Judge rules homeless people have rights, people lose their minds

A federal judge recently made this excellent ruling:

A Portland, Maine, city ordinance banning people from panhandling in the median strips of roads violates the U.S. Constitution, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.

The ordinance, which passed in August, prohibited people from loitering in roadways unless they were placing political campaign signs, a distinction that U.S. District Judge George Singal said violated the First Amendment right to free speech.

City officials had argued that increasing numbers of panhandlers in 2012 and 2013 had become a traffic hazard along the city’s roadways. They said the ban was necessary to ensure public safety.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine challenged the ban on behalf of two anti-war activists and a panhandler who told the court she collected between $20 and $25 per day from passing motorists.

“The First Amendment protects all of us, no matter what views we hold or how much money we make,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine, in a statement.

Heiden said that the economic downturn had increased the visibility of panhandlers in Maine and elsewhere.

“These bans haven’t come about because of an increase in accidents,” he said. “What we’re seeing is more people coming to the streets to ask for assistance.”

No one denies that Portland created this ordinance as a direct response to panhandlers. The city certainly made up the increased traffic accidents excuse, but it was surprisingly open with its disdain for the homeless. And that was its downfall: the government cannot restrict one type of speech while allowing another. In this case, the city banned panhandlers from standing on a median but it allowed political activists to use the median to plant signs. Let’s examine that for even a second.

If it’s true that people in medians are a safety hazard, then it follows that it doesn’t really matter whether they’re standing, pacing, or only there briefly. If the median is dangerous, it’s dangerous, and so no one should have access to it outside a crosswalk zone. Given that the city believes it’s perfectly safe for people to be there, even if only briefly, we have a good piece of evidence that the medians aren’t all that dangerous.

One counter to this point is that the sign planters are only temporary. That actually doesn’t address the issue since people are still in the median while cars are going by them, but let’s pretend it does. Even if the brevity of a person’s median visit changes things, we have to ask why the city has road signs in the median. After all, a road sign that says U-turns are illegal or that there’s no right turn on red is just as dangerous as a standing person. Both are obstructions in the median. Both are there to get the attention of drivers. Of course, there have been zero cries to reduce median signage. Funny that, huh?

Given that traffic accidents have not increased significantly in the area – and given the more important fact that traffic accidents haven’t been caused by people standing in medians, anyway – it is utterly clear the city ordinance was just a way to stop people from begging. Since begging is a clear type of speech, the city ordinance was designed to shut up people who express unpopular speech.

To me this is a really clear cut First Amendment issue. People beg, a city doesn’t like it, an ordinance is passed to curb begging and exceptions are made for desired speech like campaign signs. No brainer. Yet when I saw this link posted on Facebook by the local news outlets, nearly every comment was outrage. Part of that is likely selection bias since people tend to comment more frequently on things that make them mad, but it was still pretty overwhelming. Why, all these grifters are living the high life. Homelessness is a glamorous lifestyle for scammers and drunks! And the number of people who don’t know that begging is a form of speech is astounding. The government doesn’t get to tell me what I’m allowed to ask from people. If I want help pushing my car out of the snow or if I’m raising money for a charity or if I just want a piece of gum, no government should be able to stop me. The same goes for people who are asking for money, food, and other items.

The only semi-legit response to this ruling has been people who complain of the homeless people in Portland that walk between the cars when traffic is stopped. Sometimes they get aggressive, they get in the way, and they often leave trash from the things they’re given. None of that, of course, justifies the government denying them their right to beg in the first place. Violating the First Amendment was never an acceptable solution. What the government should have done was 1) ban all access to the medians, 2) enforce jaywalking and other laws, or 3) redesigned their roads to get rid of medians/make them impossible to stand on. I’m sure there are some other options, but only the options along these lines are legal.

Bravo to the judge, I say. Not only did he make the correct ruling, but he barely even bothered to address the fundamental issue of whether or not begging is protected speech. This is great because there was no reason to address it. It was long ago established that begging was a form of speech, just like flag burning or blogging; the issue is fundamental to the First Amendment, not the specifics of this case. The only issue to be addressed here was whether or not Portland violated the speech that is begging. This correct ruling is a victory for everyone.

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Cranston ordered to pay ACLU $173,000

The school district that knowingly attempted to defy the constitution is being asked to pay the ACLU $173,000 in legal fees. And this is after the ACLU decided to give deep discounts:

The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which won a lawsuit against the Cranston School District for a religious display at Cranston High School West, filed a request for repayment of attorney’s fees in the amount of $173,000 in U.S. District Court today.

In a release, Steve Brown, executive director of the RIACLU, said the amount includes major discounts for hours of work by volunteer attorneys Lynette Labinger and Thomas Bender. He also said the amount is mindful of the school district’s budget woes in recent years.

“In terms of its complexity, the ACLU noted that the school district initially raised ten affirmative defenses when it filed its answer to the lawsuit. The amount sought by the ACLU attorneys pales in comparison to the attorneys’ fees that lawyers working with the Becket Fund, the national group that assisted the school district in defending the case, obtained in a church-state lawsuit two years ago. In that case from Colorado, dealing with a church zoning dispute, attorneys working with the Becket Fund were awarded over $1.25 million in attorneys’ fees for their work handling the case in the district court.”

This is what these people get. If they really didn’t think they were going to lose this lawsuit, they had to at least know there was a possibility they would have to pay attorney fees. And for what? An old prayer banner? They should have just taken it down when it was brought to their attention. Hell, they could have even taken it down months after they were made aware of its problems:

“In fact, in an attempt to avoid the costs of litigation and spare the taxpayers, we waited eight months before filing suit in the hope that this matter could be informally resolve,” [Brown said].

Part of me is glad the school district has this bill. It would be ideal if they could spend the money in more fruitful ways, but they brought this on themselves. It isn’t what the students should get, but it is what the administrators deserve.

I (heart) boobies!

Brianna Hawk and Kayla Martinez are suing their school, Easton Area Middle School, for suspending them for wearing breast cancer awareness bracelets which read “I (heart) boobies!” It’s another case of out-of-touch old people who are doing no good with their misplaced fear.

The girls were suspended for what the school considered “disruption, defiance and disrespect” — although they were previously told they had violated the school dress code. According to the school district, the bracelets prompted at least two boys to try to touch girls inappropriately.

“Do you think boys would have a natural attraction to girls’ breasts?” school district lawyer John E. Freund III asked Hawk in one of the day’s more awkward moments.

For real? That’s the issue? Two boys were “prompted” by what the girls were wearing? Didn’t we all learn in Common Fucking Sense 101 that sexual harassment is the fault of the harasser, not the harassed? Besides that, the two boys are in middle school. This is a good teaching moment, as they say.

Schools from Florida to California also have tried to ban the bracelets. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Pennsylvania girls on free-speech grounds and described them as good students, successfully intervened without filing suit in a few other districts.

I hate these arguments. I do not care if the girls were straight F students. That is not the point.

The judge plans to hear oral arguments in the case early next year before ruling. She asked the school’s principal for seventh and eighth grades, Angela DiVietro, if the bracelets had caused distractions before the ban was announced in late October.

DiVietro replied that teachers were concerned the bracelets would start to become “a disruption in the classroom.”

What is this, a humanities course? These mamby-pamby answers absolutely do not cut it. DiVietro was asked if the bracelets had caused a distraction, not if teachers were concerned that they could. She continues:

“They were concerned they were making a mockery out of the breast cancer awareness campaign, and some of the kids were wearing it just to wear it,” she said. “It was a fad. It was cute. It was more appealing to that age group.”

The correct, proper, mature, adult, intelligent, developed, sophisticated, effective response would be to hold a school-wide gathering that addressed these concerns with the students, making them aware of what the bracelets mean, what it means to have breast cancer, what is means to know someone with breast cancer, and all the other issues that come with not squashing obvious free speech rights because a couple old fogies are uncomfortable with a little word. If anyone is making a mockery of breast cancer awareness, it’s DiVietro and her crew; by engaging in a misguided attempt at censorship, they’re blocking out an important message, belittling the entire reason behind the creation of the bracelets.

The Keep A Breast Foundation aims to raise young people’s awareness about breast cancer through art exhibits, a pilot school program and outreach at music and skateboard festivals, marketing manager Kimmy McAtee testified.

“I see no sexual message in the ‘I love boobies’ campaign,” McAtee testified.

Crazy, huh? It’s almost like the whole point of the campaign is to raise awareness of breast cancer – especially among kids. I guess the Keep A Breast Foundation thinks it’s sort of an important issue.

‘It’s my right to make you support my religion!’

At least that’s what many of the residents of King, N.C. may as well be saying. They’re all in a huff over a Christian flag the city council decided to remove from a war memorial after an Afghanistan war veteran made a complaint.

“This monument stands as hallowed ground,” said Martini, a tall, trim man with a tattoo on his right arm commemorating the day in 1988 when he became a born-again Christian. “It kills me when I think people want to essentially desecrate it.”

It now appears that many of the Christians in this small town have replaced the flag with a replica and are now guarding it. (It’s unclear from the article if the new flag is in the same place as the old one.) It’s a great display of ignorance, really. Someone doesn’t want the government supporting religion? Well, that person must just be desecrating everything! Actually, that wouldn’t be so bad – we really should never hold any ideas sacred, sealed off in a box where it’s unthinkable that anyone should ever question them. But that isn’t what’s happening here.

Of course in all this, the ACLU, as usual, has taken the correct position. They’ve praised the town for taking down the flag while allowing these people to hold their silly vigils. It’s no surprise that the ACLU is holding to actual principle. But that isn’t so clear to the residents.

The protesters, though, aren’t satisfied with the vigil. They’re planning an Oct. 23 rally in support of their ultimate goal, which is for the city to restore the Christian flag to the permanent metal pole on the memorial.

At a recent public hearing, roughly 500 people packed the King Elementary School gymnasium, many waving Christian flags. Of more than 40 speakers, no one spoke in favor of removing it.

“We’ve let our religious freedoms and constitutional rights be stripped away one by one, and I think it’s time we took a stand,” King resident James Joyce said.

James Joyce is just being a mook. The separation of church and state is well established; no one’s rights have been taken away by the removal of an illegal display of government-supported religion.

Of course, if the flag was a Muslim or atheist symbol of any sort, there would be an immediate uproar, quick adherence to the constitution, and no one in that town would be holding any vigil of support. It isn’t about principle for the Christian majority in King, North Carolina anymore than it is in the rest of America.

ACLU apologizes to American Humanist Association

The American Humanist Association donated $20,000 for the sake of having a non-discriminatory prom for Constance McMillen. The reason is that the AHA is based upon a concern for humans, not some mythical sky fairy that has nothing to do with humanity other than being a reflection of its lowliest traits. Despite this, they originally received this response.

“Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist,’ ” Jennifer Carr, the fund-raiser for the A.C.L.U of Mississippi, wrote in an e-mail message to Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the humanist group.

No shit the word “atheist” has negative connotations. So why compound the problem with a negative feedback loop? It isn’t helpful to discriminate against a discriminated group. The ACLU of all organizations should understand that. And apparently they do (provided enough time).

On behalf of the ACLU of Mississippi, I would like to offer our sincere apologies for the inappropriate e-mail you received from a member of our staff regarding your generous offer to sponsor and donate to a prom for Constance McMillen.

As I believe you’ve heard from the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, MSSC makes the final decision about which sponsorship related offers to accept. It was an error for our staff member to insinuate to you that our organization had that decision-making power.

Furthermore, please understand that the sentiments expressed in the e-mail you received from our staff member do not reflect the views of our organization in any way. The ACLU of Mississippi is a stalwart defender of freedom of belief and expression for all, and we are appreciative of your commitment to protecting those principles, as well.

Nsombi Lambright
Executive Director, ACLU of Mississippi

BRCA1 and BRCA2 patents struck down

For years private companies have been putting patents on your genes. In fact, roughly 1/5 of human genes has been patented. This potentially has huge ramifications as it can restrict research abilities to one company or at least make others wary of future pursuits. Fortunately, a federal judge has struck down much of this practice.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet challenging whether anyone can hold patents on human genes was expected to have broad implications for the biotechnology industry and genetics-based medical research.

Sweet said he invalidated the patents because DNA’s existence in an isolated form does not alter the fundamental quality of DNA as it exists in the body nor the information it encodes.

He rejected arguments that it was acceptable to grant patents on DNA sequences as long as they are claimed in the form of “isolated DNA.”

The specific genes this primarily affects are the BCRA1 and BRCA2 genes, both tumor suppressors. (That means damage to these genes can quickly lead to cancer.) These are highly important areas of research which women cannot afford to have restricted to one company. The ruling will surely be appealed, but it is encouraging to see the case go in this direction.

Don’t ask, get told on

A gay soldier in Kansas has been given the boot because she got legally married in Iowa.

Jene Newsome played by the rules as an Air Force sergeant: She never told anyone in the military she was a lesbian. The 28-year-old’s honorable discharge under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy came only after police officers in Rapid City, S.D., saw an Iowa marriage certificate in her home and told the nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base.

The Bigot Brigade PD basically ratted Newsome out because she wouldn’t cooperate with helping them find her spouse on an outstanding warrant. The BBPD claims they were running a proper investigation, but that’s an incredibly thin lie. They had no business reporting anything to the military. They knew exactly what they were doing.

Police officers, who said they spotted the marriage license on the kitchen table through a window of Newsome’s home, alerted the base, police Chief Steve Allender said in a statement sent to the AP. The license was relevant to the investigation because it showed both the relationship and residency of the two women, he said.

“It’s an emotional issue and it’s unfortunate that Newsome lost her job, but I disagree with the notion that our department might be expected to ignore the license, or not document the license, or withhold it from the Air Force once we did know about it,” Allender said Saturday. “It was a part of the case, part of the report and the Air Force was privileged to the information.”

Steve Allender (adminInt3@rcgov.org) is a liar. The marital status of a third party in their investigation is irrelevant. It doesn’t take some half-ass cop out in the boonies to see that.

“This information was intentionally turned over because of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and to out Jene so that she would lose her military status,” said Robert Doody, executive director of ACLU South Dakota. The ACLU is focusing its complaint on the police department, not the military, and Newsome said she and her attorney have not yet decided on whether to file a lawsuit.

“The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ piece is important and critical to this, but also it’s a police misconduct case,” Doody said.

The BBPD has no idea what is appropriate action. It’s a department full of petty and vengeance to the citizen who crosses them, evidently. They should have had no expectation that a third party would help them with their investigation – but they did. They precisely expected Newsome to cow-tow to their demands to make their jobs easier. When she didn’t, they sought to ruin her career.

Of course, what would be an obvious case of bigotry without the overt bigotry?

Despite claiming that she had played by the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” rules, she got married to her lesbian lover in Iowa after an activist state supreme court said she could.

Well, that was tell number one. A marriage license, Ms. Newsome, is a public record. If you want to keep your sexual preference hidden from your superiors, it’s best not to advertise it to the whole world.

This is from some dying dinosaur named Bryan Fischer. Apparently Fischer thinks gays want to keep who they are private. No, no, really. People just love faking it.

Second, when the police came to her home seeking to execute an arrest warrant on her lesbian “wife” (“husband?” — it’s hard to know these days), they found the wedding license lying right in the middle of the dining room table. If you want to keep your sexual preference a secret, there are better ways.

For instance, one could hide a marriage license behind a smarmy aura of asshole. To date, no one has been able to confirm Fischer’s marital status.

Rapid City, S.D. law enforcement officials saw the wedding license and did their legal duty by reporting what they had found to the military.

What law is that again?

Ms. Newsome received an “honorable discharge” in January. (This is not your father’s military: she committed what is a crime under the UCMJ, and has the word “honorable” on her discharge papers. Go figure.)

There must be a mistake on Fischer’s website. It says he’s from Idaho, not Uganda.

Newsome’s partner in sexual deviancy is apparently not a model citizen, currently being under indictment for one felony and three misdemeanor counts of theft. That’s another tip for Ms. Newsome — if you don’t want get outed, it might be best not to “marry” somebody who robs people.

Do donation baskets count as robbery since they purport to be used for good causes but instead continue to support religion?

Gates’ theory — you get to break the law as long as you don’t rat yourself out — is absurd. Imagine if we applied that to any other realm of law enforcement. You, sir, get to go right on holding up banks because all we have to go on is ironclad eyewitness testimony from tellers, managers and other bank patrons. Please, please, pretty please admit you did it so we can lock you up. Otherwise, we will be forced to let you go so you can rob and pillage some more.

Idaho simply must be a mistake.