ACLU of Oregon Blog

Portland Public Schools Made the Right Decision When It Withdrew From Christmas Festival

The Grotto’s “Christmas Festival of Lights” was an inappropriate event for public school choirs

We commend the Portland Public Schools (PPS) decision to withdraw students from the “Christmas Festival of Lights.” It is a decision consistent with the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which mandates that the government neither promote nor inhibit a particular religion.

In the United States, we enjoy the freedom to practice any religion – or no religion at all. Our country's founders, who were of different religious backgrounds themselves, knew the best way to protect religious liberty was to keep the government out of religion. So they created the First Amendment - to guarantee the separation of church and state. Oregon’s state constitution requires this separation, as well.

A strong commitment to the separation of church and state is not anti-religion. In fact, it may be the best guarantee that each individual has the right to practice their own religion, without coercion, hostility or violence. In other words, keeping religion out of the hands of the government is the best way to ensure continued religious freedom and religious harmony.

The “Christmas Festival of Lights” is a celebration of Christianity in a Catholic shrine. It features religious music and imagery that is explicitly Christian, including a collection of nativity scenes and extensive fiber-optic displays focusing on the story of the birth of Christ. In addition, through a ten-dollar admission price, the event generates revenue for the Grotto, which is a religious institution.

Portland Public Schools, as a branch of Oregon’s government, must maintain a neutral position toward religion. When public school choir classes participate in events which endorse a particular religion, neutrality is lost. Because participation in the Christmas Festival of Lights would endorse Catholicism and Christianity, PPS properly decided to end its participation in the event.


Indigenous Peoples’ Day Must Be More Than Symbolic

By Legal Director Mat dos Santos

Today I’m especially proud to live in Portland, which is celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time. On Wednesday, October 8, 2015, through a unanimous vote by the city council, Portland abandoned Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Portland joins a handful of U.S. cities to make this change. While symbolic, this is an important shift in policy away from erasing Native tradition to celebrating it.

Native Americans throughout the U.S. routinely find themselves faced with an impossible choice: celebrate Native traditions in Native spaces or let Native traditions die while participating in majority culture. This forced choice is a legacy of genocide and ongoing social depredation perpetuated against indigenous people.

Today, this cultural annihilation is continued through innocuous institutional rules and regulations that may seem harmless, but which have a disparate impact on Native people and traditions. These rules and regulations discriminate against Native people because the needs of Natives were not considered in the policy making process. An example of such a rule can be found in Oregon’s institutions of higher education; not a single one allows Native students to practice traditional smudging rituals in their living spaces.


Why I Signed the Letter

Opposing Discrimination and Xenophobia

By Executive Director David Rogers

As presidential candidates spread fear-mongering rhetoric about immigrant communities, a local city councilor in Springfield, Oregon, recently opposed the appointment of a minister to a police advisory committee stating that the committee didn’t need “another minority element.” The minister is Pacific Islander.

We need a very different climate and discourse for addressing issues of race and cultural differences in our country and state. Oregon could be facing several ballot measures in 2016 steeped in anti-immigrant sentiment while offering policies that would harm all Oregonians.

The Asian and Pacific American Association of Oregon (APANO) just published an open letter to Oregonians to address recent hateful and discriminatory comments from political leaders nationally and here at home. It made perfect sense to have the ACLU of Oregon be among the original signers of this letter.


Clatskanie Police Chief Engaged in Racist Mockery

With encouragement from the ACLU of Oregon, two Clatskanie police officers filed a formal complaint against their chief of police Marvin Hoover.

The complaint described a routine debriefing in June 2015, in which the Hoover referred to African Americans as animals and began acting like a monkey. Later, in the same conversation, Hoover again interrupted the debriefing by singing “Dixie” while acting as if he were punching an imaginary person. In August, with an investigation underway as a result of the officers’ complaint, the Clatskanie city council agreed to allow the chief to retire immediately and to pay him the equivalent of four months salary. Read the original news article.

By Executive Director David Rogers

The racist comments and actions attributed to Clatskanie Police Chief Marvin Hoover are appalling in their mockery and display of intolerance for black people. It is shocking that a chief of police would show such contempt and disrespect for people the police are supposed to protect and serve.

Chief Hoover’s actions erode the public’s trust that police will treat all individuals fairly and respectfully. Trust in police around the country has already been badly damaged by highly visible acts of targeted violence toward people of color and Chief Hoover’s actions add to the widening chasm between the police and the communities they serve.

We commend Clatskanie Police officer Alex Stone and K-9 Officer Zack Gibson for stepping forward with their complaints of the chief’s actions. Their actions took courage and are exactly what we need from police who witness hateful behavior from colleagues.

As tensions between police and communities intensify, members of the public desperately want to believe that there are good cops who can be trusted. Too often we are left to wonder how bad cops can operate unnoticed. Surely, fellow officers see indications of problem behaviors but too often turn a blind eye so as to not break the “blue wall of silence.”


Democracy, Prosecutors and Criminal Justice Reform

By Executive Director David Rogers

There are some serious problems we need to tackle in our criminal justice system, like dramatic prison growth and spending in the U.S. We are dumping billions of dollars into locking people up while ignoring the strategies best designed to create safe and healthy communities. Meanwhile, the racial disparity in sentencing and incarceration rates is one of the biggest drivers of inequality for communities of color in the country.

As Oregon’s legislative session just ended, I am pleased to see meaningful progress being made on criminal justice reform. The ACLU of Oregon was active in passing legislation to tackle racial profiling, reducing employment barriers for people with conviction histories, and helping to increase police accountability. This progress was the result of democracy in action: thousands of our members and allies reaching out to their legislators to advocate for smarter justice.

But there is an element of our democratic process that is seriously malnourished and it has a direct relationship to our ability shift criminal justice policies in the right direction. I’m talking about the election of District Attorneys.

Here in Oregon, our chief prosecutors in each county are elected by a vote of the people. Yet the public doesn’t normally engage District Attorneys as elected leaders who need to be held accountable to the values we hold about what a fair, unbiased, and smart criminal justice system looks like. This dynamic needs to change.


Criminalization of Marijuana Comes to an End in Oregon

By Executive Director David Rogers

On July 1, 2015, the possession and use of marijuana by adults over 21 years of age becomes legal in Oregon. With the passage of Measure 91 last November, the voters of Oregon sent a clear message that it is time to end the criminalization of marijuana.

Oregon has been at the forefront of marijuana reform in America. In 1973, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana; was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 and will now become one of the first states to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adult use. And the ACLU of Oregon was influential in bringing about each of these reforms because the War on Marijuana has been a dismal and costly failure.

The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars nationwide. We are at a tipping point in regard to public recognition that the war on drugs is a failed strategy.

Today, we were pleased to join with Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, New Approach Oregon executive director Anthony Johnson, and parent advocate Leah Maurer, to discuss how Oregon is helping to lead the country in developing smarter and more just drug policies. And, legalization of marijuana in Oregon is, in fact, about justice.


What's Ahead for Legalized Marijuana?

By Andrew Thomson, Lane County Chapter board member

On Tuesday, November 4, 2014, Oregon voters approved Measure 91, ending decades of marijuana prohibition in Oregon and legalizing the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for adults 21 and over. This is a significant and important step on the road to repairing the damage done by the failed war on marijuana.

Beginning January 4, 2016, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will begin reviewing applications for licensed retail outlets. Taxes from the sales of marijuana will fund the schools, public health, and law enforcement. Marijuana sales will contribute funds to these important services rather than the diversion of funds caused by enforcing prohibition.


Oregon's Privacy Laws Need an Update

by Sarah Armstrong, Outreach Director

Privacy Equals FreedomWe are asking lawmakers to update Oregon's privacy laws and we need your help! Join us for ACLU’s Privacy Day in Salem on Monday, March 16 to help strengthen Oregon's privacy protections and limit the use of dragnet surveillance. 

We have worked with bipartisan support on package of bills to curb mass surveillance. Help to ensure that these important bills have a voice in the legislature by joining us in Salem for ACLU's Privacy Day. 


Face to face meetings with legislators are incredibly powerful – and incredibly effective. We need your help to advocate for:

•    SB 639 - Strict guidelines for the use of automatic license plate readers (ALPR) 

•    SB 640 - A warrant requirement to access email, phone, and location records 

•    SB 641 - A warrant requirement to search cell phones


Top 8 Civil Liberties Moments of 2014

By Sarah Armstrong, Outreach Coordinator

Check out our top eight civil liberties moments in Oregon in 2014. Free speech, protection from unwarranted government snooping, ending the failed war on marijuana, marriage, and more. Wow, what a year! 

We are so thankful for your support. Here's to more great victories in 2015. Happy New Year, Oregon.

#8 - High School Student Stands Up for Free Speech in Scappoose

Long-time Scappoose High Dance Team member Marissa Harper and her mother were shocked to see a new policy that prohibited students and parents from any communication regarding any aspect of the dance team made “verbally or written via social media” or face punishment. As Oregonian reporter Helen Jung put it, "The first rule of Dance Team is you do not talk about Dance Team."

Marissa’s mother asked school officials to intervene, but when no changes were made she contacted us. Marissa made the tough choice to give up the dance team in order to stand up for free speech rights.


Strong Mandate for Marijuana Reform Means Decriminalization Should Start Now

By Legislative Director Becky Straus

An edited version of this piece appeared in the Eugene Register Guard

Oregonians spoke loud and clear this election when they approved with over 55% of the vote Measure 91 to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over. Higher tallies posted in Lane County and up and down the coast, and reached up to 71% support for the measure in Multnomah County.

We should interpret these numbers as a strong mandate: the War on Marijuana has failed and Oregonians reject prohibition. It is time for a new approach that focuses on eliminating the black market and the racial disparity in marijuana enforcement, on regulating the industry and on raising revenue for priorities like education, drug treatment and public safety.