ACLU of Missouri Stands with Standing Rock

September 22, 2016

The ACLU of Missouri has long been committed to supporting and defending the rights of indigenous people and communities. We recognize the vital roles peaceful protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, and activism play in defending our civil and human rights. 

The ACLU of Missouri stands with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its allied indigenous nations and supporters across the globe as they speak out against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  As such, we denounce any government suppression of the right to protest and militarized policing of protesters by the state of North Dakota.
 
Help us stand with Standing Rock.  Sign our petition and tell Governor Dalrymple to demilitarize North Dakota’s response to peaceful protesters and protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Ask him to stand down the National Guard; remove the highway checkpoint leading to protest encampments and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation; and ensure state and county police do not appear at peaceful protest or nonviolent acts of civil disobedience in riot gear.

ACLU of Missouri Sues KC Public Schools for Handcuffing Second Grader

September 08, 2016

Photo of Kalyb Primm

Unconstitutional and unnecessary force was used on 7-year-old student

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  --  The ACLU of Missouri has filed a lawsuit in federal court today against the Kansas City Public Schools on behalf of a child who was handcuffed by an elementary school resource officer in 2014.

Kalyb Wiley Primm, 7, was handcuffed for more than 15 minutes while waiting in the principal’s office for a parent to arrive after he was removed from class, handcuffed, and pushed down a hallway after he cried out in response to being bullied in his classroom. At the time, he stood less than 4 feet tall and weighed less than 50 pounds. 

“This child committed no crime, threatened no one, and posed no danger to anyone,” said ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert. “Gratuitously handcuffing children is cowardly and violates the constitution.”

The incident also violated state policy, which says that the use of restraints for elementary and secondary students should be used only in extreme circumstances or emergencies.

After this incident, Kalyb was so scared to return to school that his mother withdrew him. He was homeschooled for the next two years.

“Our children need trained and concerned figures in schools that know how to intervene. It's not okay to abuse your authority and handcuff kids as a means of discipline,” said Tomesha Primm, Kalyb's mother. “As a parent, I want to make sure no other child – in Kansas City or anywhere else in the country – experiences what my son did.”

Missouri has the highest black-white disparity rate in the U.S. when it comes to disciplining elementary school students, according to a 2015 study by The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California-Los Angeles.

“What happened to this child is simply wrong,” said ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman. “This is a call to action for all of us to stop the unnecessary punishment that happens to young boys of color all across our nation – and particularly in Missouri.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Read the full complaint here

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Join Us for a Free, Advance Screening of Oliver Stone's "Snowden"

September 02, 2016

Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA's mass spying programs, sparking the biggest debate about government surveillance in decades.

Now he's the subject of a new film by Oliver Stone, "Snowden," and you're invited to a free, advance screening hosted by the ACLU of Missouri on Tuesday, September 13. The epic story of his act of conscience and the aftermath of his disclosures makes for one of the most-discussed films of the year.

"Snowden" Advance Screening
Tuesday, September 13, 7-10 p.m.
AMC Esquire 7
6706 Clayton Road
St. Louis, MO 63117

Join us for the screening, plus a Q&A to follow on the First Amendment, privacy rights, and whistleblowers.

This event is free and open to the public. However, we encourage you to considermaking a donation and supporting our work to protect your privacy rights.

RSVP today!

ACLU of Missouri Sues State Corrections Department Over Selection of Execution Witnesses

August 31, 2016

 Director's Role as Sole Selector Violates 14th Amendment

JEFFERSON CITY, MO --The ACLU of Missouri filed a complaint in federal court today challenging the Missouri Department of Corrections' process for selecting witnesses for executions. 

 Since he applied to witness a Missouri execution in January 2014, investigative journalist Christopher S. McDaniel has yet to receive a response to his application from the Missouri Department of Corrections, effectively denying him the opportunity to witness any of the 17 executions that the state has carried out since he submitted his application.

The request approval is solely at the discretion of the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections.

 "The Missouri Department of Corrections has shown a disturbing pattern of behavior that's been keeping the public from knowing about its unsavory and possibly illegal practices related to the death penalty," said Tony Rothert, legal director for ACLU of Missouri. "Execution witnesses are an important check to ensure the department does not abuse its power. That check does not work when the Department can choose to exclude anyone critical of its behavior."

 McDaniel’s reporting has exposed disturbing and potentially illegal practices with regard to the death penalty in Missouri.  

 The ACLU of Missouri submitted a public records request to the Missouri Department of Corrections for copies of applications to witness executions.  The department eventually turned over the applications, but only after litigation was required to compel it to comply with state law.  Upon review of the applications, it was discovered that every applicant who, like McDaniel, expressed a desire to ensure that executions were carried out properly and constitutionally, was denied the opportunity to witness an execution.

"The ACLU of Missouri protects the constitutional rights of all Missourians," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of ACLU of Missouri. "It's unconstitutional for the Missouri Department of Corrections to discriminate against individuals because of their political beliefs, plain and simple."

 The ACLU of Missouri has filed six lawsuits against the Missouri Department of Corrections seeking documents regarding the state’s execution protocol and policies. In December 2015, the Circuit Court of Cole County ruled that the department knowingly violated the Sunshine Law by refusing to provide information related to the state’s execution witness selection process.

 Today’s lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Read the full complaint.

 

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ACLU of Missouri Hires New Director of Communications

August 29, 2016

Daniela Velázquez joins ACLU of Missouri team to lead communication efforts

 ST. LOUIS -- Today, the ACLU of Missouri announced that seasoned communications professional and former journalist Daniela Velázquez is joining its team as the new Director of Communications. 

“We’re thrilled to welcome a great talent in Daniela Velázquez to our team,” said ACLU of Missouri Executive Director, Jeffrey Mittman. “Daniela's combination of non-profit, journalism, government and private sector experience is a perfect fit for the work we do."

“I’ve long admired the work of the ACLU of Missouri,” said Daniela Velázquez. “This position will put my communication skills to good use, protecting the civil liberties of all Missourians.”

Prior to the ACLU, Daniela worked with organizations big and small, in corporate communications, as well as for government and nonprofit organizations.  As the principal of her own consulting firm, she worked with the Ferguson Commission, St. Louis Mosaic Project and the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA). Daniela honed her storytelling skills while covering news in Florida. She worked as an online news producer for Tampa Bay Online (TBO.com) and reported and wrote feature and general assignment stories for The Tampa Tribune and NBC-affiliate WFLA-TV/News Channel 8. Daniela holds a Bachelor of Journalism in News Editorial and a Bachelor of Arts in History, both from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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Court Finds Ferguson-Florissant School Board Elections in Violation of Voting Rights Act

August 22, 2016

ST. LOUIS – A federal judge ruled today that the Ferguson-Florissant School District’s process for electing school board members violates the Voting Rights Act and can no longer continue until the process is changed. The decision today came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

In December, the ACLU of Missouri filed a federal lawsuit against the Ferguson-Florissant School District, on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and African-American residents, charging that the district's electoral system locked African-Americans out of the political process through the at-large system that dilutes African-American voting strength.

“The ongoing effects of racial discrimination have long plagued the region, and the District in particular, have affected the ability of African Americans to participate equally in the political process,” wrote U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel in the decision.

African-Americans constitute a minority of the district’s voting age population, and under the at-large system they were systematically unable to elect candidates of their choice. Today’s decision demonstrates that the at-large arrangement has a discriminatory effect on African-American voters.

"This case is about African-American communities being able to hold their government accountable,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Today’s decision will lead to future school boards that are responsive to the needs of the community.”

“The importance of ensuring fair elections for all Americans cannot be overstated.  The NAACP, in conjunction with the ACLU, has worked tirelessly to ensure that the rights of all citizens are protected,” said Missouri State Conference of the NAACP President Nimrod Chapel. “We are proud of the result in this case.”

The Ferguson-Florissant School District has a history fraught with discrimination against African-American citizens. The district, which spans several municipalities, was created by a 1975 desegregation order intended to remedy the effects of discrimination against African-American students. Yet, 40 years later, there was just one African-American member on the seven-member board in a district where African-Americans constitute 77 percent of the student body. Since the filing of this case, another African-American school board member was elected. There are currently two African-Americans serving on the board.
 
The decision can be viewed here
 

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Religious Doctrine Must Not Override Medical Standards at Walgreens’ In-Store Clinics in Missouri and Illinois

August 18, 2016

ACLU, MergerWatch and National Health Law Program Say Walgreens and SSM Health Must Provide Assurances to Those Seeking Health Care Services

ST. LOUIS- Walgreens must assure its customers seeking health care services that its in-store clinic provider, Catholic-sponsored SSM Health Medical Group, which adheres to religious directives, will not limit access to reproductive health services, information and referrals, say four public interest groups.

In letters to Walgreens’ chief medical officer and SSM Health’s regional president, the ACLU of Illinois, ACLU of Missouri, MergerWatch, and the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) ask for more information about the partnership between the companies and assurance that religious  directives (or restrictions) will not override medical standard of care, curtail access to reproductive health care services, or allow for discrimination against LGBTQ persons.

The letters note that SSM Health (formerly known as the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother) is a Catholic health care system that adheres to Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) issued and enforced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These directives expressly forbid contraceptive counseling and prescriptions, which are the kinds of primary care services women often seek at clinics, including those located within drug stores.

The Bishops’ directives also forbid staff of Catholic-affiliated health care institutions to provide patients with information about or referrals for other types of reproductive health care, such as abortions, fertility treatments, vasectomies and tubal ligations. LGBTQ individuals and their families could also face discrimination at institutions following the ERDs, depending on interpretation of the directives.

The groups ask Walgreens and SSM Health to explain how they will ensure that all “customers receive the reproductive health services, information, and referrals they have both come to expect from Walgreens, and that meet medical standards of care.” In addition the groups seek “assurances that all customers will be treated equally regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

Both letters contain specific questions about whether the clinics, their staff and the care they give will be restricted by Catholic ethical directives: Will outpatient reproductive health services be available in all the in-store clinics? Will the medical information, counseling and referrals patients receive be limited because of religious directives? Will LGBTQ persons be treated with dignity at all clinics? Will counseling about HIV “safer sex” prevention practices be provided to at-risk patients?, Will access to PrEP, a medication to prevent HIV infection, be available

The Walgreens letter is available here. The SSM Health letter is available here. For more information or comment from any of the groups, please contact Jeremy Leaming at leaming@healthlaw.org or 202-552-5176. 

 

ACLU of Missouri Files Suit Against City of Walnut Grove, Mayor

August 15, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.  — The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a lawsuit today against the mayor and city of Walnut Grove, Mo., on behalf of a resident who expressed displeasure with the mayor’s decision to shoot and kill a stray border collie that was caring for her puppies in September 2014.

After the incident, Walnut Grove resident Linda O’Toole spoke at a city meeting and started an online petition encouraging community members to contact Walnut Grove City Hall to demand that Walnut Grove Mayor Jim Cole resign and that public officials become more educated on modern methods of animal rescue.

In April 2015, Cole sued O’Toole in an attempt to silence her criticism. O’Toole has been forced to endure the burdens of the lawsuit, including the cost of litigation. She is now afraid to exercise her First Amendment right to speak out against a public official’s actions.

“The right to criticize public officials is at the core of the freedoms we have in our democracy,” said ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert. “Individuals in public office cannot use the courts or the police to silence public criticism.”

“Government officials abuse their power to the detriment of the individual rights of citizens throughout Missouri,” ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman said. “We protect the civil liberties of all Missourians, everywhere.”

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Read the full complaint here


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A letter to Department of Social Services, MO HealthNet Division Against Proposed Suspension of Federally-Funded Section 1115 Family Planning Demonstration

July 28, 2016

The ACLU of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization with the mission of protecting and expanding the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed under the United States and Missouri Constitutions, with a particular focus on the Bill of Rights. 

On behalf of our thousands of members across the state of Missouri,we submit these comments against the proposed suspension of the Women’s Health Services Program, or the establishment of a new state-funded program – unless every patient can be guaranteed at least the same level of health care they receive under the Women’s Health Services Program. 

At a minimum, the Department of Social Services must:

  • Ensure that all people currently enrolled in the Women’s Health Services Program areautomatically transferredto the new state-funded program. No one should have to re-apply for a new program or wait for a new insurance card to come in the mail before they can access care;
  • Guarantee that the state-funded program will provide at least the same benefits and services currently provided through the Women’s Health Services Program, including free well-woman exams, life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, and STI services;
  • Make sure enough licensed and trained women’s health care providers participate in the new state-funded program so that patients are able to access timely and quality care from providers who they trust; and
  • Provide people enrolled in the new state-funded program a provider directory with accurate contact information so that they can make appointments and receive critical health services without delay. 

Additionally, the Department should make sure to reinstate the federal-funded Missouri Women’s Health Program as soon as it can. The Missouri General Assembly forced Missouri to leave $8 million in federal funding on the table when it pushed through legislation to end the program. Missourians should not have to pick up the tab for bad legislation that will harm their health.

Missourians deserve access to quality health care and should be able to access medical care from trusted providers, including from Planned Parenthood.  Missourians ability to access needed medical care should never be subject to partisan politics or anti-civil liberties ideology.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our comments on the proposed Women's Health Services Program suspension.  The ACLU of Missouri is available at any time to discuss or expand upon these comments.

Sincerely, 

Jeffrey Mittman

Executive Director, ACLU of Missouri

Make your voice heard on Election Day

July 28, 2016

At ACLU of Missouri, we work every day to protect our constitutional freedoms. And no civil right is more important in our democracy than the right to vote.  That's why we want to make sure you know what you need to participate in Missouri's Primary Election on Tuesday, August 2nd. Here are a few reminders:

BE REGISTERED

In order to be eligible to vote in the primary, an individual must be a citizen of the United States, a resident of the State of Missouri, 18 years old by Election Day, and have registered to vote.  Not sure if you are registered? Check in advance through the Missouri Secretary of State’s voting center website at www.GoVoteMissouri.com. The deadline to register for the August primary has passed, but make sure to register for the November election today if you are not yet registered.

BRING IDENTIFICATION (IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A PHOTO ID)

In Missouri, there are specific requirements for acceptable forms of voter ID that eligible voters must present when casting their ballot. Registered voters need to present ONLY ONE of the following types of identification*:

  • Identification issued by the state of Missouri, an agency of the state, or a local election authority of the state; or
  • Identification issued by the United States government or agency thereof; or
  • Identification issued by an institution of higher education, including a university, college, vocational and technical school, located within the state of Missouri; or
  • A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check or other government document that contains the name and address of the voter; or
  • Driver's license or state identification card issued by another state.

*If you do not possess any of these forms of identification, you may still cast a ballot if two supervising election judges, one from each major political party, attest they know you.

KNOW WHERE TO GO

Find your polling place in advance by visiting your local election authority's website or at www.GoVoteMissouri.com.  Polls open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

YOUR VOTE MATTERS

Elections should be free, fair, and accessible to all eligible Missouri voters. If you have problems voting on Election Day, please call the Secretary of State’s office at (800) 669-8683 to report the issue.  You may also contact us ACLU of Missouri at webmaster@aclu-mo.org.

 It is crucial that all eligible voters be able to exercise their Constitutional right to participate in the democratic process of electing local, state, and federal officials.  On Tuesday, August 2nd, make your voice heard!

By Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director, ACLU of Missouri 

 

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