A Florida teacher has angered parents after having her fourth-grade class write a statement about giving up constitutional rights, Fox 30 News reports.
Cheryl Sabb, who teaches at Cedar Hills Elementary in Jacksonville, apparently asked her fourth-grade class to write down what she was saying, including the statement: “I am willing to give up some of my constitutional rights in order to be safer and more secure,” according to Fox 30.
Aaron and Amy Harvey, the parents of one of the students, found the note with that statement, written in crayon, in their son’s backpack.
“I don’t believe that any American or American child should be asked to write this,” Aaron Harvey told the First Coast News.
Nikolai Vitti, the Duval County public schools superintendent, said in a written statement: “The Justice Teaching activity on constitutional rights that was conducted at Cedar Hills Elementary School is consistent with our efforts to broaden civics-based education and develop critical thinking skills among our students. The lesson builds awareness of First Amendment rights through a partnership with an association of local attorneys. Our possible concern rests with a follow-up activity that may have been conducted after the lesson.”
Aaron Harvey will meet this week with Sabb and a counselor, Fox 30 reported. He has invited other parents to attend.
FoxNews.com reporter Jana Winter is facing jail time for not giving up her sources in an exclusive story on a notebook allegedly kept by James Holmes, the accused shooter in Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting in July 2012.
Susan Estrich, a professor of law and political science at the University of Southern California Law School, said Saturday on “America’s News HQ” that if a reporter cannot protect the anonymity of their sources, people are not going to tell them things.
“In a government where we really believe that the check on power is a free press, you don’t want to stifle the ability of reporters such as Jana and others to get to the bottom of important stories and provide us with true and accurate information,” she said.
Estrich added that the notion that Holmes is not going to get a fair trial because he does not know the name of Winter’s sources seems “very much of a stretch.”
Jewish students in the University of California system labeled terrorists for their support of Israel. Black high school students pelted by bananas on a Tennessee campus tour. A hostile student in Maryland challenging his professor to a fight after the teacher limited the use of cell phones and laptops during lectures.
In a society where anonymous Internet commenters freely lob insults, and politicians spew partisan barbs, the decline of basic civility isn’t limited to academia. But the push for more polite discourse — often as an extension of more entrenched diversity efforts — is firmly taking root on campus.
From the University of Missouri to Penn State and Vanderbilt, colleges across the country are treating the erosion of common decency as a public health epidemic on par with measles outbreaks and sexually transmitted diseases.
“What we’re trying to do is remind me people of what they already know, to get back in touch with things they probably learned growing up,” said Noel English, who heads a new Missouri civility campaign called “Show Me Respect,” a nod to the state’s nickname.
The Missouri campaign comes after two white students pleaded guilty in April 2010 to misdemeanor littering charges for dumping cotton balls outside the school’s black culture center during Black History Month; the students were sentenced to 80 hours of community service, two years of probation and had their driver licenses suspended for two months. A 2009 survey of more than 3,500 students found that nearly one in seven reported incidents of harassment on campus, from racial slurs to hostile emails.
At a campus civility workshop earlier this week, Eric Waters, a junior from Mansfield, Texas, who is the football team’s starting tight end, described how other students often label Mizzou football players as “mean” and “disrespectful” womanizers, sometimes to his face.
“It’s not about the stereotypes people put on us,” he said. “We try to carry ourselves like true gentlemen.”
The University of Tennessee enacted its civility campaign in 2011. There had been a cotton ball incident at the Knoxville school’s black cultural center after President Barack Obama’s election and, in 2010, bananas were thrown at a group of more than 100 black high school students from Memphis during a campus visit.
“We want to be a campus that’s welcoming to all, and hostile to none,” said Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, who now outlines the school’s 10 “principles of civility and community” at freshman orientation. The shared values range from inclusivity and collegiality to respect and integrity.
In some cases, the campus civility campaigns are being challenged by First Amendment advocates who fear that such programs muzzle unpopular speech in the name of tolerance and diversity.
That was the complaint at North Carolina State University, which revised a residence hall policy that, among other stipulations, prohibited dorm dwellers from wearing T-shirts or hanging posters “disrespectful and hurtful to others” while also requiring students to “confront behavior or report to staff incidents of incivility and intolerance.”
The new policy now includes a written caveat calling the civility effort a set of “voluntary expectations” while emphasizing that the school is “strongly committed to freedom of expression.”
“Civility is an important value,” said Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which protested the Raleigh university’s civility policy. “But at the same time, it can’t be made the paramount issue in a free society, because there has to be space for people who have intense feelings about things to express those feelings in a way that really communicates the urgency and the depths of feeling that lies behind their opinions.”
When campuses attempt to compel civil behavior, Shibley said, they become “so committed to civility that if you say something uncivil, you are going to be penalized In some way, that’s going too far. It starts to infringe on the very expressions that are protected by the First Amendment.”
Many credit Pier Forni, a professor of Italian literature at Johns Hopkins University, as the dean of the campus civility movement. He started the Hopkins Civility Project 15 years ago, wrote the 2002 book “Choosing Civility” and is a frequent guest speaker on other campuses, including at Missouri earlier this year.
For Forni, the culprits behind contemporary incivility are numerous, from what he called “the crisis of civil engagement” in this country to eroding workplace manners to “radical informality” heightened by Facebook and related social media. Yet he has no interest in making civil behavior a campus requirement.
“Civility should be promoted, not believed in,” he said. “Civility is not something to enforce. “
Among the schools embracing those beliefs is the University of Arizona, which last year opened the National Institute for Civil Discourse after the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
In 2010, Rutgers University launched its “Project Civility” just before freshman Tyler Clementi killed himself when a roommate secretly recorded the teen’s sexual encounter with another man. English, the Missouri campaign leader, said the New Jersey student’s suicide helped influence her decision to start a program on campus.
She, too, favors the voluntary approach, though her initial instincts said otherwise.
“My first thought was, ‘I’m a lawyer, we need a rule or a policy,’ but then my thinking was, ‘That’s not really necessary,’” she said. “We can have all the policies in the world, but what we want to do is raise awareness and get people thinking … We want to change the culture so it just becomes embedded.”
Or, as Noor Azizan-Gardner, Missouri’s chief diversity officer, put it: “I’m hoping when they graduate they will know what it means to be civil, kind and compassionate.”
Show Me Respect: http://civility.missouri.edu/
University of Tennessee Principles of Civility and Community: http://civility.utk.edu/
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: http://thefire.org/
___ Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://twitter.com/azagier
A new ordinance in Las Vegas is aimed at requiring handbill distributors — the ones who distribute pamphlets that advertise exotic dancers — to pick those pamphlets up off the sidewalk if they’re tossed aside by tourists.
The cards and pamphlets most often depict scantily clad women, and officials say the ordinance is merely an effort to solve an X-rated litter problem and thereby clean up the famed Las Vegas Strip.
There’s a hitch, though.
The American Civil Liberties Union says the law could run afoul of the First Amendment. The ACLU says police can’t cite handbill distributors for litter if tourists are the ones littering.
The city of Phoenix is facing a possible lawsuit after a woman claimed a city worker told her she could not pass out free water in the Arizona heat without a permit.
Dana Crow-Smith tells ABC 15 she was passing out water bottles in the 112-degree heat along with others in an attempt to share their Christian beliefs with people attending a festival downtown last month, when a city worker ordered them to stop. She said the worker told the group they would be cited if they continued passing out the water because they did not have a permit.
“It was really hot and yeah we wanted to show God’s love and a small act of kindness is a great way to do that without shoving it down someone’s throat,” Crow-Smith told ABC 15.
Now, a civil liberties organization is threatening to sue the city on Crow-Smith’s behalf, saying her First Amendment rights to freely practice her religion were violated.
“It is a sad day when local government officials prohibit Americans from such charitable acts as giving water to the thirsty in their city,” John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute told ABC 15.
The city had no comment as of Monday night.
A judge ordered Stevie Wonder’s cousin to stand trial on an extortion charge after hearing testimony that the man and his girlfriend attempted to sell a film ranting against the singer’s treatment of his family for millions of dollars.
Superior Court Judge Ray Jurado ruled Thursday that prosecutors had presented enough evidence for a jury to decide whether Alpha L. Walker and his girlfriend Tamara E. Diaz extorted Wonder by threatening to sell it to various media outlets if they weren’t paid by the Grammy-winning musician.
The pair has been jailed since May 2, when they were arrested during a sting organized by Wonder’s attorney and Los Angeles police. The pair was given a $10,000 down payment on a $500,000 agreement to hand over the film footage and keep its contents confidential.
Attorneys for Walker, who is Wonder’s cousin, and Tamara argued that prosecutors hadn’t presented enough evidence to support the case. Walker’s attorney, Ian Wallach, said his client had made a movie about his own life, was marketing it for sale and his actions were protected by the First Amendment.
A police detective described the film as an 80-minute rant against Wonder. Portions of it were filmed in the former home of the singer’s late mother, which is now dilapidated, and it also shows Wonder’s son, who the musician is protective of. Walker, 38, accused the musician of being “a slumlord” and made derogatory comments about the singer’s mother, two witnesses said.
Walker and Diaz have pleaded not guilty and Wallach has said his client is innocent.
Wonder did not testify. Throughout the hearing, he was referred to by his real name, Stevland Morris.
Many of the accusations were not described in great detail in court Thursday, but a detective testified that Wonder denied them in an interview.
“It was a continuous rant about the injustices that had been done to him — in his opinion — by Mr. Morris and that Mr. Morris was the cause of him having all of these issues in his life,” Los Angeles Police Detective Tracey Benjamin testified.
Benjamin, who interviewed Wonder for the case, said the singer was hurt by Walker’s accusations and said they were untrue. She said Wonder stated that paying his cousin money would be the only way to keep it from being sold to a news outlet and embarrassing him and his family.
“He explained that when something like this is released to the media, it is presumed to be true,” Benjamin said.
Wonder’s attorney William Briggs II said he watched much of the film but stopped when it showed footage of Wonder’s son, who has mental issues that were not described in court. He said Walker initially told him he wanted $5 million for the footage, but later agreed to a $500,000 payment.
Briggs said Walker also made claims that Wonder had “possibly engaged in an incestuous relationship.”
Walker repeatedly told Briggs that he wasn’t intending to extort Wonder and asked for the lawyer’s assurances that he wasn’t committing a crime. The attorney said a confidentiality agreement he drafted included language that the pair should seek legal advice.
With more than two dozen officers monitoring the hamburger restaurant where the group held their final meeting, Walker and Diaz signed their initials on the agreement and were quickly arrested.
Wallach and Diaz’s attorney, Alex Sario questioned whether Briggs, who recorded his conversations with the defendants, had worked with police to craft a confidentiality agreement that would prove extortion. Briggs said several of the words included in the document, including “fear,” ”embarrassing” and “private” came directly from Wonder, but that he also included language given to jurors deciding extortion cases.
Briggs said he wanted to see if Walker and Diaz, who was arrested with a list of things she hoped to do with the money they received, would carry out their plan.
If they did, he said, I wanted them to admit the damage they were doing.”
Walker and Diaz, both 38, return to court on July 26 for an arraignment hearing.
Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP
The Giles County School Board has voted to remove a copy of the Ten Commandments from the wall of a school.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia had sued on behalf of a student to remove the Ten Commandments from Narrows High School, saying it violates the First Amendment’s protection against government endorsement of religion. A federal judge sent the case into mediation May 7.
The Roanoke Times reports that the board voted unanimously Thursday to replace the display with a copy of a page from a history textbook that mentions the Ten Commandments in conjunction with American government and morality. It was unclear how that would affect the mediation.
The school board voted 3-2 last June to approve the display. The lawsuit was filed three months later.
The Associated Press and 16 other organizations sued the state of Idaho on Tuesday to force officials to let witnesses watch executions from start to finish, arguing that the media has a First Amendment right to view all steps of a lethal injection execution.
The group asked a U.S. District Court judge to require the state to increase witness access to its executions, starting with the upcoming execution of Richard A. Leavitt, a convicted killer scheduled to be put to death on June 12.
The AP was joined in the lawsuit by the Idaho Press Club, Idahoans for Openness in Government, the Idaho Statesman, The Times-News, Lewiston Tribune, Moscow-Pullman Daily News and The Spokesman-Review.
Also joining was Pioneer Newspapers, which owns several newspapers including the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Idaho State Journal, the Rexburg Standard Journal and others.
Idaho, like most states with lethal injection, bars witnesses from watching as a condemned inmate is brought into the execution chamber, strapped to the table and has IVs inserted into his or her arms. The news organizations say reporters must be able to view executions from start to finish so they can accurately report the events — and any complications that may emerge — to the public.
Some death row inmates have challenged the constitutionality of lethal injection executions in court, contending that the insertion of the IVs can be easily botched, causing severe pain for the condemned.
“This lawsuit is really all about obtaining access to the entire execution process for viewing purposes. It’s very important in a society such as ours to have full transparency in regards to the exercise of government authority,” said Chuck Brown, the attorney representing the news organizations.
The states that grant access to part of the death penalty process say they do so to protect the anonymity of the execution team. Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said the department had not yet had a chance to review the lawsuit, and that the state’s attorneys would respond to the claims in court.
The lawsuit relies heavily on a 2002 San Francisco-based federal appeals court ruling that found that witnesses should be allowed to view executions from the moment the condemned enters the death chamber until their final heartbeat.
Since the ruling, only one state under the court’s nine-state jurisdiction is following it: California, where the case arose. Idaho, Arizona, Washington, Montana and Nevada have all barred witnesses from the first half of lethal injection executions.
Most states nationwide do the same. Of the 27 states that have lethal injection outside of the circuit’s jurisdiction, only Ohio and Georgia allow witnesses to see the entire process.
The lawsuit comes at a time when questions have been raised about whether the lethal cocktail of drugs used in the procedure is effective and whether the execution staff is properly trained.
The Idaho organizations decided to sue after state officials limited access to the execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades. Put to death in November, Rhoades was the first person to be executed in the state in 17 years, and only the second in the last half-century. Media interest in the event was intense, and the department selected four journalists to view the proceedings.
But none of the witnesses were allowed to watch as Rhoades entered the death chamber, was strapped to the execution table and had IVs inserted in his arms.
That portion was of particular interest because in the weeks preceding his death, Rhoades had argued in federal court that those initial steps were the most likely to go awry. His lawyers said an improperly inserted IV could cause him extreme pain.
At the time, Idaho Department of Correction officials maintained that the first steps of the execution had to be kept private to protect the anonymity of the execution team.
The 2002 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case was brought by the California First Amendment Coalition against California Department of Correction officials. The court found that preventing reporters — and through them, the public — from viewing all aspects of executions is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.
The news media must be allowed to witness executions in their entirety so that the public can have an informed debate about whether execution by lethal injection meets the evolving standards of decency present in a maturing society, the court found.
“To determine whether lethal injection executions are fairly and humanely administered, or whether they ever can be, citizens must have reliable information about the ‘initial procedures’ which are invasive, possibly painful and may give rise to serious complications,” Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel that heard the case.
In a blow to Illinois’ sweeping eavesdropping law, a federal appeals court on Tuesday blocked its enforcement in cases where someone is recording a police officer at work.
It was a victory for activists who had feared that using smartphones or video cameras to record police responding to demonstrations during this month’s NATO summit in Chicago could land protesters and bloggers behind bars for years. It’s also the most serious legal challenge to the measure — one of the strictest in the nation — and adds momentum to efforts by some state lawmakers to overhaul the legislation, whose constitutionality has been questioned.
The law, enacted in 1961, makes it a felony for someone to produce an audio recording of a conversation unless all parties agree. It sets a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison if a law enforcement officer is recorded.
In a separate decision late last month, the city of Chicago’s chief legal officer said police did not intend to enforce the law during the May 20-21 summit, but Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez had not given similar assurances. Tuesday’s temporary injunction put summit protesters in the clear.
“The Illinois eavesdropping statute restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit said in its opinion. “As applied to the facts alleged here, it likely violates the First Amendment’s free speech and free-press guarantees.”
The ruling stemmed from a 2010 lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to block Alvarez from prosecuting ACLU staff for recording police officers performing their duties in public places, one of the group’s long-standing monitoring missions.
“To make the rights of free expression … effective, individuals and organizations must be able to freely gather and record information about the conduct of government and their agents — especially the police,” Harvey Grossman of the ACLU of Illinois said Tuesday in reaction to the ruling.
He noted that with new technology, it is easier than ever to record and disseminate images and audio recordings.
“Empowering individuals and organizations in this fashion will ensure additional transparency and oversight of police across the state,” Grossman said.
Alvarez’s office said it was preparing a statement, but had no immediate response to the ruling. The court described her position as “extreme.”
“She contends that openly recording what police officers say while performing their duties in traditional public fora — streets, sidewalks, plazas, and parks — is wholly unprotected by the First Amendment. This is an extraordinary argument,” the ruling read.
Protest organizers praised the court action.
“We have had this just ridiculously long fight with the city around the right to protest here,” said Joe Isobaker, of the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 War & Poverty Agenda. “And this just serves to confirm the correctness of our stance, which is that we have the right to speak out against war and greed and the other evils of our society.”
In the state capital, a Senate bill that would rewrite the law to formally include an exception for people recording police officers at work in public places is awaiting a vote in the House. An earlier bill failed in a House vote, but the measure has been revised to reflect some of the concerns of law enforcement officials.
One of its sponsors, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, said the right to record police was vital to guard against abuses.
“I think citizens have First Amendment rights to protect themselves against an overreaching government and this is one way they can do that,” she said.
Rush Limbaugh has First Amendment rights as well, even though women's rights attorney Gloria Allred has written a letter to Florida officials asking that Limbaugh be criminally prosecuted in that state; and even though Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda …
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