Read current and past ACLU-NCA newsletters. The publication contains news, announcements, and upcoming events.
In March 1925, the Tennessee legislature passed the Butler Act, outlawing the teaching of evolution, or any theory that challenged the Bible’s account of creation, in any public school receiving state funds. Soon after the new law passed, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sought to build a test case to challenge its constitutionality. The fresh-faced, bespectacled young teacher John T. Scopes took on the role, using a textbook promoting Charles Darwin’s controversial theory with students in a high school biology class in Dayton, Tennessee. On the 90th anniversary of Scopes’ indictment, take a look back at the famous “Monkey Trial” that followed.
John T. Scopes was a 24-year-old physics, chemistry and math teacher at the public high school in Dayton, Tennessee, when local community leaders persuaded him to answer the ACLU’s call for a defendant in a test case challenging the Butler Act. That law, passed in March 1925, made it illegal to teach any theory contradicting the Biblical version of creation, as presented in the Book of Genesis. While filling in as a substitute teacher in a biology class, Scopes used a textbook that promoted the theory of human evolution introduced by the English naturalist Charles Darwin in his 1871 book “The Descent of Man.”
Arrested on May 9, 1925, Scopes asked some of his students to testify against him in front of a grand jury in Nashville (about 150 miles northwest of Dayton) to ensure that his case would go to trial. On May 25, the grand jury indicted Scopes on the charge that he “did unlawfully and willfully teach…certain theory and theories that deny the story of Divine creation of man as taught in the Bible and did teach thereof that man descended from a lower order of animals.”
Internationally Acclaimed “Shadows of Liberty” Documentary Makes DC Debut with a FREE Special ScreeningMay 23, 2015
On FRIDAY, JUNE 5, at 5:30 PM at the AFL-CIO (815 16th St., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20006) the Shadows of Liberty USA Screening & Media Reform Action Tour will come to town for a special FREE screening presented by the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, DC Jobs with Justice, DC Labor FilmFest, Free Press, the Hip Hop Caucus, the Labor Heritage Foundation, the Media Consortium, MoveOn DC/Montgomery County Council, Progressive Democrats of America, Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press, Veterans for Peace DC, the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, the Washington Peace Center, and WPFW 89.3 FM.
The ACLU-NCA is an organization that balances the desire for police accountability with protecting privacy. With good laws in place, recording of police-civilian encounters will promote police accountability, deter officer and civilian misconduct, and provide objective evidence to help resolve civilian complaints against police without significantly infringing on privacy.
The ACLU-NCA applauds Mayor Bowser’s initiative. In the wake of serious concerns about policing in America, many police departments and government officials are calling for the adoption of body cameras. As of January 2015, at least 72 police departments in the United States have adopted body cameras or established pilot programs for their use. President Obama has announced federal funding to help purchase 50,000 body cameras for police. We are delighted Mayor Bowser has followed suit.
Body cameras are a mechanism to hold police accountable. The public requires assurance that MPD is being monitored just like any other District agency. However, it is important to remember that body cameras are only tools — whether they are helpful or harmful depends on how they are used. Strong policies and laws are crucial to ensure they further the goals of improved transparency and accountability, better policing, and greater trust in law enforcement. Video does not always capture the full story, and having video will not resolve every question. Many issues in policing that need addressing — from racial profiling and implicit bias, training on interactions with people with mental illness, limitations on surveillance, the availability of data on police actions and uses of force, transparency in officer discipline, and strong oversight and accountability mechanisms — require looking beyond individual incidents to patterns and practices. Body cameras may help police accountability, but they are only a small part of the reforms we need.
A U.S. Army medic stationed in Korea has asked a federal court in Washington D.C. to order the Army to discharge him as a conscientious objector. The Army refused to release Robert Aaron Weilbacher from his enlistment, according to the lawsuit, even though his claim was upheld by the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board, whose decision was final under the Army’s own regulations. Weilbacher is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital.
After a lengthy investigation and a hearing, the Army’s Review Board determined that clear and convincing evidence established that Weilbacher’s sincere and deeply held moral and ethical beliefs do not permit him to continue to serve in the military. Army regulations entitle sincere conscientious objectors to an honorable discharge if their beliefs have changed since they enlisted.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal includes $5,063,702 to be spent over the next eighteen months for the purchase of 2,800 body cameras. This purchase would provide cameras for every on-duty officer with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Recordings created pursuant to MPD’s body camera program would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The ACLU-NCA is an organization that balances the desire for police accountability with protecting privacy. As such, the ACLU-NCA is opposed to pervasive government surveillance of the public. A blanket FOIA exemption is one more tool to surveil the residents of the District of Columbia. There is no reason for this exemption if the recordings are redacted. If these are real values – police accountability, transparency, and open government – then MPD should develop a strategy to efficiently do so.
On April 28, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States heard from four states on the issue of marriage equality. The ACLU represented clients from the states of Kentucky and Ohio. Prior to, the ACLU-NCA hosted an intimate conversation with James Esseks, ACLU co-counsel and Ian Thompson, Legislative Representative, ACLU-WLO.
James and Ian provided a preview of the case to a group of close supporters. James explained the specific push for marriage rights in order to combat the negative stereotypes of the LGBT community, an issue that the ACLU has litigated for since 1970. Ian discussed how marriage was one piece of the larger fight for LGBT equality and described his work lobbying for federal anti-discrimination policies.
The ACLU-NCA testified at several recent DC Council Hearings. Please continue reading to view the full testimony.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A D.C. federal court yesterday approved a settlement that obliges the WMATA Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) to commission an independent expert to review the manner in which its police officers interact with juveniles. The settlement resolves litigation brought by the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital on behalf of a mother and her 14-year-old daughter alleging that an MTPD officer used excessive force against the young girl.