It has been yet another challenging year for civil liberties. As we approach our 60th Anniversary at the ACLU of RI in 2019, we've been reflecting on how we got to this strange place in history. Fortunately, steadfast enforcement of the Bill of Rights is one of the most effective antidotes we have against the country's current, hostile political climate.
As you will see, our work in Rhode Island mirrors some of the struggles taking place at the federal level -- for example, we have been fighting for immigrants' rights in various contexts and locally addressing some of the Trump Administration's damaging work against transgender rights, among other things. But much of our activity is "only in Rhode Island" material: fighting for the due process rights of our poorest residents as the result of the UHIP debacle, ensuring that students with disabilities received the compensatory education they were entitled to as a result of a city-wide bus strike in Providence, and fighting recalcitrant agencies for access to public records.
Our work here remains firmly rooted in defending and upholding founding civil liberties principles, and as a result -- thanks to our volunteers and supporters -- we have made a real difference in the everyday lives of Rhode Islanders. Here are just a few examples from our work this year:
In defense of the First Amendment:
- We pressured the North Smithfield Town Council to rescind a resolution opposing Town contracts with Nike because of the company’s controversial ad campaign.
- A threatened ACLU lawsuit prompted the R.I. Department of Transportation to unblock critics that the agency had blocked from its Twitter account.
- We aided the Waterfire Arts Center when it was threatened with litigation over trademark infringement (!) for bringing to Providence the display of a reconstructed family house that Rosa Parks spent time in.
In support of equal protection for all:
- As a direct result of our advocacy, the Department of Education adopted strong regulations to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
- We mounted a successful legal campaign for compensatory services for students with disabilities who were unable to get to school due to the Providence school bus strike.
- We filed a second lawsuit over the state’s mismanaged UHIP system, and our initial suit has led to significant improvements in the provision of SNAP benefits.
- We filed a suit on behalf of Sojourner House after city officials in Woonsocket barred the agency from applying for various grants for arbitrary and retaliatory reasons.
In defense of voting rights, gender equality and immigrants’ rights:
- Because of our intervention, the Department of Corrections reversed a policy that had unlawfully barred persons serving home confinement from voting.
- We filed suit on behalf of a Newport Grand employee after she learned she was being paid $4,000 less than a male colleague with the same job responsibilities.
- We are assisting the ACLU of Massachusetts in its representation of an undocumented Providence mother of two who was hauled away and jailed by ICE agents at an interview she was attending to revise her immigration status.
- The General Assembly passed an ACLU bill barring the shackling of pregnant inmates going to and from court proceedings.
To promote both the right to privacy and the public’s right to know:
- We successfully defeated an Attorney General bill that would have expanded police authority to track cell phone users’ locations without a warrant.
- At the ACLU’s urging, the Department of Transportation adopted rules strictly protecting the privacy of data gathered from the state’s new truck toll gantries.
- We filed a brief in a successful challenge to the Attorney General’s charge of exorbitant fees for access to records of his agency’s expenditure of $50M in funds from the settlement of a major class-action suit.
This is just a small sample of how we help Rhode Islanders every day. As we approach the end of the year and plan for our organization’s 60th anniversary, please support our work with a year-end gift. Your donation helps us fight for the rights of all Rhode Islanders and for a more just and united future.