The ACLU of Southern California today condemned the Board of Education of the Orange Unified School District for refusing to allow the creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at El Modena High School.

'The board should be spending taxpayers' money on educating students, not on fighting lawsuits that they know they will lose,' said ACLU Associate Director Elizabeth Schroeder. 'The school board's disingenuous attempt to couch this as a sex education/curriculum issue has no merit. The district will not succeed in its efforts to pick and choose which student clubs to fund.'

'School systems should make public commitments to ensure that schools are safe places, free of discrimination, violence, and harassment for ALL students, including gay and lesbian youth,' continued Schroeder. 'Fear, isolation and loneliness lead many gay and lesbian teens to suicide. The creation of this club would give these students a life-saving support system.'

By denying the formation of the Gay-Straight Alliance, the board is in clear violation of the freedoms of expression and association that are guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and by parallel articles in the California Constitution. The board's refusal could have a significant impact on the district's eligibility for federal education funds under a statute that prohibits public schools from discriminating against student clubs on the basis of a club's philosophical or political viewpoint.

Date

Wednesday, December 8, 1999 (All day)

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Education Equity LGBTQ Equality

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The ACLU of Southern California claimed victory today after the Val Verde Unified School District dropped plans to post copies of the Ten Commandments on the walls of the school's offices. The school board's retreat came in the wake of the filing of a lawsuit last week by the ACLU, along with the law firm of Morrison and Foerster, on behalf of two families whose children attend school in Val Verde.

The ACLU argued in its court papers that the school board's plan violated the families' religious freedoms that are guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. The ACLU also took the school board to task for their blatant disregard of the law, given that the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the posting of the Ten Commandments on public school property is illegal. (Stone v. Graham, 1980)

'It is unfortunate that it took the filing of a lawsuit for the school board to wake up and realize that its action was way out of constitutional bounds," said ACLU chief counsel Michael Small. 'This was not a case in which public school officials sought to integrate the Bible, including the Ten Commandments, into the curriculum in an objective manner as part of a general discussion of ethical and moral values, which is constitutionally permissible. Rather, the school board's scheme was all about indoctrinating impressionable children."

"The two families who came forward to challenge the board's plan, Rigoberto and Odelia Roman, and Juanita Franco, are deeply religious,' said Kobie Conner, an attorney at Morrison and Foerster. 'They do not believe, however, that it is the business of the public schools to teach religion. That is for families and children together in their homes and in their houses of worship. Perhaps now the school board will return to addressing the real educational needs of Val Verde's students."

Date

Tuesday, November 23, 1999 (All day)

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Education Equity

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ACLU of Southern California

The ACLU of Southern California, along with the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of homeless individuals who have been the victims of a campaign of lawlessness on the streets at the hands of private security guards in downtown Los Angeles.

The suit alleges that the security guards are seeking to run the homeless out of certain sections of the city, and that to achieve that goal, have devised and implemented policies that call on their security brigades to engage in a concerted pattern of lawbreaking. By design, these patrols routinely and deliberately violate the homeless' civil liberties through a campaign of physical and verbal abuse.

'These security forces have been on a rampage,' said Michael Small, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California. 'It is time for these rogue operations to be shut down.' The court papers document a disturbing series of repeated and ongoing encounters on the streets and sidewalks in which the security guards, without lawful justification, search the homeless' pockets and clothing, rifle through their personal possessions, order them to stay or go somewhere against their will, and place them in handcuffs.

In one frightening episode, a man with a broken leg who refused to consent to having his photograph taken by the security forces was handcuffed, forced by security guards to walk 30 yards without his crutches, and placed in a patrol car until bystanders summoned the police to intervene and order his release. In another episode, a security guard accused a man who suffers from diabetes with jaywalking, then forcibly searched him and threatened to discard the contents of a bottle of prescription medicine. Security guards ordered one man to dump water from his canteen on a day that temperature soared well past 90 degrees. Another was doused with chemical spray. These men have had their possessions confiscated and thrown over chain-link fences and have been accosted on the streets (sometimes at gunpoint), forced to divulge personal information, and sit still for 'mug shot' type photographs even though they had not been accused of any crime.

'There is no excuse for the abusive tactics employed by these security guards,' said Morrison & Foerster attorney Hector Gallegos. 'This case is not about the rights of the police to enforce any laws against the homeless. It simply seeks to require that these security forces not harass the homeless nor interfere with their enjoyment of the same rights afforded all individuals. These security forces find the homeless to be undesirable, and their presence bad for business. But that distaste does not give them license to flaunt the law.' The case stems from the formation in recent years of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in downtown Los Angeles. The defendants in the case are the companies that manage the BIDs and the security guard companies that the BID managers have retained. In their court filings, the ACLU and Morrison & Foerster are seeking a preliminary injunction against the security guard companies that would compel them to obey the law pending trial in the case.

Date

Wednesday, November 17, 1999 (All day)

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Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Reform

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