Supreme Court Upholds Town Government Prayers

May 5, 2014 — The Supreme Court today upheld a New York town’s practice of starting town meetings with official sectarian prayer. The practice was challenged by residents of Greece, who objected to hearing government prayers, the vast majority of which were expressly Christian invocations, as a condition of attending public meetings.

“We are disappointed by today’s decision. Official religious favoritism should be off-limits under the Constitution,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Town-sponsored sectarian prayer violates the basic rule requiring the government to stay neutral on matters of faith.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and New York Civil Liberties Union filed a friend of the court brief supporting the residents of Greece.

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New York to Weigh Constitutional Obligations to Indigent Defendants: Class-Action Lawsuit to Proceed to Trial

December 17, 2013 — A State Supreme Court in Albany has ruled that a class-action lawsuit challenging New York State’s failure to provide effective counsel to poor New Yorkers accused of crimes will proceed to trial. The trial, expected to start this spring, will be the first of its kind in the nation. The lawsuit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP.

Testimony so far presented in the case shows that “on a consistent basis, indigent criminal defendants are being arraigned without being afforded their right to counsel," wrote Justice Eugene Devine.

The decision came late Monday and was in response to requests both by the NYCLU and New York State to resolve some or all of the case without trial.

The lawsuit, Hurrell-Harring, et al., v. State of New York, was filed in 2007 on behalf of 20 defendants in Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler and Washington counties. It charges New York with persistently failing its constitutional obligations to provide effective counsel to indigent New Yorkers charged in criminal court. The upcoming trial will be the first to take on an entire state’s system of indigent defense.

“There are substantial issues of fact to be resolved at trial," Devine wrote in his decision. "The Court has observed that the reputation of the public defense system in this State has deteriorated. This case shall determine whether there are systemic deficiencies in the existing public defense system or not.”

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman called the decision "a tentative step toward justice."

“We are confident that the constitutional rights of New Yorkers will prevail at trial,” Lieberman said.

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Rochester Police Must Build Trust, not Crack Down on Minor Offenses

July 3, 2012 — In response to Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard’s announcement today of the “Cool Down” plan to increase police patrols in certain neighborhoods, the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Genesee Valley Chapter released the following statement, attributable to Chapter Director KaeLyn Rich:

“The spike in gun violence is a serious concern that the Police Department should be taking steps to address. However, cracking down on loitering and broken taillights is not an effective means for getting illegal guns off the streets. Rather, it is a recipe for racial profiling and civil rights abuses that will create distrust between police and residents.

“Police should focus on building trusting relationships, not writing tickets or using minor offenses as a pretext to stop and search people.”

NYCLU Urges Monroe County DA to Drop Charges Against Occupy Rochester Demonstrators

December 14, 2011 -- The New York Civil Liberties Union today urged Monroe County prosecutors to dismiss charges against Occupy Rochester protesters who were arrested while demonstrating in Washington Square Park.

Since October, Rochester police have arrested 48 people who were peacefully protesting in the park on charges of trespassing and violating a city ordinance setting park hours. Following the mass arrests, the NYCLU brokered an agreement between the city and Occupy Rochester allowing the demonstrators to camp in the park at all hours subject to a set of rules. Despite the agreement, Monroe County District Attorney Michael Green has refused to dismiss charges against people who were arrested at the park.

“We’re disappointed that the district attorney has decided to prosecute peaceful protesters,” said KaeLyn Rich, director of the NYCLU’s Genesee Valley Chapter. “This unfortunate decision violates the spirit of the agreement that the city reached with demonstrators to accommodate free speech and allow everyone to enjoy the park. It tarnishes what has been a heartening effort by the city to respect the First Amendment right to protest.”

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Drawing the Lines: Forum on Redistricting a Success

The implications of legislative redistricting both locally and statewide was the hot topic of discussion on Monday, March 28 at Drawing the Lines: A Public Forum on Redistricting in Monroe County and Beyond, co-sponsored by the Western New York Chapter of the American Constitution Society and the Genesee Valley Chapter of the NYCLU.

For decades, drawing electoral districts has been a political parlor game, as incumbent lawmakers carved up turf to suit their interests (and their reelection prospects). Governor Cuomo has introduced legislation to create an independent commission to redraw the legislative boundaries, but some key players in Albany are pushing back.

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Genesee Valley Chapter Welcomes New Director

New Genesee Valley Chapter Director KaeLyn Rich
New Chapter Director KaeLyn Rich

We are proud to announce the new director of the Genesee Valley Chapter, KaeLyn Rich.

"When I joined the board of the NYCLU's Genesee Valley Chapter in 2008, I did not know I would cap off my first term by becoming NYCLU staff!" she said.

"I am bursting with pride in our chapter's impressive history of defending and promoting civil liberties. I am thrilled and honored to continue our legacy throughout our nine-county region."

A long-time civil liberties advocate with community organizing experience that dates back to stuffing folders for her parents' union meetings, KaeLyn specializes in direct action organizing, nonprofit administration and young adult engagement.

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Hundreds of Students Study their Rights at Youth Liberty Conference

Keynote speaker Jamia Wilson
Keynote speaker Jamia Wilson

The Genesee Valley Chapter held the third biennial Youth Liberty Conference on Friday, Oct. 15 at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford. The theme for this conference was "We the Students," which emphasized students' First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Keynote speaker Ms. Jamia Wilson, vice president of Programs at the Women's Media Center based in New York City, kicked off the day by engaging the high school students with stories of how the First Amendment gave her the ability to pursue her advocacy work on behalf of women in the media.

After Jamia's talk, the students broke into small discussion groups facilitated by more than 20 volunteers. Their discussions were open to all aspects of the First Amendment and to their rights under the Fourth Amendment.

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Winners at Genesee Valley Chapter's Fifth Annual First Amendment Film Fest

Youth Shine at Fifth Annual First Amendment Film Fest

The Genesee Valley Chapter of the NYCLU screened 48 student film projects at its Fifth Annual First Amendment Film Festival held at the Little Theater in Rochester on Sunday, June 13.

Many of the participants and their families joined local members for a celebration of free speech, free assembly, free religion, free press and free petitioning with free popcorn and free soda. Awards in four categories and three honorable mentions were presented.

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