An Injunction Against the First Amendment

by Walter Brasch

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.”

The injunction also violates her Fourteenth Amendment rights of association and the right of travel. Scroggins can’t even go to homes of some of her friends, even if they invite her;  that’s because they had leased subsurface mineral rights to Cabot. However, Cabot never produced a lease, according to what the ACLU will present 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.”

Because Cabot had leased mineral rights to 40 percent of Susquehanna County, about 300 square miles, almost any place Scroggins wants to be is a place she is not allowed to be. That includes the local hospital, supermarkets, drug stores, several restaurants, the place she goes for rehabilitation therapy, and a recreational lake. It also includes the recycling center-Susquehanna County officials leased 12.5 acres of public land to Cabot.

The injunction establishes a “buffer zone.” Even if Scroggins is on a public street or sidewalk, if it is less than 150 feet from a property that Cabot has a subsurface mineral lease, she is in violation of the court order.

The injunction, says the ACLU of Pennsylvania, “is far broader than anything allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court or Pennsylvania courts.”    

Not everyone agrees with Scroggins or her efforts to document the effects of horizontal 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 does to correct his unconstitutional order, 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.]      

Splitting Hairs in a Multi-Cultural School

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.

“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.”]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One Jew’s Christmas

by Walter 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.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

 

Banning the First Amendment

by Walter Brasch

Parents demanded it be banned.

School superintendents placed it in restricted sections of their libraries.

It is the most challenged book four of the past five years, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

“It” is a 32-page illustrated children’s book, And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, with illustrations by Henry Cole. The book is based upon the real story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins, who had formed a six-year bond at New York City’s Central Park Zoo, and who “adopted” a fertilized egg and raised the chick until she could be on her own.

Gays saw the story as a positive reinforcement of their lifestyle. Riding to rescue America from homosexuality were the biddies against perversion. Gay love is against the Bible, they wailed; the book isn’t suitable for the delicate minds of children, they cried as they pushed libraries and schools to remove it from their shelves or at the very least make it restricted.

The penguins may have been gay-or maybe they weren’t. It’s not unusual for animals to form close bonds with others of their same sex. But the issue is far greater than whether or not the penguins were gay or if the book promoted homosexuality as a valid lifestyle. People have an inherent need to defend their own values, lifestyles, and worldviews by attacking others who have a different set of beliefs. Banning or destroying free speech and the freedom to publish is one of the ways people believe they can protect their own lifestyles.

During the first decade of the 21st century, the most challenged books, according to the ALA, were J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, apparently because some people believe fictionalized witchcraft is a dagger into the soul of organized religion. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series was the 10th most challenged in 2010. Perhaps some parents weren’t comfortable with their adolescents having to make a choice between werewolves and vampires.

Among the most challenged books is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the vicious satire about firemen burning books to save humanity. Other books that are consistently among the ALA’s list of most challenged are Brave New World (Aldous Huxley), The Chocolate War (Robert Cormier), Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck), I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou), Forever (Judy Blume), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain), regarded by most major literary scholars as the finest American novel.

Name a classic, and it’s probably on the list of the most challenged books. Conservatives, especially fundamental religious conservatives, tend to challenge more books. But, challenges aren’t confined to any one political ideology. Liberals are frequently at the forefront of challenging books that may not agree with their own social philosophies. The feminist movement, while giving the nation a better awareness of the rights of women, wanted to ban Playboy and all works that depicted what they believed were unflattering images if women. Liberals have also attacked the works of Joel Chandler Harris (the Br’er Rabbit series), without understanding history, folklore, or the intent of the journalist-author, who was well-regarded as liberal for his era.

Although there are dozens of reasons why people say they want to restrict or ban a book, the one reason that threads its way through all of them is that the book challenges conventional authority or features a character who is perceived to be “different,” who may give readers ideas that many see as “dangerous.”

The belief there are works that are “dangerous” is why governments create and enforce laws that restrict publication. In colonial America, as in almost all countries and territories at that time, the monarchy required every book to be licensed, to be read by a government official or committee to determine if the book was suitable for the people. If so, it received a royal license. If not, it could not be printed.

In 1644, two decades before his epic poem Paradise Lost was published, John Milton wrote a pamphlet, to be distributed to members of Parliament, against a recently-enacted licensing law. In defiance of the law, the pamphlet was published without license. Using Biblical references and pointing out that the Greek and Roman civilizations didn’t license books, Milton argued, “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable create [in] God’s image,” he told Parliament, “but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself, kills the image of God.” He concluded his pamphlet with a plea, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”

A century later, Sir William Blackstone, one of England’s foremost jurists and legal scholars, argued against prior restraint, the right of governments to block publication of any work they found offensive for any reason.

The arguments of Milton and Blackstone became the basis of the foundation of a new country, to be known as the United States of America, and the establishment of the First Amendment.

Every year, at the end of September, the American Library Association sponsors Banned Book Week, and publishes a summary of book challenges. And every year, it is made more obvious that those who want to ban books, sometimes building bonfires and throwing books upon them as did Nazi Germany, fail to understand the principles of why this nation was created.

[Walter Brasch was a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor before becoming a professor of mass communications, with specialties in First Amendment and contemporary social issues. His current book is the mystery novel, Before the First Snow, a look at the 1960s, and how issues unresolved during those years are affecting today’s society.]

         

Former Editor Sues Philadelphia Police for Constitutional Violations in Her Arrest

Editor’s note:  The owner of OpEDNews Rob Kall, is a personal friend.  John

by Walter M. Brasch

A former managing editor for the online newspaper, OpEdNews, has sued the city of Philadelphia and eight of its police officers for violating her Constitutional rights.

Cheryl Biren-Wright, Pennsauken, N.J., charges the defendants with violating her 1st, 4th, and 14th amendment rights. The civil action, filed in the U.S. District Court, Philadelphia, is based upon her arrest during a peaceful protest Sept. 12, 2009, at the Army Experience Center (AEC) in the Franklin Mills Mall.

According to the complaint, Biren-Wright, who was not a part of the demonstration but at the mall as a reporter-photographer, was arrested and charged with failure to disperse and conspiracy, second degree misdemeanors. The charges were subsequently dropped by the Philadelphia district attorney.

The Philadelphia police also arrested and charged six protestors with conspiracy and failure to disperse-Elaine Brower, 55, New York, N.Y.; Richie Marini, 35, Staten Island, N.Y.; Joan Pleune, 70, Brooklyn, N.Y.(one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961); Beverly Rice, 72, New York, N.Y.; Debra Sweet, 57, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Sarah Wellington, 26, Piermont, N.Y. Two months after Biren-Wright’s case was dropped, the six protestors were found not guilty in Philadelphia Municipal Court.

Paul J. Hetznecker, who represented the six defendants in the criminal trial, and Biren-Wright in her civil suit, believes that police over-reaction to protestors, as well as their lack of knowledge or appreciation for Constitutional protections, may be “a systemic problem throughout the country.” Hetznecker says under Constitutional and state law, “There can not be an arbitrary and capricious decision to end the civil rights of the protestors.”

The civil suit complaint charges that police violated Biren-Wright’s First Amendment rights to “gather information . . . to cover a matter of public interest including the law enforcement activity in public places.” Actions by the police deprived her of 4th and 14th amendment rights that, according to the complaint, protect against “unreasonable search and seizure,” “loss of physical liberty,” and “freedom from excessive use of unreasonable and justified force.”

The suit lists six separate counts:

         * Abridgement of her rights under the First Amendment to observe and record news in a public place.

         * False arrest and imprisonment

         * Use of excessive force by the police.

         * False arrest under state law

         * Common Law Assault under state law

         * Failure of the City of Philadelphia to adequately train and supervise its police. The complaint charges that because of accepted practices, the defendants may have believed “that their actions would not be properly investigated by supervisory officers and that the misconduct would not be investigated or sanctioned, but would be tolerated.” The policy, according to the complaint, “demonstrates a deliberate indifference on the part of the policymakers of the City of Philadelphia, to the constitutional rights of persons within the City, and were the cause of the violations of the Plaintiff’s rights. . . .”

Named in the suit in addition to the City of Philadelphia are Lt. Dennis Konczyk, officers Tyrone Wiggins, John Logan, Robert Anderson, Donald West, William Stuski, and two unnamed John Does.

The Philadelphia Police Department refused to comment about the suit as a matter of policy regarding “issues in court,” according to Jillian Russell, Department spokesperson.

In August 2008, the Army opened the AEC, a 14,500 square foot “virtual educational facility” with dozens of video games. The Center, deliberately located near an indoor skateboard park, replaced five more traditional recruiting offices, and was designated as a two-year pilot program. The initial cost was $12 million.

Army recruiters could not actively recruit children under 17, but could talk with the teens and answer any of their questions about the Army. Among the virtual games was one in which children as young as 13 could ride a stationary Humvee and shoot a simulated M-16 rifle at life-like video images of Muslims and terrorists.

Because of the emphasis upon war, and a requirement that all persons had to sign in at the center, thus allowing the recruiters to follow-up as much as four or five years later, peace activists began speaking out against the AEC.

To counter what was quickly becoming a public relations problem, the Army sent out news releases, picked up by the mainstream media, and established a full social media campaign to explain the “benefits” of the AEC. The protests continued.

Elaine Brower, whose son was in Iraq on his third tour of duty, told OpEdNews a day after her arrest: “The AEC is giving guns to 13-year-olds, drawing them in with violent video games. As more and more Afghan civilians and U.S. military are being killed in the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, we’re saying ‘no’ to these wars. We’ve got to stop the flow of youth into the military, where they’re being used to commit war crimes in our name.”

With a police permit, and escorted by officers from Philadelphia’s Civil Affairs Unit, about 200-250 protestors-most of them middle-aged or senior citizens, many of them veterans-had come to the AEC, believing their First Amendment rights were being protected. The protest, although noisy at times, was peaceful; the counter-demonstration wasn’t.

According to the complaint, “The counter-demonstrators [members of an organization known as The Gathering of Eagles] yelled, jeered and taunted the AEC protestors. At no time did [the police] direct, or attempt to limit the First Amendment activities of the counter-demonstrators,” nor were they ever told to disperse.

Throughout the demonstration, the protestors had not given any indication that they posed any physical threat to others. However, about 45 minutes after the demonstration began, the police, under direction of Lt. Konczyk, ordered the protestors to disperse.

At that point, Biren-Wright, according to the complaint, “placed herself outside the immediate area . . . so as not to interfere with the police activity.” She continued to photograph and report on the demonstration. The complaint charges that Lt. Konczyk, “without just cause or legal justification,” directed several officers to arrest her, walking past several protestors and counter-demonstrators. She says she told the officers she was a member of the press. At no time, she says, did she participate as a demonstrator nor verbally or physically threaten anyone. The officers, says Biren-Wright, arrested her without any warning. The arresting officer’s “degree of anger-he was clearly red-faced-was inappropriate,” she recalls. The police, says Biren-Wright, “were clearly targeting me, trying to keep me from recording the demonstration and their reactions.”

One officer, says Biren-Wright, “unnecessarily twisted my arm.” Another officer seized her camera and personal items. One of the officers put plastic cuffs on her wrists “so tight that it caused significant pain, swelling and bruising, and an injury that lasted for several weeks,” according to the complaint.

Biren-Wright’s 15-year-old daughter was shopping in the mall during the protest, but had reunited with her mother shortly before the arrests. Her daughter, says Biren-Wright, “came closer upon the arrest and I told the officer she was my daughter and a minor and would be alone.” The officer, says Biren-Wright, snapped, “You should have thought of that before.” At the processing center that police had previously set up at the mall, Biren-Wright told several officers that her daughter was alone in the mall and was from out of state. “None of them did anything to ensure her safety,” she says. The daughter, unsupervised, eventually found Rob Kall, OpEdNews editor, who drove her to the jail to take her mother’s keys and then drove her home, where she spent the night alone.

Outside the mall, counter-protestors shouted obscenities as those arrested boarded the police bus. “They were standing at the door to the bus,” says Biren-Wright, “and posed a safety issue to us since we were in handcuffs.”

The six who were arrested and Biren-Wright were initially taken to the 15th District jail. Richie Marini, the lone male arrested, was kept at the district jail. The six women were transferred to the jail at the jail of the Philadelphia Police headquarters, known by locals as the “Roundhouse,” where a nurse took each woman’s vital signs and asked if there were any injuries. “I showed him my wrist and thumb that were already red and swollen” from the restrictive handcuffs, says Biren-Wright. His response, she says, was “That doesn’t count.”

Biren-Wright, along with the other five women, was held for 14 hours. At 5 a.m., she says, they were released from the “Roundhouse” onto a dark and barren street-there were no taxis anywhere near-and locked out of the police station. Although the women had cell phones, they had not been allowed to call for rides while in the jail area. Outside, they called friends, but waited until help arrived. Marini was released from the district jail later that morning.

The only reason Biren-Wright’s pictures of the demonstration survived is because she had secretly removed the memory chip during the arrest. When the camera was finally returned, “all of the settings were messed up and the lens was not replaced properly.”

The Army closed the AEC at the end of the pilot program. It had claimed that because of increased enlistments nationwide, the Center was no longer needed. It never acknowledged that the protestors and the public reaction may have been a reason for the closing.

In an unrelated case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in October 2010 [Kelly v. Borough of Carlisle] that recording police activity in public places is protected by Constitutional guarantees. This month, the ACLU settled a case, for $48,500, in Pittsburgh when a University of Pittsburgh police officer arrested Elijah Matheny and charged him with felony violation of the state’s Wiretap Act for using a cell phone to record police activity. Matheny spent a night in jail following his arrest. [See: Matheny v. County of Allegheny, et al.] The ACLU charged that the district attorney’s office “had engaged in a pattern of erroneously advising law enforcement that audio taping police officers in public violates Pennsylvania’s Wiretap Act.” Following the Third Circuit’s decision in the Kelly case, a conviction against Matheny is expected to be overturned.

The arrests in Philadelphia, Carlisle, and Pittsburgh underscores two major problems, both prevalent throughout the country. The first problem is a lack of understanding and respect for the Constitution by a large number, although not a majority, of police officers. For that reason, all police forces and district attorneys offices, from small isolated rural communities to the largest urban departments, need to have constant education about civil rights and Constitutional guarantees-and the penalties for violating those rights.

The second major problem is inherent within the mass media. Reporters need to know how and when to challenge authority to protect their own and the public’s rights. A camera crew from the PBS “Frontline” series was at the protest, but abruptly stopped recording the demonstration after Brower was arrested and either before or during Biren-Wright’s arrest. Rob Kall later said that a member of the “Frontline” crew told him the police informed them they would be arrested if they continued to film the demonstration.

Police threats, which violate Constitutional guarantees, place a “chilling effect” upon the media to observe and record actions by public officials. Even without a direct order by a public official, reporters may do what they perceive to be what others want them to do. The media, like police and public officials, also need constant education to know when police orders are lawful and when they are not. An order to move away from a scene may be lawful. An order to stop filming a scene upon threat of arrest is not.

In federal court, in the case of Biren v. City of Philadelphia, et al., these issues, and others, will be raised. But had there been an understanding of the Constitution by the police, the case would never have gotten to the point of a federal civil suit.

 

Government May Be Violating Tobacco Companies’ 1st Amendment Rights

by WALTER BRASCH

A controversial Supreme Court decision less than two years ago could have the unintended consequence of significantly reducing the government’s 46-year campaign against cigarettes.

In a 5-4 decision, largely along political lines, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (October 2009) that not only were parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (also known as the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act) unconstitutional, but that corporations and political action committees enjoyed the same First Amendment rights as private citizens.

The government’s anti-smoking campaigns, most of them the result of a combination of executive department and Congressional action, essentially have three major parts: anti-tobacco advertising and public service messages, warning labels on cigarette packs, and the outright ban on several forms of tobacco company advertising.

Government Advertising

Because the First Amendment applies only to governmental intrusion upon free expression, when the government creates advertising (whether TV ads or pamphlets), there can be no significant First Amendment issues. There may be some recourse, however small, in suits against use of taxpayer funds for political purposes, similar to the government’s role during the George W. Bush administration in forcing anti-abortion education upon women and health clinics.

Labels

The anti-smoking campaign had begun with the 1964 Surgeon General’s report that there was a strong correlation between smoking, lung cancer, and chronic bronchitis.. The following year, Congress passed the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act that required every cigarette pack to have a health warning: “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.” The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969,  taking effect two years later, strengthened the wording on cigarette labels to: “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health.”

However, the labels had minimal effect on reducing smoking. In 1984, unwilling to face political consequences from an outright ban, such as it enacted against any form of marijuana, Congress passed the Comprehensive Smoking Education Act that required even stronger messages on each pack.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration, acting within authority of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2010, ordered all cigarette manufacturers to include nine new designs on a rotating basis on all cigarette packs. The designs take up the top half, both front and back, of every pack. Several of the messages are medically-supported statements that tell users that cigarette smoking causes cancer. One of the graphics is a pair of cancerous lungs next to a pair of non-cancerous lungs. Another label shows a set of rotted teeth. Another shows smoke coming from a tracheotomy hole.

The FDA also requires that government-approved messages appear on one-fifth of every print ad.

Based upon interpretation of the Citizens United case, it would not be an unreasonable stretch to argue that the newly-required messages, with graphics and text, place an undue burden on a corporation’s rights of free speech by restricting their own message to less than half. Another argument could be made that by forcing the tobacco companies to accept pre-determined text and graphics is de facto government intrusion upon the rights of free expression.

Tobacco Company Advertising

The largest concern for First Amendment consideration is in the area of the federal government imposing restrictions upon advertising and information messages.

In 1967, the Federal Communications Commission, citing the Fairness Doctrine, required radio and TV stations that aired paid ads from tobacco companies to run anti-smoking ads at no cost. Unwilling to give up five to ten minutes a day to unpaid advertising, the stations began “voluntarily” dropping cigarette advertising.

The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which had changed the text of warning labels, also banned cigarette advertising on radio and television. In a concession to the tobacco companies, Congress permitted the law to take effect on Jan. 2, the day after the televised football bowl games. The effect of the law was a loss to radio and television stations of about $200 million a year in cigarette advertising, and a significant increase in advertising in newspapers, magazines, and billboards-and not much reduction in smoking.

A 1991 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that the cartoon character Joe Camel, advertising mascot for Camel cigarettes, was recognized by 3- to 6-year-olds almost as much as they recognized Mickey Mouse and Fred Flintstone. The AMA charged that R.J. Reynolds, manufacturers of Camel cigarettes, had targeted children; the company denied the charges, but eventually settled the lawsuit for $10 million, the funds to go to anti-smoking campaigns.

In 1998, the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was the result of years of litigation and negotiation between the four largest tobacco companies, which controlled about 97 percent of all domestic sales, and 46 state attorneys general; four states had already settled. That agreement exempted the companies from class-action tort liability by citizens filing against the companies for health effects from smoking. The federal government also agreed to provide subsidies to tobacco farmers to cover losses based upon reduction of demand for their product. In exchange, the tobacco companies agree to provide $365.5 billion, with most of the funds going to the states for anti-smoking campaigns, and to allow FDA regulation. Among other provisions, the tobacco companies agreed to cut back advertising and sponsorship of activities, especially those that targeted youth. Because this was a civil case settlement, First Amendment concerns were rendered moot.

However, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2010 is a government-imposed control that brings to question distinct First Amendment concerns. That Act bans tobacco companies from sponsoring all sports and cultural events, which could loosely be interpreted as a violation of the right of association, not specifically mentioned in wording in the First Amendment but extended by the Supreme Court decisions involving First Amendment guarantees. The Act further bans tobacco companies from displaying all tobacco-related images, including their logos, on any apparel, and also requires most advertising to be black lettering on a white background. Both actions are probable First Amendment violations.

A critical side issue melds labels with the media. It would be nearly impossible for any medium to show anyone with a cigarette pack, whether in news or entertainment, without also showing the government’s message. Any attempt by the government to regulate what appears on screen or in print would violate the First Amendment.

Without the Citizens United decision, the government’s rights to regulate corporate advertising would probably not have significant basis for challenge. With that decision, tobacco corporate entities suddenly have a case.

[This column is meant to be a general overview and not a definitive analysis or detailed case study of possible First Amendment violations of government-imposed sanctions against tobacco companies. Dr. Brasch, professor emeritus of mass communications and journalism, is a specialist in First Amendment and contemporary social justice issues. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]