Illinois Public Media News
Two county clerks from downstate Illinois are throwing their support to an effort to defend the state's gay marriage ban in court.
In May, twenty-five gay and lesbian couples represented by the ACLU and Lambda Legal launched separate cases that were later consolidated, which argued that Illinois' same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.
The Effingham and Tazewell county clerks decided to intervene after Cook County's State's Attorney and the Illinois Attorney General refused to defend the marriage ban.
Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb said she has no position on gay marriage, but just wants to ensure there's a uniform law for all counties.
Effingham County Clerk Kerry Hirtzel said the marriage debate should stay out of court.
"This I realize is a volatile subject, I suppose, but it should be changed by our legislature or a vote of our people of the state," Hirtzel said.
But Camilla Taylor, who is the lead lawyer in Lambda Legal's lawsuit, said this is exactly the type of issue that belongs in a courtroom.
"When a law deprives you of your dignity, your equality, and your humanity, you always go to the court to vindicate your state constitutional guarantees," Taylor said.
Taylor said she doesn't object to the county clerks intervening in this case since she says they have a right to voice their concerns.
The Thomas More Society, which is a public-interest law firm that opposes gay marriage, is representing the county clerks.
Urbana City Council Approves Naming Courthouse After Burgess
The Urbana's City Council Monday night approved a resolution to name the city's federal courthouse after Champaign County's first African-American elected official.
Indiana's first specialty license plate that benefits gay causes is now available for purchase.
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles says the Indiana Youth Group plate has been available since Dec. 28. The plate bears a logo with hands in rainbow colors reaching up out of a circle.
Some $25 from sales of each $40 plate goes to the group serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
Youth Group Director Mary Byrne tells The Indianapolis Star ( http://indy.st/zl90uE ) that Indiana is the second state in the nation with a specialty plate benefiting gay youths. She says Maryland was the first.
The Youth Group sued the state in 2010 after the BMV twice turned down its request for a specialty plate. Both sides later reached an agreement and the plate was approved.
(Photo courtesy of BMV)
There will be music and speeches at Friday's Martin Luther King Jr. Countywide Celebration in Champaign. It's the 11th year for the annual program which is just one of several area events remembering the accomplishments of the late civil rights leader.
But besides looking at King's legacy, the program also looks at the contributions made by Champaign-Urbana area residents. Celebration Committee member Joan Walls says the Doris Hoskins Prestigious Community Service Award will go to Champaign Consortium director Al Anderson.
"When you look at Al's biography, he talks about wanting to make a difference", says Walls. "He talks about being raised in Cabrini-Green, one of the nation's most dangerous public housing complexes in the Chicago area. And it's always been a passion for him not only do great things for himself, but to reach out and be of service to so many others."
Others being honored at the Friday program include Donna Camp, for her work in organizing the Wesley Evening Food Pantry, and Carlos Donaldson, who worked for the desegregation of Urbana schools as a member of the Urbana Neighborhood Committee.
In Danville, activities remembering Dr. King include the annual march and motorcade through the city. Danville Human Relations Administrator Sandra Houston says everyone is welcome to walk or ride in the event, which begins Monday morning at 10 AM at the corner of Main and Logan in Danville.Along the way, participants will stop at the Martin Luther King monument at the corner of Jackson and Williams for a small ceremony. Then, it's on to St. James United Methodist Church at 504 North Vermilion, for the celebration service at 11:30 AM.
Houston says the event, which started in 1986, is a happy time for the participants. "We recognize we are a city of different cultures and ethnic groups, and it's just our time to come together and fellowship with each other", she says. "People are there because they believe, they believe in civil rights, they believe in and human rights, and they believe in the legacy of Dr. King."
At the Eastern Illinois campus in Charleston, members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity will mark the 25th anniversary of their Martin Luther King March and Candlelight Vigil on Monday afternoon. The event is open to the EIU and Charleston community.
The march begins at 5:30 PM at Thomas Hall on the EIU campus, with participants proceeding to the Martin Luther King Union, where a vigil program will be held in the Grand Ballroom at 6 PM.
Khelan Todd of Alpha Phi Alpha's Zeta Nu chapter at EIU says the march and vigil brings students and faculty together. "It's very warm and welcoming", says Todd of the annual event. "I think the students and the faculty really enjoy it."
Other Champaign-Urbana programs remembering Martin Luther King:
FRI, Jan. 13th: MLK Countywide Celebration, 4 PM, Hilton Garden Inn, 1501 S Neil, Champaign. Keynote Speaker: State Sen. Kwame Raoul. Music: Noah Brown & Company and Mo' Betta' Music program, directed by Nathaniel Banks.Free to the public.
SUN Jan 15th, The annual Martin Luther King Community Celebration, 5 PM, University of Illinois Krannert Center.
MON, Jan. 16: The Martin Luther King Unity Breakfast, 8:30-10:30 am, at the Vineyard Church, Urbana.
MLK Day Events in Danville:
SUN Jan. 15: MLK Scholarship Banquet, 4 PM, Days Hotel, 77 N. Danville. The recipient of the annual MLK scholarship will be announced. Banquet admission: $20. Reservations taken through noon on Friday, Jan. 12th, at Danville Human Relations Dept., 217-431-2280.
MON Jan. 16 MLK March/Motorcade, Vigil & Service, motorcade beginning at 10:30 AM (lineup starts at 10AM) at corner of Main & Logan, with 11:30 AM Service at St. James United Methodist Church, Danville. Info: Danville City Hall: 217-431-2280.
MLK Day Events in Decatur:
SUN Jan. 15, 4 PM Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gospel Concert. Free. Antioch Missionary Baptist Church 530 W. Mound Road Decatur, IL Info: Tony Carson, 520-7260.
MON Jan. 16; "Remembering the Dream" panel discussion, Old King's Orchard Community Center, 815 N Church St., Decatur IL.
MLK Day Events in Charleston;
MON Jan. 16 MLK March and Candlelight Vigil, with March beginning at 5:30 PM at Thomas Hall on the EIU campus, and Vigil at 6 PM at the Grand Ballroom of the MLK Jr. Union. Open to EIU and Charleston community. Contact: Khelan Todd, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chicago's Cardinal Francis George is apologizing for remarks comparing an annual gay rights parade to a Ku Klux Klan rally.
In a Chicago Tribune interview, George said he is "truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused."
George said he has gay and lesbian family members, and his remarks has "evidently wounded a good number of people. I am sorry for the hurt."
The cardinal's initial remarks were prompted by plans by gay pride leaders to route a parade at a time that would have interfered with services at a church on Chicago's North Side. He said it resembled anti-Catholic marches once staged by the Klan. The time of the parade was changed.
Gay rights groups condemned his comments. The Civil Rights Agenda said George should apologize and resign.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller wants to delay two lawsuits challenging Indiana's tough new immigration law because the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the issue in an Arizona case.
Zoeller's office said Thursday it filed a motion in federal court in Indianapolis seeking a temporary delay in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Judge Sarah Evans Barker in June granted the ACLU a preliminary injunction blocking Indiana from enforcing two provisions in that law, including one that would allow police to arrest illegal immigrants who are subject to immigration court removal orders.
Zoeller spokesman Bryan Corbin said the state also will seek a stay in a second lawsuit challenging the immigration law. That case was filed in northern Indiana this week by a Hispanic advocacy group.
La Union Benefica Mexican has been around for decades in Northwest Indiana.
The group promotes Mexican culture and traditions throughout the year with events and gatherings, but the UBM is taking a more serious tone by joining a federal lawsuit against Indiana's anti-illegal immigration law, S.B. 590.
Although adopted last spring by the Indiana General Assembly, certain provisions of law have yet to take effect since a federal judge's injunction kicked in last summer.
Still, Antonio Barreda, head of the UBM, said the bill discriminates against Latinos, not just those who may be in the United States illegally.
"The law itself could violate not only immigrants but American citizens such as I and many others," Barreda said. "It also gives businesses the opportunity to become even more discriminatory by not hiring Hispanics."
Barreda said UBM is join in its lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis.
In a written statement, MALDEF said the bill "poses severe and immediate threats to the United States Constitution and to the livelihood of anyone who 'looks' to local authorities like an undocumented immigrant."
"This challenge is necessary to send a message to anti-immigrant groups that their efforts to pass Arizona-style legislation in the Midwest are not welcome and will be resisted," Alonzo Rivas, MALDEF Midwest Regional Counsel said in a statement.
The Republican-controlled Indiana State House pushed the immigration legislation, although many Indiana Democrats supported the measure which drew harsh criticism and protest by those opposed to it.
Several more controversial aspects were nixed from the bill, such as giving an Indiana state trooper the right to pull over anyone who appeared to be an undocumented immigrant.
But other provisions, primarily against businesses who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants, remain in the law.
The bill is already being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Indiana is seeking to delay hearings on all challenges to the bill until the U.S. Supreme Court decides Arizona's own tough immigration law.
"We will be seeking a stay in this case in addition to the previous case while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to Arizona's immigration statute," Zoeller said in a statement. "Indiana will join with other states in seeking a ruling from the Supreme Court that will provide some guidance to states on immigration since Congress has thus far failed to enact or enforce federal immigration policies."
In December, the U.S. Supreme Court announced plans to hear the case challenging Arizona's immigration law this spring.
Bond has been set at $500,000 for a Fithian man arrested in connection with the stabbing of a University of Illinois law professor.
Joshua Scaggs, 23, faces attempted murder and aggravated battery charges in connection with the attack of Dhammika Dharmapala, 41, of Champaign. The incident occurred shortly before 6 AM on Wednesday in the Amtrak waiting area of the Illinois Terminal Building.
According to a witness account given to Champaign Police, both Dharmapala and the suspect were sitting in the Amtrak waiting area, when the suspect jumped up and shouted that this was his country. He then attacked Dharmapala, grabbing him around the neck. The witness then intervened, pulling the suspect away, and discovering he had stabbed his victim in the neck with a utility knife. Champaign County State's Attorney Julie Rietz said other witnesses stepped forward to keep the situation under control until police arrived.
Dharmapala was taken to Carle Hospital in Urbana, but no information was available on his condition as of Thursday morning. At Scaggs' arraignment in Champaign County Court Thursday afternoon, he appeared via video conference, surrounded by correctional officers.
Scaggs' attorney, Baku Patel of Urbana, has requested that his client undergo mental and physical evaluations. Authorities say he's locked in isolation at the county's satellite jail.
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan wrote in an email to faculty and students said that university was "deeply saddened" by the stabbing, and expressed gratitude for those who intervened.
Champaign Police had originally included hate crime charges in their arrest of Scaggs. But Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said they would not prosecute him on that charge. She said the attempted murder and aggravated battery charges actually carry stiffer penalties than the hate crime charge. However, Rietz noted that "the underlying motive for the offense will be taken into account as the case moves forward."
Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for federal civil rights charges to be filed against Scaggs. In a news release, the organization stated that Dharmapala is not Muslim, but was singled out due to his perceived ethnicity. CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper stated, "our society must begin to address the rising level of anti-Muslim sentiment that can lead to such disturbing incidents."
Scaggs is due back in court on Dec. 15th.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Starting in January, Illinois will allow couples who obtained civil-union licenses this year to file joint state income tax returns, a symbolic change that likely won't save couples money but that one gay-rights group called an important step.
Monday's announcement comes after Illinois became the seventh state, along with the District of Columbia, to give same-sex couples significant legal protections. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state's civil union law in January.
That bill included the right to decide medical care for an ailing partner and the right to inherit property, but it didn't include the ability for same-sex couples to file a joint tax return.
While federal law does not allow same-sex couples to submit taxes together, Quinn pushed for the state to make the change after signing the civil union bill, Illinois Department of Revenue spokeswoman Susan Hofer said Monday.
"This was basically the governor saying, 'Find a way to make this work,'" she said.
New tax paperwork and other details haven't been finalized. Officials plan to have same-sex couples who will file individual federal returns also fill out a joint federal return for the state's use only, Hofer said.
The state income tax forms are based on a couple's adjusted gross income on the federal return.
Illinois has a flat income tax of 5 percent, so the benefits couples receive from filing together for federal taxes won't apply at the state level, Hofer said. Still, she added that couples wil still have some additional benefits, like property tax exemptions or education assistance tax credits.
"It's a fairness issue," she said. "And that's the way the governor presented it."
The policy would have no bearing on filing federal taxes jointly because of federal restrictions on gay marriage.
"But this is still a major step because it allows civil union couples to be treated in the same way as married couples are treated, and that's exactly what the lawmakers intended," said Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov.
Cherkasov said he hopes Illinois' recent efforts to extend rights to same-sex couples carry over to the federal level. He also said the change would benefit same-sex couples in the future if lawmakers change the state tax code.
"We wanted to make sure that we don't give up on that fight now only to create a real disadvantage for civil-union couples later down the road," he said.
According to the group, Illinois will become the 10th state, along with Washington, D.C., to allow joint state tax returns.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is trying to throw another wrench into a key immigration-enforcement program of President Obama's administration, saying it ensnares too many people and erodes trust in local police.
An Aug. 18 letter from the governor's office to John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, hints about a possible legal challenge and asks the federal agency to contact all 26 Illinois counties that have agreed to participate in the program, called Secure Communities, to confirm they still want to take part.
"This is the least that ICE can do," wrote John Schomberg, Quinn's general counsel. "These counties signed up, along with the state, for a Secure Communities that is far different from the program that was . . . originally presented by ICE."
Launched in 2008, Secure Communities enables ICE to use fingerprints that local police agencies send to the FBI for criminal background checks. The fingerprints help ICE identify jail inmates who lack permission to be in the United States.
The Obama administration says the program helps focus immigration enforcement on dangerous criminals, such as murderers and kidnappers, and on repeat immigration violators. ICE reports that Secure Communities has led to the deportation of more than 86,000 convicted criminals.
ICE data show that about half of those immigrants were convicted of misdemeanors, not felonies. The program has led to the deportation of another 34,000 people not convicted of any crime.
Quinn withdrew Illinois from Secure Communities in May. New York and Massachusetts followed with similar steps.
But an August 5 letter from Morton to governors says states no longer have any choice and that Secure Communities will extend to all local law-enforcement jurisdictions in the United States by 2013. An addendum to the letter describes changes in the program. Those include elimination of a state role in conveying data to help track the fingerprints.
Mark Fleming, an attorney with the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center, said ICE could end up in court if Secure Communities lacks the consent of the local jurisdictions.
"The governor's office may be laying the groundwork for a legal challenge," Fleming said.
Fleming points to U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the 1990s that said the Constitution's 10th Amendment bars Congress from compelling state and local governments to administer federal regulations.
Asked whether Illinois officials are cooking up a lawsuit, a Quinn spokeswoman points to Schomberg's letter, which says the governor's office "will continue to monitor and evaluate" Secure Communities and "consider all of the state's options."
ICE representatives did not respond to requests by Chicago Public Radio for comment about whether Secure Communities is constitutional.
The Obama administration lately has played down agreements through which it first brought state and local governments into the federal initiative. "We wanted to work with the locals and let them know about the program," said Jon Gurule, an ICE official who helped set up Secure Communities. "But, from the operational side, it's federal information sharing between two federal agencies and it's congressionally mandated."
If ICE sought consent from the Illinois counties, as Quinn is requesting, some might opt out. A handful of Chicago-area sheriffs have publicly criticized Secure Communities.
"If they honor the governor's request, I would not want to partake in it," said Patrick Perez, sheriff of west suburban Kane County, part of Secure Communities since 2009.
"The program has not turned out to be what it was supposed to be," Perez said, pointing to the deportation of non-criminals. "People in the Hispanic community have become very reticent to contact police if they're victims of crime because they're fearful that if they contact us to report a crime that they will be deported."
The program also has its defenders.
"My life has been destroyed by all of this cheap, foreign scab labor," said a 56-year-old network engineer in Chicago who blames immigrants for his unemployment and asks that his name not be published because he's job hunting. "Whether it's illegal aliens or foreign legal workers, they're hurting American citizens. Secure Communities removes the criminals and that's a start.
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