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Posts Tagged ‘constitutional right’

March 11, 2010

Supreme Judicial Court Rules Against Warrantless Search of Homeless Shelter

ACLU of Massachusetts applauds state Supreme Court decision prohibiting police searches of homeless shelters without occupants’ consent or a warrant.

BOSTON — Residents of homeless shelters must be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures under a ruling issued today by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, in which the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a friend of the court brief. The case, Commonwealth v. Porter P., affirms that constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures apply to residents of homeless shelters, just as they do to renters or students in dormitories.

The case resulted from the prosecution of a juvenile based on evidence obtained by police during a 2006 search of his locked room in a homeless shelter. The shelter manager gave consent to the search, but the occupants of the room — one of whom, a juvenile, was in the room at the time — did not.

In finding that the search violated the rights of the shelter’s occupants, the Court rejected the claim that there was less protection for transitional housing or that the shelter manager could consent to the search.

“Although transitional, the Court concluded that the room at the shelter was the family’s home and therefore entitled to the full protection of the state constitution. And, while recognizing that the shelter manager retained the right to enter the room to inspect the premises, she could not consent to a police search. That, the Court found, could only be done with a warrant,” said John Reinstein, legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The ACLU, along with the Committee for Public Counsel Services and other groups, filed a friend of the court brief arguing that endorsement of the search would consign the homeless to second-class status under the constitution.

“The Court has ruled today that homeless citizens are entitled to no less protection than those in our country who have housing,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Especially in today’s tough economic times, which have driven more people into poverty, we must remember that the homeless still enjoy the same constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures as everyone else. The Constitution does not distinguish between rich and poor.”

For a copy of the SJC decision, see: http://www.aclum.org/legal/commonwealth_v_porter_p/sjc_decision.pdf

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In D.C., Clergy & Homeless Allied in Fight for Separation of Church and State

City Should Not Fund Ministry That Compels Homeless Men To Attend Religious Services

Federal Lawsuit Challenges District Of Columbia’s Funding Of Religious Mission
ACLU-NCA Brings Lawsuit to Bar D.C. from Giving $12 Million to Mission
‘We are in the business of converting people to Christ.’

The ACLU of the National Capital Area (now the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital), Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on Sept. 18, 2008, challenging the District of Columbia’s plan to grant more than $12 million in public property and cash to the Central Union Mission, a religious homeless shelter. For a copy of the complaint, please click here.

The Mission conditions shelter for the homeless on participation in Christian religious activity, including mandatory attendance at nightly church services. Its director has stated, “We are in the business of converting people to Christ. That’s what we do.” The Mission only employs Christians and requires volunteers to declare their church affiliation.

The lawsuit, Chane v. District of Columbia, was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Two of the plaintiffs are homeless men in the District of Columbia who do not go to the Mission because of its requirement that the homeless participate in religious services.

Six other plaintiffs are local taxpayers – including members of the clergy – who assert that the proposed gift of cash and property from the District of Columbia to the Mission will unconstitutionally support religious activities. The taxpayer plaintiffs include the Right Rev. John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, and the Rev. Joseph M. Palacios, a Roman Catholic priest and professor of sociology at Georgetown University.

“The Central Union Mission has a constitutional right to preach the gospel and recruit disciples for its faith, as it’s been doing for 124 years,” said Arthur B. Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area. “But it is a constitutional violation for the District of Columbia to support that preaching with millions of dollars of public money and public property.”

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, “Government should not fund a homeless shelter that requires residents to take part in religious services and discriminates in religious hiring. Religious activities should be funded with the voluntary donations of the faithful, not tax dollars.” 

The Council of the District of Columbia voted in July to pay $7 million in cash and convey a downtown property known as the Gales School to the Mission, in exchange for far less valuable property in the Petworth neighborhood. The transaction will result in a net financial gain for the Mission of more than $12 million. There is also no limit on what the Mission can do with the property later.  (The Mission is selling its current “shelter” property to a condo developer—for $7 million.)

“People who are homeless lack options for finding shelter and are particularly vulnerable to religious coercion,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, Senior Litigation Counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “The District should use its tax funds to ensure that sufficient shelter space exists for all who are homeless here, not just for those who are willing to go to church services every night.”

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs ask the court to block the transaction, or alternatively, to require the Mission either to agree not to engage in religious activities at the Gales School, or to pay fair market value for the property. The plaintiffs do not object to the shelter’s religious activities as long as they are not supported by government funds or property.

The lawsuit notes that the mission statement of Central Union Mission reads, “Our mission is to glorify God through proclaiming and teaching the gospel, leading people to Christ, developing disciples, and serving the needs of hurting people throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area.”

“The government shouldn’t use taxpayer dollars to underwrite religious indoctrination,” said Daniel Mach, Legal Director for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “This is a bad deal for the city, its homeless population and the U.S. Constitution.” 

http://www.aclu-nca.org/content.php?contentID=200&SID=1
http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/federal-lawsuit-challenges-district-columbias-funding-religious-mission

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