FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, May 21, 1999
DENVER–The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed suit today of behalf of Andrea Byrd, a graduating senior at Alameda High School who — along with other students — wants to pin a blue-and-silver ribbon to her graduation gown to show her respect for the families of the victims of the recent killings at Columbine High School.
In a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Denver, the ACLU has asked the court to grant an emergency temporary restraining order and issue a ruling before the graduation ceremony takes place on the morning of Monday May 24, 1999.
Deborah Williams, principal of Alameda High School — located in the same county as Columbine — announced yesterday that students would not be permitted to wear the ribbons during the graduation ceremony. After Byrd and her father asked for legal assistance on Thursday evening, the ACLU wrote to Williams this morning, urging reconsideration of the policy. The school refused, and the lawsuit was filed early this afternoon.
"The ribbon quietly communicates Andrea's respect in a dignified and unobtrusive manner that is entirely consistent with the tone and format of the graduation ceremony," said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado. "Wearing the ribbon cannot possibly take anything away from the graduation ceremony, nor does it pose any danger to any legitimate interest of the school."
In legal papers, the ACLU said that policy violated students' constitutional right to engage in free expression under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as state constitutional and statutory law.
Today's lawsuit marks the second time in two years that the ACLU of Colorado has advocated for the right of students to engage in silent symbolic expression during a graduation ceremony. Last year, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of two African American students who wanted to express pride in their African heritage by wearing a traditional ceremonial Ghanian Kente cloth over their graduation gowns.
The students voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit after federal district court judge Richard Matsch denied their request for a preliminary injunction. In ruling against the students, Judge Matsch expressed the view that wearing Kente cloth emphasized the students' racial difference thus undermined the message of unity that the school's graduation ceremony was intended to project. In its letter to Williams, the ACLU explained that the Columbine ribbon would not undermine the school's graduation ceremony or its message.
"We believe that the First Amendment protects a student's right to wear the ribbon during a graduation ceremony," said Ed Ramey, who filed the lawsuit as an ACLU volunteer cooperating attorney. "The Supreme Court repeatedly has said that students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gates."
The case is Byrd v. Williams et al. Defendants in the lawsuit are Alameda High School principal Deborah Williams and Jefferson County School District R-1.
On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?
Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.
Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.
Donate now at https://action.aclu.org/give/support-aclu-colorado
Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.
In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.
Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”
Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.
ACLU CHALLENGES ALAMEDA HIGH SCHOOLS BAN ON COLUMBINE RIBBONS AT GRADUATION
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