Religious liberty


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

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.”


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.


The good folks at the ACLU have the details on the case which is also being lead by the North Carolina NAACP and civil rights lawyers at the Advancement Project:

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on Thursday, September 25, on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) are challenging provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting. Implementing these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act.

The ACLU and SCSJ argued the law should be placed on hold until trial next summer —and in time for the midterm elections in November —but a district court judge ruled the law could go into effect; the ACLU and SCSJ appealed.

We are asking the court to protect the integrity of our elections and safeguard the vote for thousands of North Carolinians by not allowing these harmful provisions to go into effect,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

WHO: American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Coalition for Social Justice

WHAT: Oral arguments in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law

WHERE: The U.S. Courthouse, 401 W. Trade Street, Charlotte, N.C.

WHEN: Thursday, September 25, 1 p.m.

Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The ACLU and SCSJ challenged provisions of the law Read More


Drone 2As Sarah Ovaska reported this morning in her story on some of the hidden gems in this year’s state budget bill, North Carolina now has – with virtually no meaningful public discussion — a new and flawed law on the use of those cute little aerial spying machines known as “drones.”

Unmanned aircraft, also known as drones, can no longer be used by people or state agencies to conduct surveillance without landowners’ consent. The law carves out some exceptions for law enforcement and media covering news event, and makes adding a weapon to a drone a felony. Outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen need to pay attention: using a drone to hunt or fish is now a misdemeanor. Some of the wording in the budget still leaves questions about how to legally use drones, and the new rules may make it difficult to use drones to take photographs or video for artistic purposes, said Sarah Preston, of the ACLU of North Carolina. “There’s still a lot of stuff that’s left up in the air,” she said.

One of the state’s most active and engaged critics of drone use and the backroom efforts of politicians with connections to the drone industry is Asheville activist/advocate Barry Summers. Yesterday, Summers authored a forceful critique of the new law in the Asheville Citizen-Times. As Summers notes:

During the final days of the budget train wreck in Raleigh, H1099 (Unmanned Aircraft Regulation) was slipped anonymously into the 2014 budget. This is the perfect, shameful and shabby end to a process where the GOP-led NCGA has failed to protect our civil liberties. Read More


Is such a momentous and historic victory really on the foreseeable horizon? Don’t miss your chance to learn the answers to this and other related related questions this Thursday August 7 at a very special NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon.

The freedom to marry in North Carolina: Now what?

Featuring Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation; Jen Jones, Director of Communications and Outreach at Equality North Carolina; and plaintiffs in the court challenge to North Carolina’s marriage discrimination amendment.

Click here to register

When: Thursday, August 7, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or

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