ACLU threatens to sue Corpus Christi school district for refusing to allow Gay Straight Alliance

The ACLU is demanding that Flour Bluff ISD officials allow a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance at Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi or face legal action.

The principal of Flour Bluff High School has refused to allow the GSA proposed by student Nikki Peet, and the district superintendent has threatened to eliminate all non-curricular clubs to avoid allowing the GSA.

The ACLU, which is representing Peet, says the district is in violation of the federal Equal Access Act because it has allowed other non-curricular clubs — including the chess club; the Key Club; the Family, Careers, Community Leaders of America; and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — to meet on campus.

“Because Flour Bluff High has opened the door to non-curricular clubs on campus, it is required by law to permit the GSA club,” the ACLU writes in its letter dated today.

The ACLU also maintains that it’s illegal for the district to eliminate all non-curricular clubs to avoid allowing the GSA.

“Recently, a federal court in Mississippi held that when the school district canceled the prom in response to a student’s request to bring a same-sex date, the district violated the student’s First Amendment rights,” the ACLU said. “The proposed action by the District here is no different than the cancellation of the prom that the court held in McMillen to be unconstitutional.”

The ACLU gives the district until March 9 to respond.

“If you refuse to comply with your obligations under the EAA and the First Amendment, we will take whatever steps necessary to protect the rights of our client, Ms. Peet,” the letter states.

Read the ACLU’s letter here.

As we reported earlier, a protest is planned outside Flour Bluff High School on Friday.

—  John Wright

Ban on Sharia law in Okla. ruled unconstitutional

Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange

A federal judge stopped short of declaring Oklahoma voters a bunch of dumbasses, but she did rule that their attempt to outlaw Sharia law is unconstitutional, according to the Daily Oklahoman.

U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a 15-page ruling throwing out the state constitutional amendment. On Nov. 2, Oklahoma voters approved the amendment that would have prohibited state courts from considering or using Sharia law despite the fact that state courts had never used – nor had plans to use — Sharia law. The constitutional amendment passed with more than 70 percent of the vote.

Sharia is Islamic law based on the Quran and the teachings of Muhammed. It includes the Ten Commandments — so the amendment effectively made the Ten Commandments illegal in Oklahoma.

Miles-LaGrange wrote in her opinion, “This order addresses issues that go to the very foundation of our country, our Constitution, and particularly, the Bill of Rights.”

Supporters of the law said it was a defense against such practices as marital rape. However, state laws already make such practices  illegal.

Muneer Awad, the head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, filed suit against the amendment claiming it violated his freedom of religion.

The judge ruled that he had standing in the case and that he would have suffered injury to his First Amendment rights. Awad lives in Oklahoma, is a Muslim and “the amendment conveys an official government message of disapproval and hostility toward his religious beliefs, that sends a clear message he is an outsider, not a full member of the political community, thereby chilling his access to the government and forcing him to curtail his political and religious activities.”

Republican State Rep. Rex Duncan was the author of the amendment. He said it wasn’t intended to attack Muslims but rather was a “pre-emptive strike.”

Aren’t pre-emptive strikes usually attacks?

And wasn’t the only terrorist attack that has taken place in Oklahoma — the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building — carried out by a couple of Christian guys?

—  David Taffet

Assistant AG fired for harassing gay Mich. student

TIM MARTIN | Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. — An assistant state attorney general accused of harassing the gay student assembly president at the University of Michigan was fired Monday, Nov. 8.

Andrew Shirvell, 30, went on leave about a month ago after national criticism erupted over a blog he wrote characterizing student leader Chris Armstrong as a “racist” and a “liar” who promoted a “radical homosexual agenda.”

Shirvell’s attorney has said his actions were constitutionally protected as free speech. Shirvell had attended the first day of a disciplinary hearing Friday and expected that hearing to continue later this week, but then was called in and fired.

Attorney General Mike Cox said the firing came after a state investigation revealed that Shirvell “repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior and inappropriately used state resources.”

“To be clear, I refuse to fire anyone for exercising their First Amendment rights, regardless of how popular or unpopular their positions might be,” Cox said in a statement.

But he said Shirvell’s conduct went beyond free speech when he showed up three separate times outside Armstrong’s Ann Arbor home, including once at 1:30 a.m.

“That incident is especially telling because it clearly was about harassing Mr. Armstrong, not engaging in free speech,” Cox said.

Armstrong, 21, has accused Shirvell of videotaping a late-night party at his off-campus house, showing up at campus appearances with a sign that read “racist” and “liar,” and lambasting him on his blog. Armstrong had filed for a personal protection order against Shirvell but withdrew that request late last month.

His lawyer applauded the decision and said the state should go further and revoke Shirvell’s law license.

“This clearly is the correct decision by the attorney general’s office,” Deborah L. Gordon said in a statement. “The next step must be a complete retraction of all the malicious lies and fabrications by Mr. Shirvell, and a public apology to Mr. Armstrong, his family and others Mr. Shirvell has slandered.”

Shirvell’s lawyer, Philip Thomas, said his client has not yet decided if he will appeal the decision to the Michigan Civil Service Commission.

“It was very obvious something political had occurred, and I couldn’t imagine what that would be,” Thomas said.

Cox said the investigation found that Shirvell harassed Armstrong’s friends as they were socializing in Ann Arbor and made numerous calls to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office while Armstrong was working there as an intern “in an attempt to slander Armstrong — and ultimately attempting to cause Pelosi to fire Armstrong,” Cox said. He added that Shirvell attempted to “out” Armstrong’s friends as being homosexual, even though several weren’t gay.

The investigation revealed that while at work during normal business hours, Shirvell called Pelosi’s office and posted attacks on Armstrong on the Internet. He also lied to investigating assistant attorneys general on several occasions during Friday’s disciplinary hearing, Cox said.

“The cumulative effects of his use of state resources, harassing conduct that is not protected by the First Amendment and his lies during the disciplinary conference all demonstrate adequate evidence of conduct unbecoming a state employee,” Cox said.

Shirvell, one of about 250 lawyers in the attorney general’s office, handled cases in which convictions are appealed in federal court, writing defenses for the state. It was not a management or supervisory position.

The 2002 University of Michigan graduate is allowed on university’s Ann Arbor campus but with restrictions. He’s not allowed to make physical or verbal contact with Armstrong nor can he be in the same place as the student when it’s likely Armstrong will be present.

—  John Wright

Federal judge declares DADT unconstitutional

READ THE FULL TEXT OF THE RULING

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

A federal judge in California on Thursday declared the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy unconstitutional, saying it violates both the First Amendment rights to free speech and the Fifth Amendment rights to due process in the U.S. constitution.

The 85-page memorandum opinion came in Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S, a six-year-old lawsuit that has received little media attention compared to most other gay-related trials. The bench trial in Riverside, Calif., in July was overshadowed by a much more high-profile challenge of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, in federal court in San Francisco.

U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips presided over a two-week-long trial that began July 13 and included many witnesses testifying about the history of DADT and the injury it has caused. Phillips, 52, was appointed to the federal bench in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, who signed DADT into law in 1993. LCR filed its lawsuit against the policy in 2004.

“As an American, a veteran and an Army reserve officer, I am proud the court ruled that the arcane ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ statute violates the Constitution,” said Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper.  “Today, the ruling is not just a win for Log Cabin Republican servicemembers, but all American servicemembers.”

The opinion strikes down the 1993 law that bars from the military any servicemember who engages in “homosexual conduct,” has a “propensity” to do so, or even just states that he or she is a “homosexual or bisexual.”

Phillips’ decision, which has not yet been officially “entered,” could include an injunction against further enforcement of DADT by the government but will almost certainly be stayed and appealed to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Phillips granted plaintiffs Log Cabin until Thursday, Sept. 16, to submit a proposed judgment granting an injunction. After that, the Department of Justice will have seven days to respond with objections.

Log Cabin brought the lawsuit on behalf of many of its members who it said are being denied their constitutional rights. The group specifically identified only two members at trial: Alexander Nicholson, a former U.S. Army Human Intelligence officer who was discharged under DADT and now serves as head of Servicemembers United; and John Doe, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves concerned he may face discharge under the policy.

“This is a historic moment and an historic ruling for the gay military community,” Nicholson said in a statement Thursday night. “As the only named injured party in this case, I am exceedingly proud to have been able to represent all who have been impacted and had their lives ruined by this blatantly unconstitutional policy. We are finally on our way to vindication.”

The Department of Justice tried repeatedly to have the lawsuit dismissed, claiming LCR has no legal standing to serve as plaintiffs. It also tried to have the judge decide the case without hearing testimony from LCR’s witnesses. And it tried to have the judge postpone the trial, arguing that Congress has a measure pending that could significantly affect the DADT law.

That measure is still awaiting action in the Senate as part of a Defense spending bill that is likely to see action later this month. There seems little doubt that the judge’s opinion will now be the subject of the debate around that measure. But Judge Phillips refused to delay action on LCR’s lawsuit, noting that the DADT repeal measure — as it is currently worded in Congress — does not guarantee repeal of DADT. Instead, the legislation requires a sign-off procedure involving the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The likelihood the bill would lead to repeal, said Phillips at trial, is “remote, if not wholly speculative.”

Phillips noted that evidence considered at trial, including three historic studies concerning gays in the military, did not identify any legitimate reasons for barring gays. The 1957 Crittenden Report, she said, “is not evidence that discharge of homosexual servicemembers significantly furthers government interests in military readiness or troop cohesion.” The 1988 PERSEREC Report “generally dismisses traditional objections to service by homosexuals in the military as abstract, intangible, and tradition-bound.” And the 1993 Rand Report concludes, “no empirical evidence exists demonstrating the impact of an openly homosexual servicemember on the cohesion of any military unit.”

Using tables of data to demonstrate a point made at trial by DADT opponent Nathaniel Frank, Phillips showed how the military discharged increasing numbers of servicemembers for homosexuality from 1994 to 2001, but that the number “fell sharply” beginning in 2002 as the U.S. began fighting in Afghanistan. In 2001, according to the data, the military discharged 1,227 people for being gay — the largest number per year since DADT went into effect. But in 2002, the number of discharges dropped to 885. Last year, only 275 were discharged.

She also cited data submitted by Log Cabin Republicans’ attorneys showing the Defense Department often suspended investigations of servicemembers it believed to be gay until after the servicemembers had completed their tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. DOD, she noted “deployed servicemembers under investigation … to combat missions or, if they were already so deployed, delayed the completion of the investigation until the end of the deployment.”

“This evidence, in particular, directly undermines any contention that [DADT] furthers the Government’s purpose of military readiness, as it shows [DOD officials] continue to deploy gay and lesbian members of the military into combat, waiting until they have returned before resolving the charges arising out of the suspected homosexual conduct.”

“Taken as a whole,” wrote Phillips, “the evidence introduced at trial shows that the effect of the Act has been, not to advance the Government’s interests of military readiness and unit cohesion, much less to do so significantly, but to harm that interest.“

In her decision, Phillips noted that the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals addressed a similar case, Cook v. Gates, and came to a different opinion and upheld the law. But Phillips said she found the 1st Circuit’s reasoning “unpersuasive” and noted that she, within a 9th Circuit court, is not bound to follow it.

Phillips, however, indicated she was bound to follow a precedent of her own 9th Circuit, rendered in another challenge to the DADT policy and brought by an Air Force nurse, Margaret Witt, in Seattle. On a preliminary matter in that case, the 9th Circuit ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas recognized a fundamental right to “an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.” Infringement on a fundamental right requires a law to pass a “heightened” or more stringent judicial review.

The Witt v. U.S. case is scheduled for trial beginning Sept. 13 in the U.S. District Court for Tacoma, Wash.

Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights which is pressing the case against Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage in California, said the Log Cabin decision “is yet another significant and long-overdue step toward full equality for all Americans.

“It is clear,” said Griffin, “that our nation is moving toward the day when every American will be treated equally under the law, as required by our Constitution.”

Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said: “We’re pleased by the judge’s decision, but this decision is likely to be appealed and will linger for years. Congress made the DADT law 17 years ago and Congress should repeal it. The Senate will have the opportunity to do just that this month and most Americans think the Senate should seize it.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said he hopes the ruling will help spur Congress.

“Today a federal judge affirmed what the vast majority of the American people know to be true — that it’s time for the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law to be sent to the dustbin of history,” Solmonese said. “With this legal victory in hand, Congress is right now in a perfect position to strengthen our national security by ending a law that has discharged thousands of capable service members. With House passage already secured, the Senate can and should vote in the next few weeks to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and allow every qualified man and woman the chance to serve with honor.”

Online editor John Wright contributed to this story.

© 2010 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Dr. Laura’s demise began in Dallas

Dr. Laura

Maybe Dr. Laura Schlessinger should have stuck to bashing gays and lesbians.

The right-wing radio talk show host announced Tuesday night that she won’t renew her contract, ending her radio talk show at the end of this year.

In the 90s, Schlessinger became one of the top radio talk show hosts by becoming increasingly homophobic in her rants against callers who were seeking advice.

When she was offered a TV contract, she finally ran into trouble when activists from Dallas reacted. The Metroplex was her No. 1 market nationally.

KTVT, the CBS affiliate in Dallas, signed on to air her show. Dallas activists staged the first protest against it. Protests spread to cities around the country. John Seelig of Dallas began going after her advertisers, calling corporate executives and convincing many to pull their advertising from her program.

The show debuted with little advertising, and it sunk after one season due to Schlessinger’s terrible TV personality. After three or four format revamps, it was canceled.

Over the past decade, she continued to broadcast on radio, but on fewer and fewer stations.

In her latest high-profile rant, Schlessinger was criticized for using the N-word repeatedly while giving advice to a woman who called with a question about her interracial marriage, upset by her husband’s friends’ racial slurs. Schlessinger attacked the woman, saying that if she was so sensitive about racial issues, she shouldn’t have married outside her race.

Schlessinger apologized for using the N-word, but not for her stupid advice. In her statement about quitting the show, Schlessinger said that she’s not retiring and told Larry King that she’s looking forward to regaining her First Amendment rights.

Presumably, she sees those rights as attacking, insulting and encouraging hate. While the Supreme Court has upheld free speech for hate groups such as the Fred Phelps clan, it has not upheld the right to incite violence against a target group using public airwaves.

Although Schlessinger’s program is an advice show and she uses the title “Dr.,” she does not hold a doctorate in counseling, psychology or any related field.

—  David Taffet