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Will Matthews, ACLU National, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; firstname.lastname@example.org
Alexandra Bassil, ACLU of Florida, (786) 363-2737; email@example.com
Rosa County school officials are using their governmental positions to
promote their personal religious beliefs in public schools, according
to a lawsuit filed today on behalf of two Pace High School students by
the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the national ACLU.
The lawsuit reveals a repeated
pattern by school officials - including Santa Rosa County School Board
members and Pace High School Principal H. Frank Lay - of promoting and
endorsing prayers at graduation ceremonies and other school events, of
sponsoring religious ceremonies and holding official school events at
"Parents, not the public schools,
should be responsible for deciding whether their children receive
religious education," said Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney with the
ACLU of Florida's Northwest Region office. "Religious freedom is eroded
when the government endorses any particular religious viewpoint."
According to the lawsuit, filed in
U.S. District Court for the Northern district of Florida, graduation
ceremonies during the past five years at Central, Jay, Milton, Navarre
and Pace High Schools have included prayers by students - often members
of groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or the Christian
World Order. The graduation ceremonies at Santa Rosa Adult School and
Santa Rosa Learning Academy also have included prayers.
School administrators and teachers
also mix their responsibilities as public officials with their personal
religious beliefs by planning baccalaureates, helping to decide the
place of worship at which they would be held and leading prayers with
students. Additionally, school officials have interjected their own
religious perspectives at elementary school graduations, a middle
school Christmas concert, and high school football and cheerleading
The lawsuit also documents how
teachers and staff at Pace High School preach about "judgment day with
the Lord" and offer Bible readings and biblical interpretations during
student meetings. While such activities are constitutionally protected
at private schools and in religious communities, the government should
not be involved in making such decisions.
"The government should not be in the
business of deciding which religions to promote," said Daniel Mach,
Director of Litigation for the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion
and Belief. "Individuals, families and religious communities should be
free to make their own decisions about religion."
A copy of the lawsuit can be found online at: www.aclu.org/religion/schools/36566lgl20080827.html
Additional information about the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief can be found online at: www.aclu.org/religion/index.html
The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.(212) 549-2666
"They put a sexual abuse victim in harm's way for views," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "This was a choice to platform lies about the election and Jan. 6th."
Former President Donald Trump predictably used the megaphone CNN handed him Wednesday night to spew falsehoods about the 2020 election, the January 6 attack, abortion, and E. Jean Carroll, turning the hour-long primetime town hall into what one of the corporate media network's own reporters characterized as a "spectacle of lies."
Many others echoed that assessment, faulting CNN and its chosen host—Kaitlan Collins, a former reporter for the right-wing Daily Caller—for giving Trump a platform to let loose a torrent of egregious claims with minimal and ineffective real-time fact-checking.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was one of the most vocal critics of CNN's decision to hold the town hall, which came a day after a jury found the former president liable for sexually abusing and defaming Carroll. Unsurprisingly, Trump took the opportunity he was gifted by CNN to mock Carroll—sparking laughter from the live studio audience packed with Republicans.
"CNN should be ashamed of themselves," Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. "They have lost total control of this 'town hall' to again be manipulated into platforming election disinformation, defenses of Jan. 6th, and a public attack on a sexual abuse victim."
"This falls squarely on CNN. Everyone here saw exactly what was going to happen," the New York Democrat added. "Instead they put a sexual abuse victim in harm's way for views. This was a choice to platform lies about the election and Jan. 6th with no plan but to have their moderator interrupted without consequence."
\u201c"What we saw tonight was a series of extremely irresponsible decisions that put a sexual abuse victim at risk...in front of a national audience, and I could not have disagreed with it more. It was shameful."\u201d— Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) 1683770762
Trump's team and CNN, which is now under the leadership of Chris Licht, reportedly negotiated over the New Hampshire town hall for weeks. According toPolitico, the former president's advisers saw the event "as an opportunity to reach a major national audience" as Trump campaigns for another White House term.
"Sorry, but—as predicted—this was a clear win for Trump," MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan wrote in a column following the nationally televised event. "He felt no pressure and conceded nothing. He was welcomed onto CNN to address an audience of non-Republicans watching at home and an audience of loyal Republicans sitting in that hall in New Hampshire. Win-win."
"When Trump falsely denied he had suggested 'terminating' parts of the Constitution, Collins didn't correct him," Hasan noted. "When Trump falsely claimed Democrats wanted to execute babies, Collins didn't correct him. When Trump falsely claimed he finished building his border wall, Collins tried to correct him—but he just talked over her. And when Trump made a racist remark about Chinatown, Collins said nothing whatsoever. Nor did she defend herself when he called her a 'nasty person.'"
Much of the criticism over the town hall was directed at Licht, CNN's CEO. Last year, shortly after taking the helm, Licht pledged to combat the spread of disinformation on CNN's platforms.
“The analogy I love to use is some people like rain, some people don't like rain. We should give space to that," Licht toldCNBC in October. "But we will not have someone who comes on and says it's not raining."
That promise appears laughable in the wake of Wednesday night's debacle. As CNN's own Oliver Darcy wrote in a recap of the town hall: "Trump lied about the 2020 election. He took no responsibility for the January 6 insurrection that those very lies incited. And he mocked E. Jean Carroll's allegations of sexual assault."
"And CNN aired it all," Darcy continued. "On and on it went. It felt like 2016 all over again. It was Trump's unhinged social media feed brought to life on stage."
One on-air CNN personality, speaking anonymously to The Daily Beast's Justin Baragona, said the town hall devolved into "a Trump infomercial."
"It is so bad," the person added. "We're going to get crushed."
"Brinkmanship and crises aren't random accidents in our democracy—they are inevitable outcomes of an electoral system that incentivizes and rewards them," says a new Fix Our House report.
Amid rising fears that Republican lawmakers could soon force a catastrophic U.S. default, Fix Our House on Wednesday released a report arguing that "Congress lacks the incentive structure necessary to responsibly handle crucial tasks like raising the debt limit."
The release comes between a pair of meetings at the White House. After sitting down with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday, President Joe Biden told reporters they plan to come together again on Friday.
Biden and congressional Democrats are calling for a clean bill and stressing that GOP lawmakers took action on the debt ceiling three times under former President Donald Trump. However, House Republicans continue to hold the global economy hostage, demanding massive spending cuts that would affect working families—as demonstrated by their recent passage of the so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act, which would increase the debt limit by $1.5 trillion or until March 31, 2024, whichever comes first.
Some fearful of a default—or even coming precariously close to one, given warnings that the deadline could be as soon as June 1—have pushed the president to take unilateral action, but Biden on Tuesday downplayed perhaps the most popular option: invoking part of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to keep paying the nation's bills.
"Just like in 2011 and 2013, Washington will hopefully find a way to avoid disaster. Whatever happens, one thing is certain: Brinkmanship and crises aren't random accidents in our democracy—they are inevitable outcomes of an electoral system that incentivizes and rewards them," states the report from Fix Our House, which advocates for proportional representation.
\u201cIn an uncompetitive district, the consequences of compromise can be career-ending, while grandstanding is likely to play better with the crucial ideological base.\n\nThanks to our broken system of single-member districts, 90% of districts are uncompetitive.\u201d— Fix Our House (@Fix Our House) 1683744781
The report—Debt Limit Chicken: Why Washington Plays Games With Disaster—criticizes "the winner-take-all election rules that make performative conflict easy and compromise difficult" along with calling for the creation of "a more functional electoral system that would disincentivize Congress from playing death-defying stunts with the full faith and credit of the U.S."
"The overwhelming majority of congressional districts are not competitive between the two parties," the report explains.
Citing another recently released Fix Our House publication, the document details that "90% of House elections last fall were decided by a margin greater than five percentage points. About 83% had a margin greater than 10 points. Landslides are normal; the average margin of victory in 2022 was 27.7% for Democrats and 30.2% for Republicans."
Although both parties have been accused of gerrymandering, since Republicans won narrow control of the House in the wake of redistricting last November—leading to a 222-213 divide in the lower chamber—experts have highlighted how current political maps served the GOP, and may continue to do so if they are not challenged in court.
The new report includes a section dedicated to the "five families" of the fractured House GOP: the Republican Study Committee, Republican Main Street Caucus, Republican Governance Group, Freedom Caucus, and Problem Solvers Caucus.
"As with the rest of the House, the overwhelming majority of the members of the five families don't face competitive general elections," the publication points out. "The average margin of victory for the members of each major caucus was a blowout election."
\u201cOnly the @ProbSolveCaucus has a substantial percentage of its GOP members come from competitive districts.\n\nThese representatives have an electoral incentivize to build coalitions that include voters beyond their party -- and they're incentivized to act accordingly in Washington.\u201d— Fix Our House (@Fix Our House) 1683744781
"In uncompetitive districts, the potential to be primaried is a much greater concern than a general election challenge," Fix Our House Co-Founder Lee Drutman said in a statement Wednesday. "That motivates representatives to focus on pleasing their voting base and disincentivizes compromise for fear of appearing too weak on 'the enemy."
"This problem is unique to America's outmoded system of single-member districts," Drutman added, "and it's only getting worse as urban-rural polarization makes it even harder to draw competitive districts."
As the report puts it, "gerrymandering is a huge problem," but it is not the only barrier to having 435 competitive districts.
"Rural voters are increasingly trending more to the right, and urban voters more to the left," the document says. "Voters are increasingly moving to places that better reflect their ideology. Red areas are getting redder, and blue areas are getting bluer."
"Even if the most fair-minded saints were drawing our congressional district maps, we would still have mostly uncompetitive districts," the report stresses. "And within the current system that we use to elect Congress, nothing can be done about it."
The report also emphasizes that "winner-take-all single-winner districts are not inevitable, and they are not in the Constitution."
In fact, "the Constitution specifically empowers Congress with the ability to change how its elections work, something Congress has done many times," the publication continues, urging federal lawmakers to pursue proportional representation.
Used by 80% of the world's democracies, proportional representation "disincentivizes binary conflict and showmanship and instead incentivizes coalition-building and compromise," the report states.
As the document explains:
Put simply, proportional representation is a system where a political party's share of votes in an election determines how many seats it holds in the legislature. Instead of each district electing one representative, a state divides into larger regions that each elect several representatives. The size of Congress—435 members—can be increased, or it can remain the same.
In a proportional system, voters can support multiple candidates, and each party wins seats in proportion to its share of the votes cast. For instance, if a region elects three representatives and the vote is 65% for Republicans and 35% for Democrats, it would elect two Republicans and one Democrat.
The existing U.S. system incentivizes "the us-vs-them conflict at the heart of the debt limit issue," the report concludes. "Thanks to the ever-escalating doom loop of polarization and dysfunction, the problem is worse than ever and will only grow more intractable. If we want to address this systemic problem, we need to look at systemic solutions."
The Michigan Democrat joined rights groups in a Senate committee room to mark the ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 Palestinians during the founding of modern Israel.
An event featuring U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib commemorating the Nakba—the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland during Israel's War of Independence 75 years ago—went ahead as scheduled Wednesday evening in Washington, D.C, despite an attempt by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to derail it.
Tlaib (D-Mich.)—the only Palestinian-American in the House of Representatives—spoke after Nakba survivors and activists at the event, "Nakba 75 & the Palestinian People," which took place in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) chairs the HELP panel.
"We have a right to tell our stories of the Nakba of 1948," Tlaib told the packed room, according to the advocacy group Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN), a co-host of the event. "And today, because the Nakba never ended."
\u201cLet the headlines read \u201cMcCarthy tries to erase Palestine but fails.\u201d\u201d— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib) 1683766794
On Tuesday, McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that "the event in the U.S. Capitol has been canceled" and replaced with "a bipartisan discussion to honor the 75th anniversary of the U.S.-Israel relationship."
"It's wrong for members of Congress to traffic in antisemitic tropes about Israel," the congressman toldTheWashingtonFree Beacon. "As long as I'm speaker, we are going to support Israel's right to self-determination and self-defense, unequivocally and in a bipartisan fashion."
\u201cFind me a more perfect example of anti-Palestinian racism. Kevin McCarthy cancels Rashida Tlaib's planned event on the nakba. He says Tlaib traffics in "antisemitic tropes" about Israel. The nakba is not an antisemitic trope, it's a historical fact. https://t.co/9KdwuNsFq9\u201d— Alex Kane (@Alex Kane) 1683729077
However, Tlaib issued a statement Wednesday clarifying that the event was still on.
"We fully plan on moving forward with this event and we will continue to ensure that Palestinian voices are heard," she asserted. "We will not be silenced."
"Our hope is to create opportunities for Palestinians, both here at home and abroad, who continue to experience the impacts of the Nakba, to tell their stories," the congresswoman explained. "The trauma and painful loss of their connections to family, villages they grew up in, and so much more needs to be acknowledged, not only for healing, but also to create an honest pathway for peace."
\u201cAn overflowing room joined @RepRashida in commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Nakba in a historic event on Capitol Hill. #Nakba75\u201d— IMEU (@IMEU) 1683764587
"Speaker McCarthy wants to rewrite history and erase the existence and truth of the Palestinian people, but he has failed to do so," she added. "This event is planned to bring awareness about the Nakba and create space for Palestinian-Americans who experienced the Nakba firsthand to tell their stories of trauma and survival."
Tlaib said that "McCarthy is desperate to distract from the mounting crises happening on his watch: a scandal-plagued member he has defended was just arrested on 13 federal charges, his twice-impeached MAGA leader was just found liable for sexual abuse, and he's hurtling our country towards a disastrous default on our debt in order to cut vital programs like veterans' health care, food assistance, and Medicaid."
"The Nakba is a well-documented historical event that is recognized by the United Nations," she noted. "We cannot allow the same people who want to ban books and erase history simply because they're uncomfortable with the truth to silence Palestinian voices."
More than 750,000 Arabs from hundreds of cities, towns, and villages fled or were expelled from Palestine—sometimes by massacre, "death march," and other violence—during the formation of the modern state of Israel in 1947-49. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed to make way for newcomers whose only prerequisite for Israeli citizenship is being Jewish.
\u201cImportant to remember that the founding of Zionism in the late 19th century is what sparked the Nakba, since the ideology called for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. At the time, Jews only made up around 5% of the Indigenous Palestinian population. 2/\u201d— Ghada Sasa, PhD Candidate \ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf8 (@Ghada Sasa, PhD Candidate \ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf8) 1683665679
The militarized segregation of Israelis and Palestinians in the illegally occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and elsewhere is considered a crime of apartheid by numerous Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights groups, as well as by prominent international figures including United Nations officials, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and other Nobel laureates, and South African leaders who lived under apartheid during the 20th century.
Meanwhile, more than 7 million Palestinian refugees have been denied the right of return guaranteed under United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
\u201cNakba survivors in attendance being recognized by the crowd.\u201d— DAWN MENA (@DAWN MENA) 1683759272
Co-hosts of Wednesday's event include: the Institute for Middle East Understanding, Americans for Justice in Palestine Action, Project48, DAWN, U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, American Friends Service Committee, Virginia Coalition for Human Rights, Emgage Action, and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Action.
"This month, Palestinians will mark 75 years since the Nakba. Understanding the truth of the Nakba is not only about acknowledging historical facts, but also vital to understanding the ongoing violence of Israeli apartheid," JVP Action executive director Stefanie Fox said in a statement Wednesday. "We are proud to be part of the massive and growing number of Jews facing painful truths as part of working toward a shared future of justice, equality, and freedom."
\u201cDespite @SpeakerMcCarthy\u2019s pathetic attempt to stop a #Nakba75 commemoration event with @RepRashida by commandeering the Capitol event space the night before, the event went on. Standing room only. POWERFUL! We will not be erased. Palestine will be free. \u270a\ud83c\udffd\ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf8\u201d— Huwaida Arraf (@Huwaida Arraf) 1683764913
For the second straight year, Tlaib on Wednesday introduced a resolution recognizing the Nakba and calling on Congress to "condemn all manifestations of Israel's ongoing Nakba against the Palestinian people," particularly the "illegal theft of Palestinian land in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; Israel's displacement of Palestinians by destroying their homes and forcing them from their land; and the daily brutality and violence inflicted by the Israeli military and Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians."
"True peace can only be built on truth and justice," Tlaib said in a statement. "As we mark 75 years since the horror of the Nakba, we honor the thousands of lives lost, and the nearly 800,000 Palestinians who were forced from their homes and violently displaced from their communities during this period of intense ethnic cleansing."
Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), and Cori Bush (D-Mo.)—all of whom endorsed Tlaib's 2022 resolution—co-sponsored this year's version.
Tlaib's resolution was published as Israeli military forces continued to bombard Gaza in retaliation for earlier rocket fire by Palestinian resistance fighters responding to the death of Khader Adnan, a Palestinian activist imprisoned in Israel without charge or trial, during an 87-day hunger strike.
\u201cAn Israeli missile strike around 3:45 p.m. today in Gaza City killed 10-year-old Layan Bilal Mohammad Abdullah Mdoukh and 16-year-old Yazan Jawdat Fathi Elayyan. \n\nIsraeli forces have killed 6 Palestinian children during Operation Shield and Arrow. #GazaUnderAttack\u201d— Defense for Children (@Defense for Children) 1683746880
At least 21 Palestinians, no less than a dozen of whom were civilians—including at least six women and six children—have been killed in the latest Israeli airstrikes.
On Wednesday, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor urged the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for the "leaders of apartheid Israel" who are "supporting the massacre of the people of Palestine."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8BREAKING: South Africa's Minister of International Relations & Cooperation, @DIRCO_ZA, Naledi Pandor calls on the @IntlCrimCourt to issue arrest warrants for the "leaders of apartheid Israel" who are responsible for "the massacre of the people of Palestine."\n\n#ICC4Israel\u201d— BDS movement (@BDS movement) 1683742371
"South Africa is a longstanding partner in solidarity with the people of Palestine given that they supported our own struggle for freedom," Pandor said. "We call on the world to be as concerned about the deaths of Palestinians as they are concerned about deaths of [people in] any other nation of the world."