You are browsing the archive for First Amendment.

by brasch

Anti-Fracking Activist Can Now Go to the Hospital (update)

6:10 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

Vera Scroggins will now be allowed to go to her hospital, supermarket, drug store, several restaurants, rehabilitation therapy – even the recycling center.

Vera Scroggins of Susquehanna County, Pa., will now be allowed to go to her hospital, supermarket, drug store, several restaurants, and the place where she goes for rehabilitation therapy. She can also go to the county’s recycling center, which is on 12.5 acres of land the county had leased to Cabot Gas & Oil Corp., one of the largest drillers in the country.

Common Pleas Court Judge Kenneth W. Seamans, Friday, revised a preliminary injunction he issued in October against the anti-fracking activist. That injunction had required the 63-year-old grandmother and retired nurse’s aide to stay at least 150 feet from all properties where Cabot had leased mineral rights, even if that distance was on public property. Because Cabot had leased mineral rights to 40 percent of Susquehanna County, about 300 square miles, almost any place Scroggins wanted to be was a place she was not allowed to be. The injunction didn’t specify where Scroggins couldn’t go. It was a task that required her to go to the courthouse in Montrose, dig through hundreds of documents, and figure it out for herself.

The injunction, says Scott Michelman of Public Citizen was “overbroad and violates her constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of movement.” Public Citizen, the Pennsylvania ACLU, and local attorney Gerald Kinchy, represented her Monday when she sought to vacate the order. At that hearing, Cabot wanted the buffer zone extended to 500 feet, but couldn’t show any reason why 500 feet was necessary.

Seamans’ revised  order prohibits Scroggins from going within 100 feet of any active well pad or access roads of properties Cabot owns or has leased mineral rights. Land not being drilled, but which Cabot owns mineral rights, is no longer part of the injunction. That 100 feet separation is still far more than most injunctions call for; even abortion clinics typically have 15 feet exclusion zones to prevent violence, according to the brief filed in Scroggins’ behalf. Although Seamans agreed that his preliminary order may have been broad and violated Scroggins’ First Amendment rights, the revised injunction probably still violates her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

When Scroggins first appeared in court in October, she didn’t have lawyers. She had been served papers to appear in court only the Friday before the Monday hearing. That day, she faced four lawyers representing Cabot. She asked for a continuance, but Seamans refused to grant her one. Seamans told Scroggins that to grant a continuance would inconvenience three of Cabot’s lawyers who came from Pittsburgh, more than 250 miles away. He also told her she might have to pay travel and other costs for the lawyers if she was successful in getting a continuance.

 

And so, Cabot presented its case against Scroggins.

The lawyers claimed she blocked access roads to Cabot drilling operations. They claimed she continually trespassed on their property. They claimed she was a danger to herself and to the workers.

Scroggins agreed that she used public roads to get to Cabot properties. For five years, she has led tours of private citizens and government officials to show them what fracking is, and to explain what it is doing to the health and environment. But, with rare exceptions, she was always polite, never confrontational. And when she was told to leave, she did, even if it sometimes took as much as an hour because Cabot security often blocked her car.  Cabot personnel on site never asked local police to arrest her for trespassing.

Scroggins tried several times to explain that while near or on Cabot drilling operations, she had documented health and safety violations, many of which led to fines or citations. Every time she tried to present the evidence, one of Cabot’s lawyers objected, and Seamans struck Scroggins’ testimony from the record. Cabot acknowledged Scroggins broke no laws but claimed she was a “nuisance.”

Scroggins tried to explain that she put more than 500 short videotapes online or onto YouTube to show what fracking is, and the damage Cabot and other companies are doing. Again, Seamans accepted Cabot’s objection, and struck her testimony.

And that’s why Cabot wanted an injunction against Scroggins. It had little to do with keeping a peaceful protestor away; it had everything to do with shutting down her ability to tell the truth.

The original injunction, and possibly the revised injunction, violated her rights of free speech by severely restricting her ability to document the practices of a company that violated both the public trust and the environment, according to citations filed by the state’s Department of Environmental Portection. According to the brief filed on her behalf, “The injunction sends a chilling message to those who oppose fracking and wish to make their voices heard or to document practices that they fear will harm them and their neighbors. That message is loud and clear: criticize a gas company, and you’ll pay for it.”

The preliminary injunction also violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights of association and the right of travel; Scroggins couldn’t even go to homes of some of her friends, even if they invited her. That’s because they had leased subsurface mineral rights to Cabot. However, Cabot never produced a lease, according to what her attorneys presented in court, to show that “it had a right to exclude her from the surface of properties where it has leased only the subsurface mineral rights.”

Not everyone agrees with Scroggins or her efforts to document the effects of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing, known commonly as fracking. Many consider her to be a pest, someone trying to stop them from making money. Hundreds in the region have willingly given up their property rights in order to get signing bonuses and royalties from the extraction of natural gas. Their concern, in a county still feeling the effects of the great recession that had begun a decade earlier, is for their immediate financial well-being rather than the health and welfare of their neighbors, or the destruction of the environment.

The anti-fracking movement has grown from hundreds slightly more than a half-decade ago to millions. Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to mount a multi-million dollar media campaign, the people who proudly call themselves “fractivists” have countered by effective use of the social media and low-budget but highly effective rallies. Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to pour millions of dollars into politicians’ campaigns, the fractivists have countered by grass-roots organizing and contacting government officials and politicians, promising them no money but only the truth.
Vera Scroggins never planned to be among the leaders of a social movement, but her persistence in explaining and documenting what is happening to the people and their environment has put her there. Cabot’s “take-no-prisoners” strategy in trying to shut her voice has led to even more people becoming aware of what fracking is—and the length that a mega-corporation will go to keep the facts from the people. No matter what Seamans did to reduce the sweeping impact of the original order, or what will happen May 1 when Scroggins and Cabot will again be in court, Cabot has lost this battle.

[Dr. Brasch’s current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the process and effects of horizontal fracking, and the collusion between politicians and the oil and gas industry. The 466-page critically-acclaimed and fully-documented book is available from Greeley & Stone, Publishers; Amazon.com; Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores.] Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

An Injunction Against the First Amendment

6:48 am in Uncategorized by brasch

Vera Scroggins never planned to be among the leaders of a social movement, but her persistence in explaining and documenting what is happening to the people and their environment has put her there.

Vera Scroggins of Susquehanna County, Pa., will be in court, Monday morning.

This time, she will have lawyers and hundreds of thousands of supporters throughout the country. Representing Scroggins to vacate an injunction limiting her travel will be lawyers from the ACLU and Public Citizen, and a private attorney.

The last time Scroggins appeared in the Common Pleas Court in October, she didn’t have lawyers. That’s because Judge Kenneth W. Seamans refused to grant her a continuance.

When she was served papers to appear in court, it was a Friday. On Monday, she faced four lawyers representing Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., one of the nation’s largest drillers. Seamans told the 63-year-old grandmother and retired nurse’s aide that to grant a continuance would inconvenience three of Cabot’s lawyers who came from Pittsburgh, more than 250 miles away. He also told her she might have to pay travel and other costs for the lawyers if she was successful in getting a continuance.

And so, Cabot presented its case against Scroggins.

The lawyers claimed she blocked access roads to Cabot drilling operations. They claimed she continually trespassed on their property. They claimed she was a danger to the workers.

Scroggins agreed that she used public roads to get to Cabot properties. For five years, Scroggins has led tours of private citizens and government officials to show them what fracking is, and to explain what it is doing to the health and environment. But she was always polite, never confrontational. And when she was told to leave, she did, even if it sometimes took as much as an hour because Cabot security often blocked her car.  Cabot personnel on site never asked local police to arrest her for trespassing.

But now, Cabot executives decided to launch a mega-attack, throwing against her the full power of a company that grosses more than $1 billion a year and is the largest driller in the region.

In court, Scroggins tried several times to explain that while near or on Cabot drilling operations, she had documented health and safety violations, many of which led to fines or citations. Every time she tried to present the evidence, one of Cabot’s lawyers objected, and the judge struck Scroggins’ testimony from the record. Cabot acknowledged Scroggins broke no laws but claimed she was a “nuisance.”

Scroggins tried to explain that she put more than 500 short videotapes online or onto YouTube to show what fracking is, and the damage Cabot and other companies are doing. Again, Seamans accepted Cabot’s objection, and struck her testimony.

And that’s why Cabot wanted an injunction against Scroggins, one that would forbid her from ever going anywhere that Cabot has a lease. It had little to do with keeping a peaceful protestor away; it had everything to do with shutting down her ability to tell the truth.

Four days after the hearing, Seamans issued the temporary injunction that Cabot wanted. It forbid Scroggins from going onto any property that Cabot owned, was drilling, or had mineral rights, even if there was no drilling. The injunction didn’t specify where Scroggins couldn’t go. It was a task that required her to go to the courthouse in Montrose, dig through hundreds of documents, and figure it out for herself.

The injunction violates her rights of free speech by severely restricting her ability to document the practices of a company that may be violating both the public trust and the environment. According to the brief filed on her behalf, “The injunction sends a chilling message to those who oppose fracking and wish to make their voices heard or to document practices that they fear will harm them and their neighbors. That message is loud and clear: criticize a gas company, and you’ll pay for it.”

Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Intruding Upon the Constitution by the Religious Right

5:54 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky, of Peoria, Ill., ordered all parish priests in his diocese to read a letter to their congregations condemning Barack Obama. The letter, to be read the weekend before the election, declared that Obama and the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate had launched an “assault upon our religious freedom.”

He wasn’t the only priest who used the pulpit to attack the President. Bishop David Lauren of Green Bay, Wisc., told his congregations that voting for Obama and other candidates who were pro-choice or who believed in embryonic stem cell research or gay marriage could put their “soul in jeopardy.” Others, primarily from evangelical Protestant faiths, were even more adamant in their religious intolerance, declaring that voting for Obama would definitely condemn their souls to Hell.

Southern Baptist evangelist Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham, said President Obama was “waving his fist before God” by supporting same-sex marriage and women’s abortion rights. In full-page newspaper ads, shortly before the election, the 94-year-old Billy Graham, whose words may have been written by his son, declared that Americans should vote for “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles.” Those principles, according to the ad, include opposition to same-sex marriage. A spokesman for the Grahams said that neither person endorses candidates. However, Billy Graham reportedly told Romney he would do “all I can to help you,” and removed Mormonism from a list of cults on one of their web pages. In February, Franklin Graham, who earns about $600,000 a year as head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, declared that Obama had plans to create “a new nation without God or perhaps under many gods.”

The re-election of President Obama didn’t stop the attacks. The Rev. Jerry Priscano, a Catholic priest from Erie, Pa., said Obama was the anti-Christ. On his Facebook page, he declared, “It will only be a matter of time before our nation is completely destroyed,” and that Hurricane Sandy, apparently a sign from God to the liberal northeast, “was only the beginning.”

A Pew Forum study of the 2012 vote showed that white Catholics favored Romney (59%–40%), Hispanic Catholics overwhelming supported Obama (75–21). Romney also had the evangelical Christians (79–20), and other Protestants (57–42). Although Romney pandered to Jewish voters, claiming he would be Israel’s best friend, and that Obama couldn’t be trusted, Jews went for Obama (69–30). The Pew exit poll measured only persons who identified themselves as Jews or Christians.

Factoring into the vote against Barack Obama is religious bigotry that drips with the hatred of anything not Christian. About one-fourth of all White evangelical Protestants believe he is a Muslim, although the President goes to a Protestant church and has never held Muslim values or beliefs. In one of the great leaps of faith, evangelicals also believe Obama is a “godless socialist Muslim,” something much rarer than a Klan leader voting for a Black Jew for president. Overall, about one-sixth of Americans believe he is Muslim, according to a poll by Public Religion Research Institute. Ironically, most evangelical Protestants also believe Mormonism is a non-Christian cult and refused to support Mitt Romney in the primaries. Faced by a “Muslim” and a Mormon in the general election, the evangelicals supported the Mormon, who had flip-flopped from moderate to conservative to get the nomination and then tried tacking slightly to the center for the general election.

The right-wing believe that America is a Christian nation and should elect only like-minded Christians to office. Even many Christian religions, such as Unitarianism, are suspect in the eyes of those who absolutely believe they absolutely know God’s intent, and everyone else is wrong. They support Israel, far closer to being a socialist nation than the U.S. ever will be, as a Biblical necessity, but would be conflicted if a Jew should ever become a major party candidate for president.

The religious bigots claim the U.S. was founded by Christians and is a Christian nation—or, reluctantly, say it is a Judeo-Christian nation. But, no matter how much they screech, the facts don’t support their beliefs. George Washington declared, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” John Adams and the Senate later ratified a treaty with those exact words.

Most of the Founding Fathers were primarily deists, not Christians, and specifically rejected many Christian beliefs, including the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, and that the Bible was written by God. They also believed that God, having given mankind the power of reason, then stayed out of the lives of His people. Among the deists were Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Monroe. But they and the other Founding Fathers were explicit in their declaration, embedded into the First Amendment that established the principle that all people had a right to their own religious beliefs.

Several distinguished historians (including Drs. James McGregor Burns and Richard Hofstadter, each of whom won the Pulitzer Prize for history) have pointed out that in 1776 and much of the 19th century, as much as 90 percent of the population did not identify with the Christian church.

There is another aspect to the First Amendment, often overlooked by those who don’t know history or Constitutional law, yet believe they do. Jefferson, in his first year as president, in a letter to a Baptist congregation, referred to the intent of one of the five parts of the First Amendment as “building a wall of separation between church and state.” Numerous times, the Founding Fathers had reaffirmed this separation, creating what became known as the “establishment clause” in 1787. Several rulings by the Supreme Court reaffirmed this doctrine.

However, 28 percent of Americans, according to a Nate Silver poll in February, don’t believe there is a Constitutional separation of church and state. The Constitutionally-ignorant have established religious tests for persons seeking political office. It should make no difference if Mitt Romney is a Mormon. It should also make no difference if Barack Obama is or is not a Muslim, Protestant, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Pagan, Vodun, Vodouist, or even an atheist.

But it may be a Hindu, Gandhi, who has last the last word. Discussing his experience with missionaries in South Africa, he said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He was specific in his dislike for some, but not all, Christians. He had never met the extreme right-wing.

 [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, which looks at religion, history, and social issues.]

           

 

by brasch

Attacking American Sovereign Soil Diminishes the Rights of Religion

7:57 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by Walter Brasch

 

The terrorists who attacked the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, claimed the attacks were retaliation for the publication on You Tube of an anti-Muslim film. That YouTube video was a 14-minute trailer for a one-hour film, “Innocence of Muslims,” that was not only a vicious bigoted attack against Islam but also of no artistic merit.  

One of the extremist political parties in Egypt plucked the trailer from obscurity and used it as part of a newscast, inflaming the people of Egypt, who mounted a demonstration against the U.S. embassy. Within a week, the trailer had more than 10 million hits on YouTube.

An attack upon the consulate in Benghazi that followed the one in Cairo led to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador, a member of his staff, two Navy SEALS assigned to the mission, and 10 Libyan guards who defended the consulate.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quickly condemned the attacks. Mohammed Magarief, president of the Libyan National Assembly, apologized to the United States for the attack, and vowed to bring the killers to justice.

The man who gave the order that led to the execution of Osama bin Laden sent in Marines and the FBI and vowed to work with Libya to “bring justice” to the killers. Several persons accused of the murders have been arrested.

The attacks on American sovereign soil may have been planned and then carried out by a small group of terrorists to coincide with the 11th anniversary of 9/11; the video was merely an excuse for the attack.

Ambassador Christopher Stevens was highly respected by the people and new governments in the Middle East. He and the U.S. helped promote the Arab Spring that had led to the overthrow of dictators and the creation of governments that could lead to more freedom for the people. Large spontaneous demonstrations by Libyans showed the world they were furious at the content of the video, but that they also despised the attack and continued to support the United States.

Dozens of smaller demonstrations began appearing within a day throughout the MidEast; many were merely moments of opportunity for thugs and terrorists to cause damage by invoking their disgust of the film; some were attacks to secure or maintain perceived leadership in the region.

Nevertheless, no matter what the reason for the rioting, the people were legitimately mad at the depiction of the prophet Mohammad and the no-star film that reeked with the slimy viciousness of hate.

The people, not the terrorists, in comments to the media, said they were reacting because President Obama did not take action against the film makers. They believed he should have at least ordered the arrests of those responsible for making the film.

For a culture that existed for millennia in having leaders who would have taken such an action, it was not an unreasonable demand. A part of their culture is the integration of religion and government, just as it was a part of English culture and that of colonial America at one time. As much as some fundamentals in the U.S. may wish it were still a part of American culture, it is not. The First Amendment not only establishes a separation of church and state, but guarantees freedom of religion, speech, and the press; allows people the right to redress the government for their grievances, and to peacefully assemble to protest.

President Obama said that the United States rejects “all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, but there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.” He emphasized, “Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith.” Hillary Clinton was just as forceful: “Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

Long before the attack in Libya, as rioters had begun to mass in Cairo, the embassy tweeted “Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages [by rioters] will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech and criticizing bigotry.” It was a message that defined the ideals of a nation that had created the First Amendment. But, in a “shoot first and aim later” blunder while events were still unfolding and the U.S. was responding to the attacks, Mitt Romney, without the facts and the timeline of events, fired an angry polemic, politicizing the murder of American diplomats. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” he said. Romney, whose own religion has been viciously attacked by members of his own party, probably should have done what the President and Secretary of State did—condemn violence and religious bigotry. And then shut up.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton could not allow government action against the filmmakers, as the protestors wanted. The Founding Fathers demanded freedom of speech, the press, and religion to allow all views to be heard, even if it meant protecting even the vilest messages of hate, as long as they did not advocate violence or the overthrow of government. It is a fundamental part of what they wove into the fabric that became the United States of America.

[Walter Brasch is a syndicated social issues columnist and former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and a specialist in First Amendment issues. He is the author of 17 books; the latest is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

 

by brasch

American Patriotism in Hyper-Drive

7:32 am in Uncategorized by brasch

Flags at Pentagon City

(Photo: Mike Licht/flickr)

by WALTER BRASCH

It’s midway between Flag Day and Independence Day.

That means several million copies of full-page flags printed on cheap newsprint, June 14, have been burned, shredded, thrown away, or perhaps recycled. It’s an American tradition.

Flag Day was created by President Wilson in 1916 on the eve of the American entry into World War I. It has since been a day to allow Americans to show how patriotic we have become, and give a running start to celebrating the Revolution by buying banners, fireworks, and charcoal briquettes for the upcoming picnic.

Within American society is a large class of people who fly flags on 30-foot poles in front of their houses and adorn their cars with flag decals and what they believe are patriotic bumper stickers. They are also quick to let everyone know how patriotic they are, and how much less patriotic the rest of us are. But patriotism is far more than flying flags and shouting about liberty in Tea Party rallies.

Find someone wearing socks, T-shirt, bandana, and even a jacket that looks like replicas of the American flag, and you might find a hyper-patriot. Of course, just a few decades ago, they would have spat out their disgust to anti-war protestors or hippies who had so much of a flag patch on their jeans.

Most of these hyper-patriots wrap themselves in the flag and Constitution, but are quick to try to shut off dissent, believe the only true religion is the one they espouse, demand that the police frisk citizens who aren’t White, and declare the Supreme Court is un-American when it doesn’t rule the way they think it should.

Many of the hyper-patriots waved those flags high whenever the U.S. has gone to war, even if that war was created by lies. In Iraq, almost 4,500 Americans have been killed; more than 32,000 were wounded, many of them with lifetime injuries.

Many of the hyper-patriots are insensitive to the problems of the 700,000 Americans, about 70,000 of them veterans, who are homeless on any given day.

They are oblivious to the 46 million Americans, about 16 million of them children, who live in poverty.

They oppose universal health care that would help all Americans, including the 50 million who are currently uninsured.

Many of these hyper-patriots believe unions are un-American, and workers who demand good work conditions and benefits are whiners.

These hyper-patriots are also the ones who believe Social Security should be privatized, oppose Medicare, and go ballistic when they think government is infringing upon rights of the individual. But they believe government should impose standards of what are or are not proper sexual positions for consenting adults.

Although the unemployment rate has fallen significantly in the past year, 12.7 million Americans are still trying to find work. The response of hyper-patriots has been to block all attempts by President Obama to pass a jobs creation bill. They readily accept corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the wealthy, but look away when corporations send work and their profits out of the country. The Wall Street Journal reports the 11 top American corporations cut 2.9 million jobs in the U.S. and hired 2.4 million overseas.

Since 2000, more than six million manufacturing jobs have been lost, and 50,000 factories closed. Among jobs now being outsourced are customer complaint specialists, medical records transcribers, phone operators, telemarketers, and even newspaper copyeditors.

More than 500,000 call center jobs have been outsourced. This past week, hyper-patriots in the U.S. House of Representatives, voting largely along party lines, blocked a bill that would have barred American companies that outsourced call center jobs from receiving federal grants and loans and would have given further protection to Americans from identity theft by overseas companies.

These hyper-patriots readily buy products made outside the United States, proudly proclaim the great bargains they just scored, and somehow believe they are still patriots.

But here are two statistics hyper-patriots might wish to reflect upon during the three weeks between Flag Day and Independence Day. About 99 percent of legal fireworks used during July 4th celebrations are made in China. The second statistic is that during the past decade, Americans paid more than $93 million for U.S. flags made overseas, most of them from China. Many of those flags are proudly waved by hyper-patriots.

[Walter Brasch was recently honored by the Pennsylvania Press Club with its lifetime Communicator of Achievement award for journalistic excellence and community service. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, a look at the American counterculture, including the media.]

by brasch

Splitting Hairs in a Multi-Cultural School

5:35 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by WALTER BRASCH

Sasha Rivera is a 15-year-old sophomore at the Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School (MACS) in Philadelphia.

She’s an honors student who never got into trouble at school, and volunteers at Motivos, a national magazine for Hispanic youth.

She also has blue bangs in her dark brown hair. For that reason, she isn’t attending class.

Sasha and her principal, James Higgins, agree that Sasha came to school on Thursday, May 24, and had blue in her hair.

“In the hallway, he turned to me and said my hair color has to go,” says Sasha. She says that Higgins told her that unnatural hair color is against school rules. “He said it was in the [student] handbook,” she says.

MACS has a uniform policy, mandating specific clothes students must wear to class, what kind of jewelry and makeup, and even the only two colors of nail polish allowed. The only statement about hair is that it “should be neatly groomed.” However, there is an ambiguous sentence, “Any appearance deemed by the school staff to be inappropriate in an educational setting is not allowed.” That sentence deliberately leads to arbitrary, discretionary, and capricious interpretation that can pose legal challenges. “The whim of an administrator on one particular day does not constitute a rule or regulation,” Jenée Chizick, Motivos publisher, wrote in Sasha’s defense to the chief academic officer of the School District of Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, Higgins says that students can only have “natural hair color.” He has no objections if students wish to dye their hair honey blonde or raven, since he considers those to be natural hair colors. Apparently, highlights and lowlights in female hair are also acceptable. By that logic, there can’t be any objection to teens having white or gray hair, since they are “natural” colors. But, blue or green streaks, highlights, and bangs are not acceptable.

Higgins says he made the decision to exclude Sasha from classes the first day he noticed she had “unnatural” hair color.

However, Sasha has a different story. In her freshman year, she says she had streaks of orange, green, blue, and even blonde in her hair. “I was just experimenting,” she says. For several months in her sophomore year, she had semi-permanent green streaks, but she says no one confronted her. About a week before she was told to get rid of the color or not attend class, she had the blue highlights on her bangs.

“Every day I come to school I go in the front door,” says Sasha, “and he’s always there to greet us and check our uniforms.” Even if he missed all those days, he might have seen her, with green bangs on the cover of Motivos. Sasha had proudly brought the magazine to school to share with her teachers and guidance counselor. The photograph was taken March 22, so it had been two months that the principal and the teachers either didn’t notice or care about the color of her hair. Her FaceBook picture shows her with the blue color. She doesn’t know why her principal picked that one particular day to tell her she could not attend class because of her hair color.

Sasha was selected to participate as a Youth Media Ambassador to Colombia, with Motivos for 12 days in late June. She didn’t have trouble getting a passport, complete with a picture of her and her blue-streaked hair. Apparently, her hair color posed no threat to the American image abroad.

Higgins claims he told Sasha she was not dismissed from school. “She can come back any time she has natural hair,” he says. He says he even told her that teachers would give her packets of homework, and she could work in the school office and she could take finals there. But she couldn’t attend class. Sasha and her father, Jaime, wonder why having blue color bangs is somehow acceptable if the student can sit in an office, with students, staff, and faculty walking in all the time, but not acceptable for class.

Jaime Rivera, who supports his daughter and vigorously protested the decision, says he told the administration, ‘You’re denying her an education.” He says he tries “to show my daughter what is right and what its wrong, and to stand up for herself.”

Sasha says other students never complained or made fun of her, nor has her grades slipped because of her appearance. But, Higgins and a strict school policy places appearance as a primary condition in education.

“We are a very strict school, and decorum is very important,” he says. He emphasizes that clothes and appearance are important for success. He says the school, which sends almost every one of its graduates to college, must prepare the students for college-level work. But, when told that college students often have hair colors and styles that he may not think “natural,” he changes first to emphasize the quality of the academic program and then to emphasize that students need to get jobs—and “unnatural” hair color “is not appropriate for job interviews.”

Apparently, under his and the school board’s belief, Marilyn Monroe, Pink, and several hundred thousand white-haired ladies with light blue washes are unemployable. Also unemployable, in this administrator’s thinking, could be Marines who wear their hair “high and tight.” Students who wish to emulate Albert Einstein, Kenny G., Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, and Steve Jobs would be told those hair styles are not appropriate, certainly not the kind that some corporate executive and staff at MACS would wear.

Because MACS, a charter school, receives significant public funds it falls within Constitutional jurisdiction on freedom of expression issues. Most student rights issues date to 1969 in the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Tinker v. Des Moines case, which decided that students and faculty do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, notes that courts often rule “Speech and dress is a communicative right to transmit that message” as long as it isn’t disruptive. Higgins acknowledges Sasha’s appearance wasn’t disruptive to the educational process.

In the absence of a specific school policy and the disruption of the normal school day, “There is no basis for the administration’s decision,” says Dr. Robert E. Gates, chair of the Department of Educational Studies and Secondary Education at Bloomsburg University.

“There’s strong legal support for the student who wants to color her hair, since in most places the courts place the burden on the public school official who wants to claim the speech/symbolic expression would disrupt the school,” says Dr. Tom Eveslage, professor of journalism at Temple University, and a specialist in First Amendment law.

About half of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals “are receptive to students’ claims of free-expression rights concerning their hair,” according to the First Amendment Center. The other half, including the 3rd Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, have not been as receptive. Nevertheless, according to the First Amendment Center, “Generally, courts that have found a constitutional issue have ruled . . . that a student’s choice of hair color and style represents either a First Amendment free-expression issue or a 14th Amendment liberty or equal protection issue.”

Adam Goldstein notes that schools could regulate hair color and appearance if “people don’t understand the message.” If Sasha Rivera had a T-shirt with a message that declared blue highlights is a protest against an illogical dress code, “that would be protected speech,” says Goldstein. If she handed out flyers to protest the policies of the school, “that would also be protected” by all courts, he says.

Goldstein suggests that the principal’s demand for “natural” hair color “is monumentally dishonest in that [he believes] students somehow can’t function within presence of someone who has blue in her hair.” The school board and its administrators, says Goldstein, “should be asking, ‘Does this rule make any sense?’ and ‘What is the best way to learn?’ not ‘what is the best way to appear?’”

A letter from Frank L. Mannino, dean of students, on June 4 advised Jaime Rivera that Sasha was subject to administrative failure. Because of previous unexcused absences—some to deal with her mother’s extended illness, the others because of not being allowed in class—Sasha had exceeded the 25 absences the school allows and, thus, according to Mannino, results in “failure to accumulate our minimum credit hours in the classroom.”

MACS, defending its hair color policy and “decorum” issues, suggested she could take finals under special circumstances. However, Sasha now says she doesn’t wish to return to MACS, is willing to accept a school-imposed failure, and would take her entire sophomore year over again at another school, one that supports diversity in all of its forms.

Among the principles the Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School claims to have are “Celebrating and embracing diversity in cultures and individuals  . . .” and “Viewing each student as an individual while educating and mentoring the whole child . . . ”

Apparently, those principles apply only if the students agree with what the school administration believes a student should look like.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist, and the author of 17 books. For 31 years, he was professor of mass communications and says he didn’t think student free expression in hair color or appearance detracted from their education. He says he did advise students going into establishment journalism they might wish to consider the modes of the profession, but also advised them that there were many jobs in mass communications and other industries where intelligence, a strong work ethic, and enthusiasm were more important than conforming to a strict dress code. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel whose heroine wears “funky green-and-white high-top checkered sneaks with rainbow-colored laces.”]

by brasch

Stories We Will Still Have to Write in 2012

8:22 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by WALTER and ROSEMARY BRASCH

 In January 2009, with a new president about to be inaugurated, we wrote a column about the stories we preferred not having to write, but knew we would. Three years later, we are still writing about those problems; three years from now, we’ll still be writing about them.

We had wanted the U.S. Department of the Interior to stop the government-approved slaughter of wild horses and burros in the southwest, but were disappointed that the cattle industry used its money and influence to shelter politicians from Americans who asked for compassion and understanding of  breeds that roamed freely long before the nation’s “Manifest Destiny.”

We wanted to see the federal government protect wolves, foxes, and coyotes, none of whom attack humans, have no food or commercial value, but are major players in environmental balance. But, we knew that the hunting industry would prevail since they see these canines only as competition.

We wanted to see the Pennsylvania legislature stand up for what is right and courageously end the cruelty of pigeon shoots. But, a pack of cowards left Pennsylvania as the only state where pigeon shoots, with their illegal gambling, are actively held.

For what seems to be decades, we have written against racism and bigotry. But many politicians still believe that gays deserve few, if any, rights; that all Muslims are enemy terrorists; and publicly lie that Voter ID is a way to protect the integrity of the electoral process, while knowing it would disenfranchise thousands of poor and minority citizens.

We will continue to write about the destruction of the environment and of ways people are trying to save it. Environmental concern is greater than a decade ago, but so is the ignorant prattling of those who believe global warming is a hoax, and mistakenly believe that the benefits of natural gas fracking, with well-paying jobs in a depressed economy, far outweigh the environmental, health, and safety problems they cause.

We will continue to write against government corruption, bailouts, tax advantages for the rich and their corporations, governmental waste, and corporate greed. They will continue to exist because millionaire legislators will continue to protect those who contribute to political campaigns. Nevertheless, we will continue to speak out against politicians who have sacrificed the lower- and middle-classes in order to protect the one percent.

We will continue to write about the effects of laying off long-time employees and of outsourcing jobs to “maximize profits.” Until Americans realize that “cheaper” doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” we’ll continue to explain why exploitation knows no geographical boundaries.

The working class successfully launched major counter-attacks against seemingly-entrenched anti-labor politicians in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states. But these battles will be as long and as bitter as the politicians who deny the rights of workers. We will continue to speak out for worker rights, better working conditions, and benefits at least equal to their managers. We don’t expect anything to change in 2012, but we are still hopeful that a minority of business owners who already respect the worker will influence the rest.

There are still those who believe education is best served by programs manacled by teaching-to-the-test mentality, and are more than willing to sacrifice quality for numbers. We will continue to write about problems in the nation’s educational system, especially the failure to encourage intellectual curiosity and respect for the tenets of academic integrity.

Against great opposition, the President and Congress passed sweeping health care reform. But, certain members of Congress, all of whom have better health care than most Americans, have proclaimed they will dismantle the program they derisively call “Obamacare.”

During this new year, we will still be writing about the unemployed, the homeless, those without adequate health coverage—and against the political lunatics who continue to deny Americans the basics of human life, essentials that most civilized countries already give their citizens.

We had written forcefully against the previous president and vice-president when they strapped on their six-shooters and sent the nation into war in a country that posed no threat to us, while failing to adequately attack a country that housed the core of the al-Qaeda movement. We wrote about the Administration’s failure to provide adequate protection for the soldiers they sent into war or adequate and sustained mental and medical care when they returned home. The War in Iraq is now over, but the war in Afghanistan continues. The reminder of these wars will last as long as there are hospitals and cemeteries.

We had written dozens of stories against the Bush–Cheney Administration’s belief in the use of torture and why it thought it was necessary to shred parts of the Constitution. We had hoped that a new president, a professor of Constitutional law, would stop the attack upon our freedoms and rights. But the PATRIOT Act was extended, and new legislation was enacted that reduces the rights and freedoms of all citizens. At all levels of government, Constitutional violations still exist, and a new year won’t change our determination to bring to light these violations wherever and whenever they occur.

The hope we and this nation had for change we could believe in, and which we still hope will not die, has been minced by the reality of petty politics, with the “Party of No” and its raucous Teabagger mutation blocking social change for America’s improvement. We can hope that the man we elected will realize that compromise works only when the opposition isn’t entrenched in a never-ending priority not of improving the country, but of keeping him from a second term. Perhaps now, three years after his inauguration, President Obama will disregard the disloyal opposition and unleash the fire and truth we saw in the year before his election, and will speak out even more forcefully for the principles we believed when we, as a nation, gave him the largest vote total of any president in history.

We really want to be able to write columns about Americans who take care of each other, about leaders who concentrate upon fixing the social problems. But we know that’s only an ethereal ideal.  So, we’ll just have to hope that the waters of social justice wear down, however slowly, the jagged rocks of haughty resistance.

 

[Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues columnist, former newspaper investigative reporter and editor, and journalism professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a social issues mystery novel. Rosemary Brasch is a former secretary, Red Cross national disaster family services specialist, labor activist, and university instructor of labor studies.]

 

by brasch

One Jew’s Christmas

11:22 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

 

byWALTER BRASCH 

I am a Jew.

I don’t mind receiving Christmas cards or being wished a “Merry Christmas” from friends, clerks, or even in junk mail trying to sell me something no sane person should ever buy. My wife and I even send Christmas cards, with messages of peace and joy, to our friends who are Christians or who we don’t know their religion.

I like Christmas music and Christmas carolers, even if some have voices that crack now and then, perhaps from the cold.

At home, from as early as I could remember, my family bought and decorated a Christmas tree, and gave gifts to each other and our friends. Usually we put a Star of David on the tree, undoubtedly an act of heresy for many Jews and Christians. We learned about Christmas—and about Chanukah, the “feast of lights,” an eight day celebration of joy and remembrance of the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem at a time when it seemed as if a miracle had saved the Jews from darkness during the Maccabean revolt in the second century BCE.

This year, my wife and I have a two-foot tall cypress tree, decorated with angels and small LED lights, a gift from a devout Christian. We weren’t offended by the gift; we accepted it and displayed it on a table in our dining room in the spirit of friendship. In Spring, we’ll plant the tree in our backyard and hope it grows strong and tall, giving us shade and oxygen, perhaps serving as a sanctuary for birds, squirrels, and other wildlife.

What I do mind is the pomposity of some of the religious right who deliberately accost me, often with an arrogant sneer on their lips, to order me to accept their “well wishes” of  a “Merry Christmas.” Their implication is “Merry Christmas—or else!” It’s their way of saying their religion is the one correct religion, that all others are wrong.

 The problem is that although I am secure in my beliefs and try to understand and tolerate other beliefs, the extreme right is neither secure nor does it tolerate difference or dissent.

Right wing commentators at Fox News are in their final week of what has become a holiday tradition of claiming there is a “War on Christmas.” The lies and distortions told by these Shepherds of Deceit, and parroted by their unchallenging flock of followers, proves that at least in this manufactured war, truth is the first victim.

 The Far-Right-But-Usually-Wrong claim that godless liberals are out to destroy Christmas, and point to numerous examples, giving some facts but never the truth.  

They are furious that many stores wish their customers a “Happy Holiday” and not a “Merry Christmas,” unable to understand that sensitivity to all persons’ religions isn’t some kind of heresy. The ultra-right American Family Association even posts lists of stores that are open on Christmas, have their clerks wish customers a “Happy Holiday,” and don’t celebrate Christmas the way they believe it should be celebrated. (Of course, the AFA doesn’t attack its close ally, the NRA, which on its website wishes everyone “Happy Holidays.”)

Because of their own ignorance, they have no concept of why public schools may teach about Christmas or even have students sing carols but can’t put manger scenes on the front lawn. Nevertheless, the Extremists of Ignorance and Intolerance parade the Constitution as their own personal shield, without having read the document and its analyses, commentaries, and judicial opinions that define it, and can’t understand there is a strict separation of church and state. The Founding Fathers, especially Franklin and Jefferson, were clear about that. They were also clear that this is a nation where a majority of its people professes to be Christians, but it is not a “Christian nation.” There is a distinct difference.

The ultra-right—some of whom stanchly believe Barack Obama is not only a Muslim but wasn’t even born in the U.S—follow the guiding star of Fox to wrongly claim that the President Obama hates Christianity so much that he won’t even put up a Christmas tree but calls it a “holiday tree.” Perhaps they were too busy imbibing the bigotry in their mugs to know that the President and his family helped light the National Christmas Tree near the White House, wished Americans a “Merry Christmas,” and even told a bit about what Christians believe is a divine birth.

When confronted by facts, these fundamentalists point out that the Puritans, the ones who fled England for religious freedom, demanded adherence to a strict code of Protestant principles—and if it was good enough for the first American “citizens,” it’s good enough for the rest of us. What they never learned, obviously, is that the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations, declaring them to be pagan festivals.

If the Fox pundits, leading their sheep into the abyss of ignorance in a counter-attack in a war that doesn’t exist, would take a few moments to think before blathering inanities, they might realize that the man they worship was called “the Prince of Peace” not the “General of War.”

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist and multimedia producer. His latest book is the mystery novel, Before the First Snow.]