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As reported in this space yesterday, Governor Pat McCrory will speak in Charlotte later this month at an event organized by a far right activist group that wants the United States to be a “Christian nation.” And though he is now distancing himself from it, a full-page ad in Monday’s Charlotte Observer indicated that the Governor was actually inviting people to attend the event to join him for “a time of worship, prayer, fasting and repentance.”

Now, the First Amendment experts at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina want  to know more about what the heck all of this all about. This is from a press statement the group released this morning:

RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation is asking whether Governor Pat McCrory’s office is using any taxpayer dollars or other public resources to promote religion at an upcoming prayer rally in Charlotte. In a public records request filed yesterday, the civil liberties group asked for information regarding the governor’s participation in The Response: North Carolina on September 26 at the Charlotte Convention Center. The event’s website says the focus of the rally is ‘unashamedly Christian’ and ‘the only name that will be lifted up will be the name of Jesus Christ.’ Gov. McCrory is being advertised as the event’s main speaker.

‘North Carolinians deserve to know whether Governor McCrory is spending their tax dollars to promote religion,’ said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation. ‘Elected officials have every right to practice and discuss their faith, but they shouldn’t use taxpayer resources to promote their own religious views over others.’

The ACLU-NC Legal Foundation’s public records request to Gov. McCrory’s office is available at acluofnc.org.

We’ll keep readers apprised as the story develops.

News

Solitary confinementJust in from the ACLU of NC:

“A coalition of human rights groups yesterday sent a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in North Carolina prisons. The letter comes weeks after President Obama ordered the Justice Department to review the use of solitary confinement across the country and criticized the practice in a major speech on criminal justice reform.

The 15-page letter – signed by North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Seminar, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and North Carolina Stop Torture Now – chronicles the recent deaths of several inmates held in solitary confinement in North Carolina, as well as the mistreatment and horrific conditions suffered by countless more. One of those prisoners, Michael Anthony Kerr, a 53-year-old former Army sergeant diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, died of dehydration in March 2014 after spending 35 days in solitary confinement. In the letter, the groups document North Carolina’s failure to provide adequate resources for prison mental health services and explain how inmates with mental illness are disciplined for manifestations of their illness and often released directly to the community after months or years in isolation.

‘Understaffed, underfunded, and plagued by arbitrary standards, insufficient oversight, and inadequate resources for inmates with mental illness, North Carolina’s solitary confinement regime must change,’ the letter reads. ‘However, governmental efforts and calls from the media and the public have resulted in little meaningful reform. Every day that the status quo endures without intervention, North Carolina’s system for housing inmates in solitary confinement claims more victims to needless suffering and death.’

The letter is available at https://acluofnorthcarolina.org/files/letters/SolitarylettertoUSDOJ.pdf

Background: On any given day, as much as 14 percent of North Carolina’s 37,500 prison inmates are locked away in solitary confinement—often for such minor offenses as using profanity. There, they are isolated for 23 to 24 hours a day, without sunlight, fresh air, or contact with human beings. More than one in five of those prisoners placed in isolation require some type of treatment for mental health issues.”

Commentary

6-8-15-NEW-NCPW-CARTOONThis morning’s edition of “Monday Numbers” has all the sobering stats you could want regarding Governor McCrory’s rather remarkable decision to go back on his 2012 campaign promise in which he pledged not to approve any new restrictions on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.

Click here if you haven’t already tired of watching McCrory’s now infamous one word promise on the subject.

Not surprisingly, the Guv didn’t issue any kind of special statement to accompany his decision to approve the bill. Rather, he simply listed the bill number with eight others and slapped it onto the bottom of his announcement to finally grant the pardons to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown.h465-announcement

That was courageous.

Meanwhile, reaction from advocates for women’s’ health and reproductive freedom are responding to the Governor’s regrettable decision. This is from the ACLU of North Carolina:

Gov. McCrory Signs New Abortion Restrictions, Breaking Campaign Promise Again

RALEIGH – On Friday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB 465, a bill that will triple the mandatory waiting time for abortion care to 72 hours, making North Carolina only the fifth state in the nation with such a lengthy forced delay. During his 2012 campaign for governor, McCrory vowed to sign no further restrictions on abortion access.

“For the second time, Governor McCrory has broken his promise to sign no new restrictions on abortion access in our state, making it clear that he does not respect a woman’s ability to make her own personal health care decisions,” said Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “This shameful law will do nothing to help women in North Carolina. Instead, it will force a woman to endure an unnecessary and potentially harmful delay before receiving the care that she and her doctor have decided is right for her.”

In 2013, McCrory signed a bill that authorized severe and medically unnecessary restrictions on women’s health clinics that provide abortions

A forced waiting period is not necessary because a woman who has decided to have an abortion has already carefully considered her decision. New polling shows that most Americans identify as pro-choice and that seven in 10 Americans say that a woman who has decided to have an abortion should be able to do so without additional hurdles.

Medical experts say that these bills do not help women. Instead, they can push abortion later into pregnancy and subject women to stigma and shame. These bills have no medical basis, and medical groups like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose these types of laws.

Commentary
Religious liberty

Image: www.aclu.org

Notwithstanding the recent efforts of a noisy minority on the American religious right to distort its real and historical meaning, “religious freedom” is a critically important American value that needs to be celebrated and strengthened.

And happily, the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of North Carolina did just that yesterday when it ruled against the coercive, state-sponsored prayers of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. Mike Meno of the ACLU of North Carolina explains in this news release:

Court Rules Rowan County’s Coercive Prayer Policy Violated Constitution
Federal Court Rules Policy Was Discriminatory in ACLU Lawsuit Filed On Behalf of Three Rowan County Residents Who Were Excluded by Coercive Prayer Practice

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A federal court today ruled that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners violated the Constitution when they coerced public participation in prayers that overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion. Between 2007 and 2013, more than 97 percent of the prayers delivered by commissioners before public meetings were specific to one religion, Christianity.

“When Plaintiffs wish to advocate for local issues in front of the Board, they should not be faced with the choice between staying seated and unobservant, or acquiescing to the prayer practice of the Board,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Beaty of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. “[…]The Board’s practice fails to be nondiscriminatory, entangles government with religion, and over time, establishes a pattern of prayers that tends to advance the Christian faith of the elected Commissioners at the expense of any religious affiliation unrepresented by the majority.” Read More

News
ACLU marriage equality

Image: ACLU of North Carolina

Court decisions have been coming in a fast and furious fashion in recent days — so fast that many may be left scratching their heads by Judge Osteen’s ruling yesterday on marriage equality.

If you’re one of the thousands who’s saying to him or herself this morning something like “What the heck? I though Judge Cogburn settled this last week,” the good folks at the ACLU of North Carolina issued a statement late yesterday that explains the deal:

Second Federal Judge Rules N.C. Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

GREENSBORO – U.S. District Judge William Osteen today ruled that North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. He is the second federal judge to do so in five days. The ruling came in two lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn issued a separate ruling that struck down North Carolina’s marriage ban and added North Carolina to the list of states to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. Judge Osteen, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, also gave North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger the ability to intervene in the case on appeal.

“Judge Osteen’s ruling is the second in five days to declare North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “This second ruling further emphasizes that North Carolina’s now-defunct marriage ban was discriminatory and denied same-sex couples their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law. The legislature can attempt to pursue an appeal if they so choose; however, that would only unnecessarily expend taxpayer resources. North Carolinians can rest assured: the freedom to marry is here to stay.”

Background:

The ACLU filed the first legal challenge to North Carolina’s marriage ban in June 2013 when it amended a 2012 lawsuit seeking second parent adoption rights for six families headed by same-sex couples. The adoption lawsuit, Fisher-Borne, et al. v. Smith, was originally filed in June 2012, just weeks after passage of the state’s marriage ban, known as Amendment One, which the ACLU lobbied and campaigned against. In April 2014, the ACLU filed a second lawsuit, Gerber and Berlin, et al. v. Smith, challenging North Carolina’s marriage ban on behalf of three married same-sex couples, one member of which has a serious medical condition.