Roundup: ACLU files suit to gain information on R.I. police surveillance

Tuesday, August 8, 2000

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Providence Police
Department for information on the city’s use of surveillance cameras. The
ACLU’s state chapter said yesterday it filed the open-records lawsuit because
police refused to release policies governing the cameras’ use in police cars
and public locations. The civil liberties group wants to know who has access to
videotapes, how long tapes are retained and what restrictions exist on the
cameras’ use. The group does not oppose use of the cameras in police cars but
says using them in public places infringes on people’s privacy and would likely
divert, rather than deter, crime. Police Capt. John Ryan said the department
refused the ACLU’s request for information because it believed the information
was exempt from disclosure under state law. The ACLU is seeking a Superior
Court order requiring release of the surveillance information and wants a civil
fine against the police department. Associated Press

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the
Internal Revenue Service to investigate a pastor who allegedly endorsed a
presidential candidate from the pulpit, the religious liberty watchdog group
announced last week in a press release. The Rev. Herbert Lusk addressed the
Republican National Convention via satellite July 31 and allegedly endorsed GOP
candidate George W. Bush from his church, the Greater Exodus Baptist Church in
Philadelphia. According to the group’s press release, Lusk said: “We are
supporting Gov. Bush, and we are supporting him because we know that he
understands that we must give faith a chance. … Mr. Bush, we are praying
for you. Keep the faith. We love you. And we love you because we know that you
have a testimony.” In a letter to Charles O. Rossotti, commissioner of the
Internal Revenue Service, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn
requested an investigation into the matter. Federal tax law states that
churches and other non-profit groups holding a 501(c)(3) status may not endorse
or oppose candidates for public office. Groups that violate the standard could
lose their tax-exempt status. Lusk refused to comment when contacted by The
Freedom Forum Online, but did say, “There’s no validity to [Americans United's]
claims.” Freedom Forum Online staff

Texas: Judge drops second Santa Fe prayer case

A federal judge in Texas dismissed on Aug. 4 a second case involving
school prayer at the Santa Fe Independent School District, ruling that a
landmark June U.S. Supreme Court
decision and other factors made the later lawsuit moot. U.S. District Judge
Sim Lake dismissed Marian Ward’s suit, which argued the school district had no
right to prevent her from leading a prayer before Santa Fe High School football
games. Last year, Lake granted Ward an injunction preventing the school from
punishing her. Ward, then a high school senior, contended that a public school
like hers could not discriminate against a religious message when other
students are free to give secular messages in the same forum. But since Ward
has graduated and the school district in July dropped its disputed prayer
policy, the lawsuit was unnecessary to garner any further relief, Lake ruled.
Associated Press

Pennsylvania: Protest leader’s bail reduced

A judge yesterday reduced bail for a protest organizer to $100,000
from $1 million, a figure many attorneys had called “ridiculous.” John Sellers,
director of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Ruckus Society, is charged with
misdemeanors for allegedly
orchestrating property damage during protests at the recent Republican
National Convention. Co-defendant Terrence McGuckin’s bail hearing was
postponed until today. McGuckin, being held on $450,000 bail, is a leader of
Philadelphia ACT UP, the largest chapter of the national AIDS advocacy group.
Associated Press

Alabama: City votes against settling open-meetings

The Tuscaloosa City Council voted Aug. 3 against settling a lawsuit
filed by The Tuscaloosa News
alleging violations of the state’s open-meetings law. Both sides
suggested changes to a judge’s order to halt secret meetings about potential
school board members. But the council said the proposed settlement didn’t go
far enough to protect some closed-door discussions on appointments to other
city boards. In the lawsuit filed last year, the paper alleged the mayor and
City Council were violating state open-meetings and public-records laws by
discussing potential school board members in private. Circuit
Judge Bernard Harwood agreed,
saying the mayor and council members violated the law when they kept the names
of potential board members from the public. Harwood had said he was willing to
amend the order if both sides could agree. But council members said the
newspaper’s proposed language did not adequately address the issue of other
city boards. Associated Press

Pennsylvania: Town can demand reason for public-records

Officials in Milford Township can demand that a person requesting
public records state in writing what records he or she is requesting and the
reason for the request, under a resolution recently passed by town supervisors.
The resolution also establishes a fee of 25 cents per page for copying
documents and requires a township employee to be present during the inspection
of records. Corinna Vecsey Wilson, general counsel for the Pennsylvania
Newspaper Association, says the new regulations go beyond the spirit of the
state’s open-records law. “A citizen seeking a public record is not required to
give a reason for his request,” Vecsey Wilson said. Associated Press

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