ACLU of Oregon Blog

The Constitution Doesn't Allow Businesses to Discriminate

by Mat dos Santos, Legal Director

No one should be turned away from a business just because of who they are. When Sweet Cakes co-owner Aaron Klein refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, he broke Oregon anti-discrimination laws. Discrimination is degrading, and harms not only the individual or targeted group, but society as a whole. Our state has a long-standing tradition of protecting people from businesses that discriminate because Oregonians value fairness and equality.

sign that reads open for business open for all;

And let’s be real, selling a wedding cake doesn’t mean a business owner is endorsing a marriage, or agreeing with everything the customer believes. It simply means they are providing services to the public, and that their business is open to everyone on the same terms. For many of us, this is just the Golden Rule — treating others as we would like to be treated — but, it is also required by law in Oregon and elsewhere.

The Kleins have argued that they should be able to discriminate against same-sex couples and, presumably, anyone else their personal religion disfavors. They say that some of our most fundamental freedoms, the freedoms of speech and religion, give them a license to discriminate.

Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are fundamental rights protected by the Oregon and federal constitutions. But those freedoms don’t allow any of us to harm others.


New Laws Target and Punish the Poor in Oregon

By Heather Marek, Legal Intern

person with signIn recent years, poverty and homelessness have deepened throughout the country, and Oregon has not been immune. According to HUD, between 2014 and 2015, the number of homeless Oregonians increased nine percent, the third highest increase nationwide. In that same time, Oregon experienced the largest growth of any state in its chronically homeless population: sixty percent. Due to a severe shortage of affordable housing and the high number of residents with no place to call home, Oregon cities including Eugene and Portland have declared a housing and homelessness “state of emergency”.

In Oregon and elsewhere, the response to this crisis has been to further criminalize homelessness, making it against the law to engage in basic life-sustaining activities. Between 2011 and 2014, there was a spike in the number of cities nationwide that outlawed camping (60 percent), sleeping in vehicles (119 percent), sitting or lying down in particular places (43 percent), begging (25 percent), and loitering and vagrancy (35 percent). These laws have been the focus of national and international scrutiny, receiving condemnation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the UN Human Rights Committee.


Anti-Immigrant Ballot Measures Fail to Qualify in Oregon

By David Rogers, Executive Director

'immigrant rights are civil rights' signEarlier this year, I told you that we were fighting three anti-immigrant ballot initiatives that were the work of the extremist group, Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR,) and their allies. Today, I am happy to tell you that all three measures failed to qualify for the 2016 ballot. 

However, our work is not over. OFIR has vowed to return next election cycle with their anti-immigrant agenda. Through their deep ties to white nationalist groups and funders, OFIR will continue to target immigrant families in Oregon.


#BlackLivesMatter Tracked by Oregon DOJ with Social Media Monitoring Software

by Kimberly McCullough, Legislative Director

privacy and tech imageAs we’ve previously written about, analysts at the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) used a tool called Digital Stakeout to surveil people who used over 30 hashtags on social media, including #BlackLivesMatter and #fuckthepolice. Erious Johnson, director of the Oregon DOJ’s own Department of Civil Rights, was scooped up in this illegal dragnet and targeted for a threat assessment which included a review of hundreds of his personal tweets; a memo to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum flagging him as a potential threat to law enforcement; and an internal investigation into the matter which found that the search was “not in compliance” with state law and revealed a culture of self-reinforcing bias in the Criminal Justice Division of the Oregon DOJ. 

Today, I want to take a closer look at Digital Stakeout, the tool the DOJ used to conduct these searches. Digital Stakeout is social media monitoring software (SMMS) that can be used to covertly monitor, collect, and analyze our social media data from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. It is part of a rapidly expanding industry that the public knows little about. The goal here is to answer a few basic questions about SMMS: What can the technology do? How widespread is the use of SMMS by law enforcement in Oregon? What privacy concerns does it raise? And how we can protect free speech and privacy moving forward?


The Oregon DOJ Trains Agents on How to Break the Law

by Mat dos Santos, Legal Director

Mat dos Santos photoAfter about five months of waiting, the Oregon Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released its internal human resources investigation conducted by the special assistant attorney general looking into the surveillance of people on Twitter using #BlackLivesMatter. The report is damning. It paints an abysmal picture of rampant misinformation beginning with agents and analysists and running all the way up to the deputy attorney general, and shows how one mistake in judgment can lead to dangerous consequences for the public. 

If you’ve already read the report and exhibits, you know that the special assistant attorney general calls for changes in the DOJ's hiring to reflect a more diverse work force, as well as additional training on the laws DOJ agents broke when they collected information about the public’s political views. But you may have missed a critical piece of information that is buried near the very end of the over 150 pages of exhibits. DOJ’s very own training on this issue is fundamentally flawed. DOJ is teaching its agents how to break the law. 


DOJ's Bubble of Bias

by David Rogers, Executive Director

public enemy logoThe special assistant attorney general finally released the long awaited report on Oregon Department of Justice’s surveillance of people using the Black Lives Matter hashtag among others. The report and the 162 page appendix is disturbing and reveals a range of deeply troubling issues about the Criminal Justice Division of DOJ, so much so, that we decided we needed to tackle it in separate posts.

I want to take a moment to explore what we learned about the implications of law enforcement’s echo chamber of prejudice and shallow cultural knowledge.

You may have already seen the media delight in the fact that DOJ analysts mistook Public Enemy’s logo as a sign of an imminent threat to law enforcement. (Public Enemy was a hip hop group popular in the late 80s and 90s whose music infused commentary about the political and social experience of Black Americans. “Fear of a Black Planet” still stands as one of my top ten hip hop albums of all time.)

As the DOJ was illegally examining the Twitter feed of one their own employees snared in the DOJ’s electronic surveillance of people who used the Black Lives Matter hashtag in Salem, the agent saw the Public Enemy logo with words from one of their live albums: “Consider Yourselves Warned!!!” Apparently, this image stood out along with a range of other satirical, political cartoons, and images even though these images are easily found on social media sites belonging to hundreds of thousands of reasonably politicized People of Color. The next thing that happened was a threat assessment report was written and went all the way to the desk of Oregon’s attorney general. Wait! What?


Internal DOJ Report Leaves Us with More Questions than Answers on the Surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon

by David Rogers

David Rogers photoYesterday a report on the surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon was released by the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ). The report confirmed what we learned back in November: that an agent who works for the Criminal Division of DOJ was testing a surveillance program, called Digital Stakeout, by searching various key words, including #BlackLivesMatter. The agent then mistook posts from DOJ’s own director of civil rights, including a post of a Public Enemy logo and political cartoons, as a threat to law enforcement and wrote a memo that was passed all the way up the chain of command to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum before it was, finally, rejected as dangerous, racial profiling. The attorney general hired an outside attorney to conduct an independent investigation of the matter to determine if policies or laws were violated.

After reading through the report and looking through the exhibits, we are left with more questions than answers. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at the lack of awareness that was revealed of both the law and of what might constitute a threat. This is not only shameful, but also dangerous. Given the power that they wield, I am dismayed at the state of the Criminal Justice Division and afraid for the Oregonians that are supposed to be protected by them. Self-reinforced bias, against protesters, black people, and who knows who else, has left the agency ill-equipped to do their job.


On Marijuana, the Work Continues

By Ethan Nadelmann and David Rogers
This article originally appeared in the Portland Tribune

Marijuana foilage

It’s been a busy two years for marijuana policy in Oregon. Not so long ago Oregon was arresting or citing 14,000 people per year for marijuana crimes; now the state is on the cusp of a safe, well-regulated market for adult-use marijuana. The evolution of the cannabis industry and its growing diversity of products is fascinating, and important to regulate as responsibly as possible, but Oregonians need to stay focused on reforming the costly and broken criminal justice system.

Oregon’s Measure 91 was rightly called “the new Gold Standard” of marijuana law reform bills even before voters approved it, with 56% of the vote, on Election Day 2014. What most appealed to voters, according to polling, were the criminal justice reform aspects of the initiative. Even though Oregon had led the nation in 1973 by decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, thousands of people were still being arrested each year for marijuana infractions. Oregonians clearly wanted to put a stop to that.


ACLU Continues to Seek Clarity on Walgreens-Providence Collaboration

By Leah Rutman, ACLU-WA Policy Counsel

There continues to be a lack of clarity as to whether the health clinics to be opened in Washington and Oregon through a collaboration of Walgreens and Providence Health & Services will be bound by religious doctrine. The ACLU is pleased to have received assurances from Walgreens that its pharmacies will continue to provide services free of religious restrictions. But we are disappointed that we have not received similar assurances regarding the soon-to-open clinics.

On December 14, the ACLU of Washington, the ACLU of Oregon and 17 other public interest organizations that advocate for patients’ rights and comprehensive health care access sent a letter to Walgreens requesting information about its strategic collaboration for the opening of up to 25 clinics in Washington and Oregon with Providence Health & Services, a Catholic health care provider. Walgreens is the nation’s largest drug store chain.

The organizations sought to learn whether religious doctrine will limit access to important medical services, information, and referrals at the clinics, and will limit Walgreens pharmacies’ ability to fill prescriptions.


Standing Up for Someone We Disagree With

by David Rogers, Executive Director

Making sense of the recent events at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is no easy task. Like much of the country and all of Oregon we have been watching closely. In the face of misinformation and misinterpretation of our position, let me be clear. We believe the militia occupiers should be held accountable for their actions. We have questions about the government’s approach to accountability in the specific case on Pete Santilli, one of those arrested. 

We are not representing Santilli or any of the occupiers. We are not defending what he has to say, only his right to say it.

Many find Pete Santilli’s videos and radio show to be offensive and repugnant. In America we are allowed to express our views, including antigovernment or sophomoric views, without fear of government reprisal. In the court of public opinion, we can reject this type of speech as hateful rhetoric, but we cannot be thrown in jail solely for our speech. Is that what happened here? That’s the question we are posing.

The ACLU has a long history of standing up for free expression and it often finds us strange bedfellows with groups we fundamentally disagree with. What it comes down to is the First Amendment applies to all people – no matter who they are or what they believe.