuals who have not and may not ever be convicted of a crime may not be a good use of resources.
Contact members of the House and tell them to oppose SB 2430 and protect the right to privacy given in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution!
For a full list of the 20 bills we are monitoring, please visit the legislative section in each of our Centers of Focus.
February 12, 2014
Mississippi Legislators are once again playing politics with women’ lives and intruding into women’s private, medical decisions. Presuming that they know better than a woman and her doctor, legislators are considering a new ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
Every pregnancy is different and we cannot know all the circumstances surrounding a personal, medical decision to have an abortion. What we do know, is that women’s health and well-being should be supported and valued.
Two years ago the legislature and Governor Bryant took aim at the state’s only abortion provider and passed a bill requiring that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Although they claimed – wrongly - that the bill would protect women’s health, they were clear that their purpose was to end abortion in Mississippi. The Jackson Women’s Health Clinic took the state to court and has been granted permission to operate pending the outcome of the litigation.
Mississippi is not the first state to consider a 20 week abortion ban. South Carolina is considering a ban and the Arkansas Legislature approved a measure banning most abortions at 12 weeks and another banning most abortions at 20 weeks. Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed both bills, saying they were unconstitutional, but lawmakers overturned both vetoes in bipartisan votes. The Arkansas ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the 12 week ban. Texas and Arizona have also passed 20 week abortion bans. The Arizona law was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in January the Supreme Court refuse to hear the case, leaving the Ninth Circuit decision in place.
Mississippi’s bill, HB 1400, trivializes women’s health and well-being by creating a cookie cutter approach to women’s healthcare and ignoring individual circumstances of Mississippi women and families. Imagine a woman who is happily planning for a new addition to her family and develops complications. Instead of being able to make the best decision for herself and her family, HB 1400 would force her to make the decision that legislators in Jackson choose; a decision that does not take her personal circumstances into consideration, a decision that requires her doctor to practice medicine based on politics, not best medical practices.
Women in Mississippi face new challenges to access safe legal abortion every year. We must stand firm; just because legislators don’t like the decision a woman might make, they cannot deny women access to basic constitutionally protected health care and the ability to work with her doctor to make the best decision, based on her own individual circumstances.
Mississippi already has some of the most restrictive laws in the country. It is time for our legislature and Governor to start putting women’s healthcare first and take positive measures to ensure every Mississippian has access to quality healthcare. If they really care about women’s health they should be working to expand Medicaid and implementing comprehensive medically accurate sex education programs in our schools. It is time to stop playing politics with women’s lives.
January 22, 2014
The Mississippi Legislature started its 129th Session on January 7th, 2014. The legislative session has garnered attention as Mississippi legislators launched an agenda geared towards “Public Safety.” This year, the Democratic Legislative Caucus’ agenda discusses healthcare, education, state employee benefits, as well as roads and bridges. Republican legislators have promoted an agenda that attacks a range of issues from reproductive freedom to public benefit opportunities.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi (ACLU- MS) is monitoring legislation that falls within our four centers of focus: criminal justice reform, youth justice reform, equality for all Mississippians, and freedom of speech and expression. We will take an active stance against any legislation that infringes on reproductive freedom, freedom of speech, and access to equal opportunity. The ACLU-MS will actively support Medicaid expansion, immigration reform, and legislation aimed at reducing the number of our children who find themselves in the School-to-Prison pipeline.
In the House, Rep. Mims introduced H.B. 49 which would require the drug testing of persons who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This bill was referred to the Public Health Committee and passed to the House floor on a vote, along party lines, of 74-46. This legislation unfairly targets Mississippi's poorest and neediest citizens. It is inefficient as it will only affect a small group of people and will cost the state a large amount of money. The ACLU-MS is working to actively defeat this bill as it heads to the Senate’s Public Health and Welfare Committee chaired by Senator Kirby.
Also in the House, Mims introduced H.B. 29 which requires a prescription to dispense emergency contraceptive to persons under 18 years old. We are actively opposing this unnecessary legislation. H.B 29 was referred to the Public Health Committee. This bill infringes on reproductive freedom. Young people in Mississippi deserve the same reproductive health care as all others living in the United States. The ACLU-MS Mississippi will take a stand to defeat these arbitrary barriers on safe and effective birth control.
In the Senate, the ACLU- MS is monitoring a wide range of legislation. We will actively oppose S.B. 2304 introduced by Sen. Tollison which will require the designation of certain disabilities on drivers licenses and identification cards under certain circumstances. This bill also requires training for law enforcement officers to recognize certain medical conditions.
As always, the ACLU-MS will continue to keep you informed of our efforts, as things unfold over the weeks to come of the 2014 Legislative Session as we work to protect civil liberties for all Mississippians.
Please take action and stand with the ACLU of Mississippi.
Joi L. Owens
ACLU of Mississippi
November 10, 2011
Posted by Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, Reproductive Freedom Project
The people have spoken: Twice in South Dakota; twice in Colorado and now in Mississippi. Red state, blue state — it doesn’t make a difference. The message to government is clear: Women’s lives matter. Respect for women, respect for their decisions about their health and families, respect for their basic rights, matters. So keep out of our bedrooms, our doctors’ offices, and our personal lives and do your @##@$*#& job already.
In case you missed it, the people of Mississippi voted yesterday to reject a so-called “personhood” amendment that would have criminalized all abortions without exception, including treatment for ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage, as well as some of the most common forms of birth control. No one believed they could do it and we owe this landmark victory--and a huge debt of gratitude--to the people of Mississippi who fought tirelessly and against all odds to defeat this extreme and dangerous initiative. Mississippi, reputed to be the most conservative state in the nation, now joins South Dakota (which has twice voted to reject abortion bans) and Colorado (which has twice voted to reject a “personhood” amendment) in saying enough is enough—stop playing politics with women’s lives.
Indeed, while this is a huge win for Mississippi, the effects of their victory will and should be felt nationwide. This past year saw an unprecedented legislative attack on the reproductive rights and health of women and families around the country. We saw bans on insurance coverage for abortion; laws that tried to strip any and all public funding from organizations that provide, or even talk about, abortions; and a law that would require any woman seeking an abortion to visit a crisis pregnancy center to be lectured by anti-abortion activists about why her decision is wrong. If anything, the vote in Mississippi tells us there is a huge disconnect between these politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. Yesterday’s vote should make it crystal clear that the American people do not support this extremist, anti-woman, anti-family agenda. The American people trust women, and it’s about time their elected representatives do so, as well.
November 02, 2011
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour said on Nov. 2 he's concerned about Initiative 26, an extreme measure that could have unintended consequences.
"I believe life begins at conception. Unfortunately, this personhood amendment doesn't say that," Barbour said on MSNBC. "That ambiguity is striking a lot of pro-life people here as concerning."
Barbour also made comments to Fox News and local media. For the full story, read here.