civil rights

Asian-American and civil rights activists commemorated the 30-year anniversary of Vincent Chin’s death this weekend.

Chin’s murder outside a Highland Park strip club in 1982—just days before his wedding--is widely credited with galvanizing a national Asian-American civil rights movement.

A Muslim civil rights group says federal agents are wrongly detaining and questioning Muslim-Americans coming into the U-S.

The Michigan Council on American-Islamic Relations lays out those accusations in a federal lawsuit filed this week.

They’re suing on behalf of four Muslim U-S citizens. All say they were subject to “invasive religious questioning” when they tried to re-enter the country from Canada.

Shareef Akeel is a lawyer for the plaintiffs. He says Muslims are clearly being singled out for this type of "persecution," and that’s illegal.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A battle over gay and lesbian legal protections is heating up.

Sixty-five local elected officials have signed a letter supporting a bill that would add sexual orientation to the state civil rights act.

Derek Dobies is a city councilman in Jackson. He says this is an economic issue for Michigan.

“Given Michigan’s brain drain," says Dobies, "we need to do everything that we can…both at the local level and at the state level that’s within our power…to put a welcome sign on Michigan.” 

Jon Hoadley is the director of the Unity Michigan Coalition. He says its important to have the support of local leaders in this statewide fight.

“We have elected officials in Grand Rapids…Kalamazoo and Jackson," says Hoadley, "cities big and small across the state saying ‘we think that non-discrimination protections are good for us and they’re good for Michigan’.” 

Eighteen cities in Michigan have local ordinances against discrimination against gays and lesbians.

There is a bill in the state House to nullify those local ordinances.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Nearly 50,000 state workers are getting refunds on the 3 percent they've been paying for a year toward retiree health care costs.

State budget director John Nixon estimates a worker making $50,000 a year will get back about $1,500.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed bills last month agreeing to refund the money after courts ruled the fee unconstitutional. The money was being returned Thursday.

Workers can choose to receive the refunds in their paychecks or as a deposit into their 401(k) or 457 retirement accounts.

A similar 3 percent contribution being paid by teachers toward their retiree health care costs is not being refunded.

State employee unions had contested the fee, saying only the Civil Service Commission could impose it. Unionized and nonunionized workers will receive the refund.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of people descended on Detroit’s Martin Luther King, Junior high school Monday morning for a march honoring the civil rights leader.

It was just one of many events honoring Dr. King that took place around Metro Detroit.

Hundreds of people came out for the third annual Detroit Public Schools-sponsored march, many of them students. But some adults, like Alicia Gassiamo, came to honor a figure whose sacrifices they say made a real difference in their lives.

user mconnors / morgueFile

The head of the American Family Association of Michigan is appealing a court ruling that upheld a federal hate crime law.

The law, called the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was expanded in 2009 to protect people victimized because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Gary Glenn claims the law is unconstitutional because of the threat it poses to free speech:

Daniel Krichbaum is head of the only department of state government explicitly authorized by the Michigan Constitution.

He is also executive director of the smallest department of state government, one that few people even know exists. If you haven‘t guessed, it is the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

And if your response is, “huh? Civil Rights? That’s so 1960s. Isn’t that over?” he won’t be surprised. He hears that all the time.

Krichbaum, in fact, has been around for long enough to have had a number of stellar careers. He has a PhD in education and is an ordained Methodist minister. But he’s devoted most of his career to public service, most notably as head of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity. Before that, he spent seventeen years as parks and recreation director for the City of Detroit.

Police say longtime Flint civil rights activist and attorney C. Frederick Robinson has been fatally shot. The Flint Journal reports Robinson was killed late last night in Flint at his home. There are no suspects in the case.

Robinson was dedicated to equal rights. In addition to organizing rallies and generating support for the civil rights movement, Robinson was instrumental in the 1968 passage of the fair housing ordinance. Its approval made Flint among the first cities to pass an open-housing referendum by popular vote.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Gender identity and sexual orientation are a hot topic right now in the city of Holland. That’s because Holland city council is considering adding local laws that protect people against discrimination for being gay or transgender. The ordinance would give them protection from discrimination by employers and landlords. The issue is extremely divisive in the generally conservative city.

Reverend Ralph Houston reads passages from the bible to city council at an informal meeting last night. He says passing the ordinance would lead to moral chaos.

User cedar bend drive / Flickr

Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed a lawsuit challenging the state Civil Service Commission's authority to approve contracts that allow benefit plans to cover the live-in partners of unmarried state employees.

The lawsuit says the commission exceeded its authority under the state constitution.

The contracts extend benefits to unrelated adults in a household -- that includes same-sex partners -- as well as their dependents

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

An Islamic advocacy group says border agents are harassing and violating the civil rights of scores of American Muslims re-entering the country from Canada.

Abdulrahman Cherri is a student at the University of Michigan. His fiancé lives in Canada, and he says when he returns to the U.S. from visiting her, his car has been taken apart, and he’s been subjected to invasive full-body searches. He says he’s also been questioned about his religion, even after telling border agents that he’s too busy with school to worship.

"But he insisted on me telling him where I attend, where I pray. I told him I go a few times and he asks me, what do I do there? What kind of activities do you have? Who’s the leader of your place of worship? What’s his name? Where’s he from?"

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says parents have been ordered out of cars at gunpoint and handcuffed while their children watched.

CAIR is filing complaints with the Department of Homeland Security, and it’s asking the Justice Department to investigate.

Photo courtesy of Michigan's Attorney General office / michigan.gov

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a brief against Eastern Michigan University, alleging the university violated a student’s civil rights. 

Julea Ward was a student in EMU’s masters program for counseling. When she refused to counsel gay students because she’s morally against homosexuality, she tried to refer them to another counselor.

EMU says she violated the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, and removed her from the program. Ward sued EMU in 2009 for violating her constitutional rights.

A federal court in Detroit dismissed the case saying EMU did not discriminate against Ward. Now the Michigan Attorney General’s office is filing an appeal on behalf of Ward.

John Selleck is with the AG’s office. He says this case "would set a standard going forward for other students who have religious objections in any Michigan college case going forward. We think that was a very important reason for us to get involved."

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

The Michigan Senate has voted by a super-majority to reverse a state Civil Service Commission decision that would allow unmarried state employees to claim domestic partners on their health insurance.

Earlier this year, a state employment panel approved unmarried partner benefits that would include people in same-sex relationships and their dependents.

Republican state Senator Mark Jansen says the state can’t afford it – and voters have already spoken about domestic partner benefits by refusing to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions.

“This is about economics. This is about our budget. This is about getting Michigan back on track."

But, Democratic state Senator Rebekah Warren says rejecting domestic partner benefits would hurt children.

“Families are always stronger when health insurance is accessible to everyone in the household.”

The measure now goes to the state House, where Republicans will have to muster a two-thirds majority vote to reverse the policy. Otherwise, state employees will be able to claim unmarried partners on their benefits starting October first.

Governor Rick Snyder has asked the Legislature to reverse an employment panel’s decision to allow un-married state workers to claim their live-in partners on their benefits.  

The governor’s letter gives the Legislature 60 days to overturn the state Civil Service Commission’s decision. Reversing the independent Civil Service Commission will require two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate. Both are controlled by Republicans, but getting to the necessary super-majorities is not guaranteed.  

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