Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We Have a Lot to be Thankful For...

Here at the ACLU, we’ve won some great victories and are proud of what we have accomplished over this past year. We have a lot to be thankful for! Our deepest appreciation goes to those whose membership and support makes our work throughout the nation and in the great state of Wyoming possible. As the year draws to a close, we’d like to highlight a few examples of what the ACLU has accomplished both nationally and in Wyoming.

In 2011, the ACLU of Wyoming:

• Issued juvenile justice report Inequality in the Equality State: The Damaged Juvenile Justice and Detention System in Wyoming
• Advocated for juvenile justice reforms
• Monitored legislative redistricting process to ensure equitable statewide voting rights
• Continued year round legislative lobbying and education efforts; helping to defeat DOMA, anti-choice and anti-immigration legislation
• Launched the first ACLU Student Chapter at the University of Wyoming
• Mentored undergraduate and law school interns
• Hosted first ACLU volunteer reception
• Co-sponsored Director’s screening and community discussion of the award-winning LGBT film, Out in the Silence
• Conducted statewide survey to monitor use of web-filtering software in public schools
• Conducted statewide survey to ensure availability of emergency contraceptives
• Promoted safe and humane conditions in Wyoming’s prisons and jails; successfully resolving numerous prisoner complaints
• Authored articles in Wyoming State Bar magazine on elections legislation, ACLU history and juvenile justice
• Presented on prisoners’ rights litigation at annual criminal law conference and drug law reform at University of Wyoming Consumer Issues conference
• Provided legal assistance and information on civil liberties issues
• Increased social media presence through Twitter, Facebook and our ACLU of Wyoming blog

In 2011, the ACLU accomplished nationally:

• "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" finally came to an end
• The extreme Mississippi Personhood Amendment was defeated
• Congressional attempts to defund Planned Parenthood failed
• An outrageous provision that would have granted this and all future presidents a blank check to involve the U.S. in a worldwide war without end was halted
• Free speech rights of Occupy Wall Street protestors have been defended
• New York state passed a landmark marriage equality law
• Illinois banned the death penalty
• ACLU lawsuits stalled enactment of every "show me your papers" racial profiling law passed across the country
• We blocked enactment of South Dakota's draconian anti-abortion law
• The Obama administration decided to stop defending the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act against an ACLU legal challenge

These are just a few of our many achievements in the last year and the ACLU is extremely honored by the fact that our work is supported by the generous giving of others. None of the things on this list could have been possible without ACLU supporters. Thanks to their support, the ACLU's robust defense of our fundamental freedoms prevailed on many fronts. Happy holidays from the ACLU of Wyoming!

American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bah Humbug: The War on Christmas

In recent years, conservative pundits like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh have creatively manufactured a “war on Christmas.” John Gibson, who “pals around” with domestic culture warrior O’Reilly, boldly declares in his book, The War on Christmas, that some are trying to ban “ normal and traditional Christmas representations such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, treetop stars, wreaths, the singing of and listening to Christmas carols or Christmas instrumental music, attending a performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol…”

There is a problem with the “war on Christmas.” It doesn’t exist and never has.

The constitutional right of people to worship, preach, sing carols, and celebrate Christmas in their churches with their families and friends –whether in public or private is well protected. These culture warriors seem unable to see what is staring them in the face: Christmas is pervasive in the public and private square, and, except when the government is being used to promote religious beliefs, it is entirely constitutional.

The First Amendment guarantees, individuals, families, businesses, and religious communities the right to celebrate and to display Christmas symbols. This right is uncontested, and is exercised annually by millions across our country. The ACLU itself has brought several cases on behalf of people who want to celebrate Christmas. The difficulty comes when the government decides that it wants to get involved in promoting some religious symbols or prohibiting others. Religion does best when government stays out of its business.

In addressing this dilemma, the U.S. Supreme Court has made very clear that, while the Government “may acknowledge Christmas as a cultural phenomenon,” the Constitution mandates that the government “may not observe (Christmas) as a Christian holiday by suggesting that people praise God for the birth of Jesus.” County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, 601 (1989). While some limited governmental celebrations of Christmas are not unconstitutional, such as displays that recognize the holiday’s secular element, or that are part of an overall seasonal holiday celebration, the burden for the government to show that its activities do not have the purpose or effect of endorsing a religious message is high.

The ACLU vigorously defends the right of all Americans to practice their faith, and works to prevent the government from promoting and funding select religious activities.

Learn more about celebrating Christmas in America.