By Daniela Rincon, communications intern at ACLU of Nebraska 
 
Ideas are powerful. That’s why intellectual freedom is protected by the First Amendment—and it's also why sometimes government tries to suppress provocative ideas.
 
For nearly 100 years on the national level, and over 50 years in Nebraska, the ACLU has fought to make sure Americans have full access to ideas and the right to read what they want. Despite our many victories, there are still to this day misguided attempts to ban books. This fight came close to home when a book by beloved Nebraska author Rainbow Rowell was the recent subject of censorship attempts for her award-winning young adult novel Eleanor & Park.
 
The book is a love story set in Omaha that deals frankly with poverty, bullying, domestic abuse and racism. Eleanora redhead struggling with body-image issues and an abusive stepfathermeets Park, a biracial boy who feels like a misfit and has a passion for comic books. The two high school students unexpectedly fall in love while riding the school bus.  
 
Despite its portrayal of real problems that today’s teenagers face, the young-adult novel has been challenged by schools, mostly under the guise of “offensive language.” 
 
“There is a lot of it,” author Rainbow Rowell said in an interview with The Toast, “but it’s so bizarre to me that they’re objecting to the cursing because Eleanor and Park themselves almost never swear. I’m not anti-profanity, personally, but I use profanity in the book to show how vulgar and sometimes violent the characters’ worlds are.” 
 
Rowell’s honest and captivating portrayals have also sparkled parental complaints regarding sexual language. After a group of librarians included Eleanor & Park in their high school summer reading program, two parents partnering with the Parents Action League convinced the library board to remove the book due to its “dangerously obscene” content. Several anti-censorship advocates got involved in the fight. 
 
The issue was hotly debated and the board eventually concluded that the book was “powerful, realistic and honest, but not profane,” and kept it on library shelves. The ordeal was quite a surprise to the author, who based the story on her personal experiences. 
 
"When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible. That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears. That ugly thing cancels out everything beautiful," Rowell had said.   
 
Last year, Rowell went on to write Kindred Spirits, an ebook from which she donated all proceeds to the ACLU of Nebraska to support our work to defend rights guaranteed by our Constitutionincluding free expression and academic freedom under the First Amendment.
 
In recognition of her contribution of more than $10,000 donated from this project and for her body of work as a journalist and activist, the ACLU of Nebraska awarded our annual Defender of the Bill of Rights Award to Rainbow Rowell this summer. 
 
At the award ceremony, Rowell said, "Once you start paying attention to the ACLU, you realize they never stop. I started to see the ACLU as this group of people who have been there defending my rights when I wasn't paying attention to them." 
 
ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said, “We are so pleased to be able to thank Rainbow for her generous support of our mission to protect freedom of speech, and as a fangirl of her work, it was a particular honor to grant her this award."
 
Rainbow’s experience is a telling example of how vigilant we all must be to protect the First Amendment rights provided by our Constitution. It cannot be up to some of us to decide what the rest of us can read. Authors are free to write books they want to write, and we all are free to read them if we wish.
 
Rainbow

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Friday, September 28, 2018 - 1:45pm

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by Scout Richters, J.D., Legal & Policy Counsel ACLU of Nebraska 

Each August, thousands of Nebraska students return to college campuses across the state. Apart from signifying Back to School, August is also National Breastfeeding Month 

 

As such, now is the perfect time to elevate the importance of support for breastfeeding moms who also happen to be students at Nebraska colleges and universities. Having previously worked to strengthen workplace protections for pregnant and breastfeeding employees as well as developing legislation to ensure that public middle schools and high schools have policies to support pregnant and parenting students, the ACLU of Nebraska has now turned to a review and report on the lactation policies for students at Nebraska’s colleges and universities. 

 

Given the recent threat to breastfeeding support by the Trump administration, now more than ever, Nebraskans must work together to ensure breastfeeding college students, and all mothers in the state, have every opportunity to thrive. Our investigation found that a number of schools do indeed have lactation policies that provide students with spaces and other accommodations to express breast milk while on campus. Many of these schools have their policies readily accessible via their websites and/or student handbooks. When Nebraska colleges have policies that support students who are breastfeeding, they help to ensure that students are able to simultaneously achieve their educational goals while exercising their rights to breastfeed their children if they so choose 

 

Let me be clear—breastfeeding is a personal choice for each individual woman to make for herself and her family. We recognize and respect that some women choose not to breastfeed or are unable to breastfeed for a wide variety of reasons. Women who do breastfeed, however, must be supported in school, college campuses, on the job, and in other places of public accommodation because breastfeeding is a civil right, gender equity concern, and reproductive justice issue. 

 

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018 - 1:00am

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by Katrina Thomas, ACLU of Nebraska Smart Justice Community Organizer 


We are not rioting, we are being respectful in trying to have our voices heard and call for a correctional overhaul.
                                                                                                                      --anonymous prisoner 
 


On August 21, incarcerated individuals across the country launched a nationwide strike with 10 demands for improved living conditions, greater access to resources and the end of "modern-day slavery.” The national demands of the men and women in federal, immigration, and state prisons are:
 

  1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women. 

  2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor. 

  3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights. 

  4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole. 

  5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states. 

  6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans. 

  7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender. 

  8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services. 

  9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all U.S. states and territories. 

  10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count! 

ACLU national is supporting the effort because it aligns with advancing smart justice reforms. As the ACLU of Nebraska’s new Smart Justice Community OrganizerI wanted to weigh in with a local perspective through my lens oeducation and lived experiences to raise awareness of correctional reforms. My specialization is female incarceration and reintegration. Being formerly incarcerated in prison, I know and feel the plight of this strike. The following are a couple of the issues raised by the strike that really resonate with me. 

 

Demand #2: End to ‘modern day’ prison slavery

Prisoners do not make enough money to provide for anyone, nor do their vocational skills always translate. In California, for example, nearly 2,000 inmates have volunteered to fight fires this summer for $1 an hour, USA Today reports, but they can't do this work for higher pay once they are out of prison. Most California counties require firefighters to obtain an emergency medical technician license, which some agencies deny to people with a criminal history. 

 

When I was in prison, I made a $1.25 a daynot even hourly—for eight hours of work. These horrendously low wages made it nearly impossible for women in prison to afford phone calls to their children and other family members. When I was incarcerated, the cost of menstrual products were expensive and also cut into these modest earnings. Thankfully, the Department of Corrections and the State Legislature are starting to reform the cost of phone calls and access to menstrual products in correctional facilities, but more work to ensure equity remains.   

 

Demand #8: More rehabilitative services

Our neighbors who are incarcerated are asking for greater access to resources and more programming so they can be successful when they return to our communities. It is important to remember that re-entry success benefits everyone because about 95% of state prisoners will be released from prison at some point.  

 

Studies have shown that recidivism can be reduced with programming.  Resources need to be allocated within institutional correctional programs for comprehensive, integrated services that focus on economic, social, and treatment needs. Vocational training, education, and skill-enhancing opportunities need to be provided to assist individuals in earning a living wage when they get out. Those returning to their communities from correctional facilities often must comply with a variety of parole requirements while trying to achieve financial stability, access health care, reunify with their families, etc. They must find employment often with few skills and a sporadic work history, find safe and drug-free housing, and in many cases, maintain recovery from addiction.   

 

Prior to incarceration, a snapshot of my life was a reflection common among female prisoners: a victim of childhood abuse and domestic violence with a continuation of abusive adulthood relationships, thereby masking the emotional and mental torment through drugs and alcohol. While incarcerated, there was no offer of life-skills programming or trauma rehabilitative services. Simply put, it was work and follow the rules; that’s how I did my time. I have lived with the collateral consequences of my felony conviction for several years and understand how difficult and challenging reintegration can be. For me, successful reintegration was possible with help from family, friends, community members and resources, therapy, treatment, and medication. I was fortunate to have this help, yet all too many do not have this assistance when re-entering and have not been given the chance to rehabilitate while incarcerated.  

 

So where are we at on increasing and improving programs and services in Nebraska’s overcrowded prison system?  

 

We know from our research on incarcerated women and girls in Nebraska that far too many of our neighbors are still waiting for access to basic behavioral health and other services.  

 

We know from working with the Legislature to get better data on what’s happening behind prison walls in Nebraska that today hundreds of incarcerated Nebraskans are on waiting list to access basic programs and services and far too many continue to “jam out” without their basic needs being met and without the tools they need to be successful during re-entry. 

 

We know that by working together we can do better. The national prison strike gives us an opportunity to center the voices of those most impacted by these policy failures and continue our dialogue about these important issues. Join the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice today and join the movement. 

 

Date

Tuesday, August 28, 2018 - 11:00pm

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