Tag Archives: constitution

“Pursuit of Happiness”: Not if some legislators have their way….

.…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Are our state legislators really interested in the values of our Founding Fathers?  Or are they more interested in property rights…..including owning the "pursuit of happiness" as property?

The interference of such rights are at stake with HB 182, being introduced by Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-District 48.

Christensen (R-District 48) has reintroduced a bill he tried to pass in 2006 which prohibits same-sex couples from making contractual agreements, such as wills and financial arrangements.

The bill, known in 2006 as HB 304, but now as HB 182, slides in under the generic title “Voiding Transactions Against Public Policy,” and declares “an arrangement, agreement, or transaction that is illegal or against public policy to be void and unenforceable.”

HB 182′s language is virtually word-for word from the narrowly-defeated 2006 measure, and if passed, would strip even more rights away from the same-sex couples who depend on contractual arrangements, as Utah denies them any of the inherent protections afforded to heterosexual couples.

~ Eric Ethington

Not only is this bill a violation of the rights of human beings, it is based on the religious beliefs of some on what constitutes a "union" between two individuals.  It is part of their efforts  to do everything possible to impose those beliefs on others through bills such as this one which go so far as to invade the private business of individuals; not to mention that it is unenforceable.  Should a bill like this manage to get passed, everyone’s rights will be more at stake – regardless of gender preference.

Legislators such as Rep. Christensen are living a double standard.  They send messages with some bills that demand less interference from the federal government and claim to want to live the values of Founding Fathers of the United States.  Yet messages such as the degradation of the rights of human beings, as is the intent of HB 182, is antithetical to these other messages, which intend to infringe upon the "unalienable Rights" endowed by the Creator, including the "pursuit of Happiness" of all men, women and children.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

ACLU of Utah on SB 277: More Violations of 4th Amendment Rights

SB 277 DNA Modifications proposes to collect DNA samples of individuals arrested for violent felonies.

The key concept here that is not being considered, it appears, is the difference between being arrested and convicted.  It looks like “innocent until proven guilty” has no bearing on this at all.

Fox News carried a piece on the bill here.

The ACLU of Utah opposes the expansion of DNA databanks to include those merely charged with certain types of crimes:

There is a vast difference between using DNA as a tool in investigations – both to catch the guilty and exonerate the wrongly accused – and
permanently storing the most intimate biological information of persons who have not been convicted of any crime.

The taking and permanent retention of DNA from innocent people is an intolerable violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Read the rest of the ACLU of Utah’s statement here.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

HB 150: A Violation of Privacy

The Senate Education Committee early this morning will hear testimony on HB150 Administrative Supoena, a bill which will make it o.k. to get personal information from your ISP and cell phone records without a warrant in certain instances.

Misty Fowler  offers a bit of history and persepctive about the bill over on her Saintless blog:

last year a bill passed into law that gave prosecutors power to get your contact information from your ISP and/or cell phone companies without a judge when they suspect a child sex crime. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, in the time since going into effect,” more than 200 such subpoenas have been issued, or slightly more than one a day.”This year, the Utah Legislature is considering a bill (HB 150) that would extend that to include suspected felonies, as well as cyber-stalking and cyber-harassment (misdemeanors).

This bill has passed through committee, and will be voted on in the House. Rep. Brian King was the lone vote against HB 150 in committee. He asked Pete Ashdown to help him in pointing out the problems with this bill. Of course, number one was that it’s unconstitutional. The one I wouldn’t have thought of though was that it is anti-business:

"It is anti-business. Burdensome regulation against Internet Service Providers, making them a wholesale detective arm of law-enforcement is punitive against small ISPs and favors large ISPs with more resources. There are no nationwide ISPs headquartered in Utah and this law will help drive the already struggling small Utah-based ISPs under. Yahoo has already published their price list for violating your personal privacy. Smaller ISPs are more likely to protect your privacy as long as the law stands with them, they don’t have the money to fight a court battle in your favor."

HB 150…. was defeated in the House yesterday[February 25], but Pete Ashdown writes that Rep. Daw wants to bring it back from the dead as a slimmed down version covering kidnapping and cyberstalking.

This is NOT okay! There is a reason we have a legal system that uses warrants. Yes, kidnapping and cyberstalking are bad things. But, a warrant isn’t some kind of undue hardship. It’s a process we have in place for a reason.

So, take a look again at Pete Ashdown’s flier against HB 150, and then call/write your Representatives and ask them to vote no.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

Affirmative Action: A Thing Of The Past?

Some Utah Legislators hope so.

HJ24 Equal Treatment by Government is moving faster than one can say “equal rights”.  The Resolution is aimed at eliminating Affirmative Action and would require an amendment to Utah’s Constitution, which would be up to the voters to ratify in the November election.

Ward Connerly, a former member of the University of California Board of Regents … has worked to pass similar legislation in other states, was in town to testify for the bill.”The implication is that those of us who are … minorities cannot compete and therefore society has to bestow its benevolence,” Connerly, who is black, told lawmakers. “Sometimes we don’t realize that’s a double-edge sword. We demean people.”

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said the measure will help ensure Utah colleges don’t discriminate.

“We’re not getting necessarily the most qualified students there because of the quota system,” Waddoups said.

Opponents are angry at the speed at which this is occuring:

“To pull this bill out two days ago, and ram it down the throats of this community, is awful,” said Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City. “This is big, and it deserves public input.”

Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch, said she wasn’t made aware of the proposal until Thursday night.

“He’s trying to kind of do it in a backdoor approach, which I find very offensive,” Williams said.

Senator Margaret Dayton supports the Resolution:

This fast moving resolution has caused a flurry of controversy.

But is the Resolution really necessary?  The Standard.net has published an opinion piece on the issue.

Our main beef with Oda’s resolution is a concern over whether it’s really needed in Utah. According to Kay Harward, University of Utah senior associate vice president for enrollment management, there is no preferential treatment when it comes to admission in state universities. Also, state agencies are not allowed to use preferential treatment in hirings or promotions.

Nevertheless, Utah legislators are determined to prevent even a hint of a non-existent quota system from infecting our state. Before that energy is expended, it might be a good idea for Oda and other anti-affirmative action fighters to find evidence of such discrimination in the state.

Agreed.  The evidence has yet to be published to solidify the justification for this Resolution.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

The voting i.d. debacle

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

While the U.S. Supreme Court has now made it official that corporations are persons and have the same rights as individuals, including running for elections and voting (see Murray Hill, Inc. running for Congress), it appears the voting rights of “real” individuals are at stake – especially of opponents to the Valid Voter Identification (H.B. 79) get their way.

This bill would enable people with Medicare cards (i.e. the elderly [the largest population of voters] who have no drivers license.  A state i.d. you say?  Well, that might be possible if there weren’t long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles due to recent changes resulting in the DMV to come into compliance with the Real ID Act (see articles in the Standard Net and  Salt Lake Tribune).

The real debate, though, is what democracy looks like with regards to people being able to vote and the barriers put forth preventing people from voting.

More Money for Primary Seat Belt Law? Utah Says “No”.

Utah Legislators have "missed out" on $1.2 million from the feds for not having a "Primary Seat Belt Law".

In Utah one can only get cited for not using a seat belt if another infraction is the reason for being pulled over by law enforcement.  The feds want Utah to change that law so that Utah can receive additional monies for highway-safety improvements.  In other words, the money is conditional.

Utah Legislators feel that imposing a primary seat belt law would be infringing on one’s right to think for him/herself.

Salt Lake Tribune

"Missing out on a million dollars to preserve that right is absolutely appropriate," said Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.

Statistics show that Utah already has a high compliance rate with wearing seatbelts.

 

National studies find that about half the people killed in traffic accidents while not wearing seat belts would survive if they buckled up, Hull said. States that adopt laws allowing traffic stops for seat belts reduce traffic fatalities by anywhere from 7 percent to 11 percent, he said.

The lives saved by such a law in Utah could be on the low end because of the state’s already-high compliance rate.

While many feel that wearing seatbelts is a matter of common sense, and while the extra million dollars would help with the current budget situation, most legislators are reluctant to even enter a bill for a primary seatbelt law due to the "meddlesome-ness" of many laws already.

Kudos to legislators for not taking the seat belt laws any further.  Doing so would cross the line of individual rights.

Public school teachers are “mouthpieces of the government” and have no free speech rights according

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – When one of Deborah Mayer’s elementary school students asked her on the eve of the Iraq war whether she would ever take part in a peace march, the veteran teacher recalls answering, “I honk for peace.”

Soon afterward, Mayer lost her job and her home in Indiana. She was out of work for nearly three years. And when she complained to federal courts that her free-speech rights had been violated, the courts replied, essentially, that as a public school teacher she didn’t have any.0514 04 1

As a federal appeals court in Chicago put it in January, a teacher’s speech is “the commodity she sells to an employer in exchange for her salary.” The Bloomington, Ind., school district had just as much right to fire Mayer, the court said, as it would have if she were a creationist who refused to teach evolution.

The ruling was legally significant. Eight months earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had decided in a case involving the Los Angeles district attorney’s office that government employees were not protected by the First Amendment when they faced discipline for speaking at work about controversies related to their jobs. The Chicago appeals court was the first to apply the same rationale to the classroom, an issue that the Supreme Court expressly left unresolved.

But legal analysts said the Mayer ruling was probably less important as a precedent than as a stark reminder that the law provides little protection for schoolteachers who express their beliefs.

 

As far as the courts are concerned, “public education is inherently a situation where the government is the speaker, and … its employees are the mouthpieces of the government,” said Vikram Amar, a professor at UC’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Whatever academic freedom exists for college teachers is “much, much less” in public schools, he said.

A recent case from a Los Angeles charter school offers more evidence of the limits teachers face in choosing curricula or seeking redress of grievances. The school’s administrators forbade seventh-graders from reading aloud at a February assembly the award-winning poem “A Wreath for Emmett Till,” about a black teenager beaten to death by white men in 1955.

In an online guide to teaching the poem in grades seven and up, publisher Houghton Mifflin recommends telling students that it will be disturbing; administrators said they feared it would be too much for the kindergartners in the audience and then explained that Till’s alleged whistle at a white woman was inappropriate. When social studies teacher Marisol Alba and a colleague signed letters of protest written by students at the largely African American school, both teachers were fired.

The Mayer ruling was disappointing but not surprising, said Michael Simpson, assistant general counsel of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union. For the last decade, he said, federal courts “have not been receptive to arguments that teachers, both K-12 and higher education, have free-speech rights in the classroom.”

That’s unacceptable, said Mayer, 57, who now teaches seventh-graders in Haines City, Fla. She said she’s scraped up enough money, by selling her car, to appeal her case to the Supreme Court, though she doubts the justices will review it.

“If a teacher can be fired for saying those four little words — ‘I honk for peace’ — who’s going to want to teach?” she asked. “They’re taking away free speech at school. … You might just as well get a big television and set it in front of the children and have them watch, (using) the curriculum the school board has.”

On the other hand, said Francisco Negrón, lawyer for the National School Boards Association, if teachers were free to express their viewpoints in class, school boards would be less able to do their job of determining the curriculum and complying with government demands for accountability.

“Teachers bring their creativity, their energy, their skill in teaching the curriculum, but … a teacher in K-12 is really not at liberty to design a curriculum,” said Negrón, who filed arguments with the court in Mayer’s case supporting the Bloomington school district. “That’s the function of the school board.”

The incident occurred in January 2003, when Mayer was teaching a class of fourth- through sixth-graders at Clear Creek Elementary School. As Mayer recalled it later, the question about peace marches arose during a discussion of an article in the children’s edition of Time magazine, part of the school-approved curriculum, about protests against U.S. preparations for war in Iraq.

When the student asked the question about taking part in demonstrations, Mayer said, she replied that there were peace marches in Bloomington, that she blew her horn whenever she saw a “Honk for Peace” sign, and that people should seek peaceful solutions before going to war.

A student complained to her father, who complained to the principal, who canceled the school’s annual “Peace Month” observance and told Mayer never to discuss the war or her political views in class.

Mayer, who had been hired after the semester started and had received a good job evaluation before the incident, was dismissed at the end of the school year. The school said it was for poor performance, but the appeals court assumed that she had been fired for her comments and said the school had acted legally.

“Teachers hire out their own speech and must provide the service for which employers are willing to pay,” a three-judge panel of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Jan. 24. “The Constitution does not entitle teachers to present personal views to captive audiences against the instructions of elected officials.”

Mayer, the court said, was told by her bosses that she could teach about the war “as long as she kept her opinions to herself.” Like the Los Angeles district attorney’s employee whose demotion led to the Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling, the appellate panel said, Mayer had no constitutional right to say anything on the job that conflicted with her employer’s policy.

Mayer’s lawyer asked for a rehearing, saying the evidence was clear that the school had no such policy when Mayer answered the student’s question. The court denied reconsideration in March without comment.

Mayer, who had taught for more than 20 years, couldn’t afford to keep her Indiana home after being fired and left the state. She got another teaching job in Florida, but lost it after disclosing her previous dismissal, and didn’t get another position until last fall.

As all parties to Mayer’s case recognize, her statements would have been constitutionally protected and beyond the government’s power to suppress if she had been speaking on a street corner or at a public hearing.

But in the classroom, as in the workplace, courts have upheld limits on speech. In both settings, past rulings have taken into account the institution’s need to function efficiently and keep order, and the rights of co-workers and students not to be subjected to unwanted diatribes.

In 1969, the Supreme Court upheld a high school student’s right to wear a black armband as a silent protest against the Vietnam War and barred schools from stifling student expression unless it was disruptive or interfered with education. The court retreated from that standard somewhat in a 1988 ruling upholding censorship of student newspapers, and will revisit the issue in a pending case involving an Alaskan student who was suspended for unfurling a banner outside the school grounds that read, “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”

The Supreme Court has never ruled on teachers’ free speech. In lower courts, teachers have won cases by showing they were punished for violating policies that school officials never explained to them beforehand or invented after the fact. A federal appeals court in 2001 ruled in favor of a fifth-grade teacher in Kentucky who was fired for bringing actor Woody Harrelson to her class to discuss the benefits of industrial hemp, an appearance that school officials had approved.

But teachers who were on notice of school policies they transgressed have usually lost their cases. In one Bay Area case, in August 2005, a federal judge in San Jose rejected arguments by Cupertino elementary school teacher Stephen Williams that his principal had violated his freedom of speech by prohibiting him from using outside religious materials in history lessons.

Unless the Supreme Court takes up Mayer’s case, its legal effect is limited to federal courts in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, the three states in the Seventh Circuit. But Amar, the Hastings law professor, and others said the ruling could be influential elsewhere because there are few appellate decisions on the issue, and because the author, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, is a prominent conservative jurist.

“Very few schools are going to be that harsh in muzzling or silencing their teachers,” but the ruling indicates they would be free to do so, Amar said.

Simpson, the National Education Association’s lawyer, said the ruling, though within the legal mainstream, was bad for education because teachers are not “hired to read a script.” The case might interest the Supreme Court, and the NEA will probably file a brief in support of Mayer’s appeal should the justices take the case, he said.

Beverly Tucker, chief counsel of the NEA-affiliated California Teachers Association, said she doubts that federal courts in California would take as conservative a position as the court in Mayer’s case. But she expects school districts to cite the ruling in the next case that arises.

“If I were a public school teacher, I would live in fear that some innocuous remark made in the classroom in response to a question from a pupil would lead to me being terminated” under such a ruling, Tucker said.

As for Mayer, she isn’t sure what rankles her most — the impact on her life, the stigma of being branded a rogue teacher, or the court’s assertion that a teacher’s speech is a commodity purchased by the government.

“My free speech,” she said, “is not for sale at any price.”

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com

© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.