Civil Rights

Roe v. Wade at 40: Personal choice over criminal act


It is the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court in 1973 which defined a woman’s right of personal privacy in making decisions about her own body, and now four decades later, it remains the hottest social issue in the USA.

Center for American Progress’s Think Progress has lined up powerful numbers:

The range of issues surrounding Roe v. Wade is readily perceived; ethical and religious positions, political partisanship, health care access, human sexuality, poverty, civil rights, employment benefits, health insurance, social taboos, and willful disinformation. It is truly complicated. Yet in simplest terms today, it amounts to personal choice vs. criminal action.

The so-called pro-choice camp insists that the one best suited to make a decision about a pregnancy is the woman who is confronted by it and experiencing it. It is not a condition that men will encounter, and it is not a decision for which they will likely be held responsible or for which they will likely be penalized, certainly not in the same way as a woman.

To criminalize the early termination of a pregnancy oversteps governmental authority which infringes on a woman’s ability to control what happens to her body. Again, for men, there is no control issue applicable to their body. On the simplest level, if a man was required by law to grow something in his body which he did not want, it would be intensely opposed as a violation of basic human rights. Therefore, those who oppose a woman’s right to choose are often seen as insensitive, oppressive, and even hostile to women. Take, for example, the idiotic comments of conservative political candidates in 2012.

The so-called pro-life camp doesn’t believe there should be any choice. Their focus is exclusively oriented to conception and to the fetus, invoking the will of God to fulfill the promise of a pregnancy, and often over-dramatizing the nascent stages of human life. In their dramatization efforts, they play fast and loose with the acknowledged 26 week standard for routinely permitted abortions, after which time medical necessity must be defined.

What is never mentioned is that the aim to end any choice for pregnant women also means that any act of abortion becomes a criminal matter. The outlawing of abortion is also its criminalization. While prior to Roe v. Wade, there was no basis or history for criminalization, the rhetoric employed over the last 40 years by the various anti-abortion groups makes it clear that abortion is the taking of a human life and recourse to prevent abortions – outlawing them – means criminal penalties.

It takes no stretch of the imagination to expect that women who seek an abortion face criminal prosecution. Suspicion would also be cast upon women who miscarry; they stand to be indicted for attempted murder or manslaughter. Negligence in caring for a pregnancy would easily become criminal, as if the woman was trying to induce an abortion. Of course, there could be no corresponding criminal sanction on any man who brought about the pregnancy.

If nothing else, the agenda for criminalization and the gray areas of culpability which any woman would face leads to the conclusion that government needs to stay clear of women and their pregnancies. Legally remove a woman’s right to decide for herself about a pregnancy and the consequence is turning any attempt at opting out of a pregnancy into a criminal act.

Frankly, no one likes the idea of an abortion. Whether to have one or not must be an awful decision for a woman to have to make. One would hope that if a woman wanted to proceed with a pregnancy that she would be given the complete support and encouragement of our society. However, such full support is non-existent today. In fact, condemnation is more likely to ensue, for ‘having more children than you can support,’ or ‘having children so that our tax dollars can pay for it,’ and similar sentiments which we’ve all heard casually.

Our society can do much to encourage women to proceed with pregnancies, and many worthy organizations with limited resources have that as their mission. However the decision must remain the woman’s about whether to proceed or not. Taking a difficult individual decision and making it criminal is to lose sight of the goal amid ideological confusion and entanglements.

Fulfilled women, happy children, and loving families are not achieved by filling prisons with mommies or forcing women to accept responsibilities and penalties no man has to shoulder. But sadly those positive ideals have been lost in the bitter conflict of the last 40 years. Clearly, Roe v. Wade needs to remain the law of the land.

Arm the teachers, says Rep. Baxley


In one of the most remarkably inept comments from a Florida legislator this year – a huge accomplishment when there is so, so much competition – State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-NRA/ALEC/Ocala) has offered this counsel (includes video):

Responding to the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that left 20 children dead, Rep. Dennis Baxley said Monday that schools would be safer if principals and teachers were authorized to carry guns…. [emphasis added]

Baxley said that declaring schools to be gun-free zones makes them targets for deranged people who know they can’t be stopped because guns aren’t allowed in schools.

“I do think the observation that in our zealous and intent efforts to try and keep children safe with gun free zones, we have inadvertently created a sterile target for deranged activity,” Baxley said.

The Ocala Republican said schools need to be in a position of meeting force with force when events like that happen.

Realizing that this blindingly stupid notion has caused you to lose your breath, your sight, and your slim grip on reality, let’s pause while you recover. [pause, ed.]

Baxley is even out in front of the National Rifle Association (NRA) which has pulled down its Facebook page and Twitter feed, presumably to avoid hosting un-NRA supportive commentary. Baxley is the NRA’s chief sponsor of legislation in Florida, including the unforgettably foolish “Stand Your Ground – Shoot First” law which this page has covered several times; here, here, and just recently here.

What is obviously wrong with Baxley’s suggestion is that he has omitted so many people who could still be armed. Why simply arm teachers? We must ask:

  •  Would this measure protect substitute teachers? They could really use the help. How about instructional support staff?
  • Would Baxley leave custodians defenseless? Shooting Windex into the eyes of a shooter or swinging the barf mop is simply inadequate.
  • How about cafeteria workers? Those stale muffins may be tough, but can they knock out a determined gun man?
  • Shouldn’t bus drivers be armed since buses are easy targets?
  • Are administrative staff not included and left as sitting ducks?
  • Shall we expose School Board members when they are confronted by enraged by citizens (and fellow school board members)?
  • Finally, and most obviously, wouldn’t it make the most sense in Baxley’s line of logic to simply arm the children?

On the other hand, Baxley is promoting armament for teachers, like those who teach your children, who taught children at Sandy Hook ES; you know, union thugs. How wise is that?

The old classic TV show, All in the Family, occurred in a time when airliners were being routinely hijacked by armed gunmen and often taken to Cuba. The arch-conservative main character Archie Bunker suggested in a mock video rebuttal in one episode that if you armed all of the airline passengers, the hijackings would end. The ridiculous notion was met with thunderous laughter from the studio audience who recognized instantly how ludicrous Archie’s idea was. Click below to see the video clip.

As asinine and extreme as Archie Bunker’s remarks were regarded in the early 1970s, they are being touted today by a local elected official as a serious response to one of the most tragic massacres – a slaughter of innocents. If Rep. Dennis Baxley has no more sense than this, then the only people who should be more ashamed are the pathetic individuals in Marion County who have returned this sponsor and supporter of some of the most reactionary, destructive, insensitive, and just plain bad legislation for (now) six terms.

In years between his legislative stints, Baxley turned his ardently professed conservative Christian stances into a job as Executive Director of the Florida Christian Coalition. As a Christian, Baxley reads from a different kind of Holy Bible. In the sermon on the mount, when Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ Baxley’s version refers to the famed Colt Single Action revolver known as “Peacemaker.” That’s some Jesus, Dennis! Will you hold a candle to celebrate the Prince of Peace next Monday, or the HALO warrior?

I’m sorry, but such contemptible hypocrisy is utterly unconscionable.

In case you missed it, the Sunday paper’s retail flyer for Gander Mountain featured a great deal on the back page – $100 off – on a .223 Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle complete with a 30 round magazine, the only practical purpose of which would be waging a very violent, sustained attack on other human beings, like at Sandy Hook ES. Only $799 plus ammo.

Here’s a Christmas shopping tip from Dennis Baxley – buy one of these high powered suckers for your child’s teacher. Or better, get one for your kid, or any neighbor kid; they’ll need it in school so long as people like Dennis Baxley are elected to public office.

With Baxley leading the way in Florida by showing just how low the discussion can be submerged, we can all hope that real intelligence will yet become manifest, even among Republicans, and that Florida’s legislators will begin the long overdue circumspection that would repeal the tragic “Shoot First – Stand Your Ground” law for starters. Just for starters. Please.

“Stand Your Ground” defense claimed in Jax teen killing


Last Friday night, unarmed Jordan Russell Davis, 17, of Jacksonville, was shot and killed while inside of a parked SUV by Michael David Dunn, 45. Eight or nine shots were fired into the SUV at Davis who was the only one hit, arising from words exchanged over Dunn’s complaint about loud music from the SUV. After the shooting, Dunn left the convenience store parking lot when his girlfriend returned to his vehicle.

Dunn was staying over in a hotel, having gone to Jacksonville to attend his son’s wedding. He learned of the death from the shooting by watching the news and returned to his home in Satellite Beach. He was arrested on Saturday and is being held without bond.

It was recently reported that Dunn’s lawyer would be using a self-defense claim under the Stand Your Ground Law to defend his client. Dunn is claiming that he saw a gun barrel in the SUV’s window. There was no gun in the SUV according to Jacksonville Police.

The outrage surrounding the Trayvon Martin killing by George Zimmerman in Sanford arose from prosecutors finding no case could be made due to the Stand Your Ground Law which grants immunity in cases of self-defense, even against unarmed victims, provided the assailant claims to have been threatened.

A special panel convened by Gov. Rick Scott had just concluded its work and had released a draft final report last week which indicated that the law was essentially sound and effective and did not need any real change. A blog post here last week detailed the ways in which this panel and its report were a complete whitewash.

The Stand Your Ground Law was sponsored by State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-ALEC/NRA/Ocala) who has continued to be a staunch defender of the law, and who served on Gov. Scott’s stacked special panel.

Once again, a shameful act is being given the indecency of validation by a despicable and unnecessary law. And once again, Floridians will get the spectacle of watching to see how you can get away with murder in Florida.

“Stand Your Ground” panel whitewashes murderous law


Yes, you can get away with murder in Florida. Just use the Stand Your Ground Law like so many have done already. There is no plan to change it.

It was February, 2012 when George Zimmerman shot to death unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL, and nothing happened to Zimmerman. As if in agreement with doing nothing , a special panel was convened  by Gov. Scott about the “Stand Your Ground” Law.  The panel met, heard testimony, and essentially decided to do nothing.

The vague and unnecessary “Stand Your Ground” Law sponsored in 2005 by NRA darling, State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), has proven deadly and unjust time after time after time. Amazingly, it took international furor weeks after the Trayvon Martin shooting for anyone to realize that Florida had handed a license to kill to its citizens if they simply felt threatened.

Local prosecutors declined to pursue charges against Zimmerman due to the “feel threatened” provision of the Stand Your Ground Law (776.013 “presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm”). As the uproar grew to a crescendo in late March, Gov. Scott and Attorney General Bondi called for a special prosecutor, State Attorney Angela Corey of Jacksonville, who eventually filed charges against Zimmerman.

The Governor’s panel, officially called the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, was criticized from its inception for being largely composed of the law’s legislative defenders, including Rep. Baxley – indeed, all had voted to enact the law. The panel had Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll as co-chair who had the Scott-like audacity to declare:

“It is a mischaracterization for anyone to presume this task force is not balanced.”

Carroll further underscored the predictable outcome:

The goal will be to “come forward with a better fix than what we have now, if there is truly a concern and an issue out there,” she said. [Emphasis added]

Apparently Carroll was unaware of the Trayvon Martin killing that had generated a tidal wave of concern about the issue. Are we off to a good start yet?

Baxley chimed in with his own unhelpful direction:

“Let’s don’t let this turn into a trial of [Florida Statutes Chapter] 776.” Baxley said it was “premature” to assume the law needed to be overhauled.

The bias against critics of the law being on the panel didn’t help allay the misgivings of community leaders and citizens. Many sensed a total whitewash had been initiated with the kind of arrogant disregard for minority citizen outrage that has come to characterize the GOP legislature and governor. Do something to humor and placate the noisome rabble (like a special panel), give it a few months to settle down, issue a meaningless report, and voila, who cares any longer?

And here we are, six months after the panel was chosen. The conclusion is that everything seems just fine. I know, what a shock. Click here for the draft final report, a whopping 5 pages (in 14 point font to make it appear longer?) with a one page conclusion that blithely affirms the value of the law, and seeks better definition of “unlawful activity.” That’s all, folks!

It must be noted that there were a number of other community leaders on the panel besides legislators. Click here to see the list and their bios. It is remarkable that no panel members have been able to utter a worthy reproach of this ridiculous law. Typical was co-chair Rev. R. B. Holmes (standing left in the above picture with Lt. Gov. Carroll and Gov. Scott) who was apparently worried about the law being pre-judged by critics when he should have been worried about the panel having pre-judged the law … with its blessing.

“It was a very difficult process where many people had already prejudged the outcome,” said vice-chairman R.B. Holmes, pastor of Tallahassee’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. “We’re very clear that we did it right.”

It remains incredible that such a deplorably inept outcome could be produced, no matter how rigged and predictable. Not even a hint of a fig leaf was offered to hide the shame of their sanction of murder!

Is my criticism the result of reading reams of testimony and listening to dozens of expert witnesses and legal whizzes in a slew of meetings around the state? Not hardly, but it doesn’t actually require much effort to get a grip on this.

Just click here for the Tampa Bay Times special web page on Stand Your Ground which documents cases and statistics that obviate the need for the Governor’s asinine special panel and its stooges.

Look under the big circle chart and see “Weapon Comparison.” Victims: 19 gun, 8 knife, 135 unarmed, 30 other. Accused: 121 gun, 36 knife, 18 unarmed, 17 other. Still have any questions?

The website states:

A Tampa Bay Times investigation has found that Florida’s “stand your ground” law is being used in ways never imagined — to free gang members involved in shootouts, drug dealers beefing with clients, and people who shot their victims in the back. Defendants have invoked the law to excuse all manner of mischief, from minor fistfights to drug possession to killing an endangered species.

It will remain up to citizens, always, to insist that government act with justice and repeal this useless law that enables getting away with murder in Florida.

Ballot Bling Sting: 2012 Ballot Amendments seek to deter voting


My mail-in ballot arrived today. Woo-hoo! The end of 2012’s election season is in sight!

No, wait; not so fast! With two double-sided, legal sized pages of ballot, and with three quarters of it filled with a cesspool of dense word turds to form 11 proposed constitutional amendments, voters face a major test akin to an FCAT. In a sense, it may be worse.

Let’s call it “ballot bling” – gaudily accessorizing the ballot with unnecessary, overstated attachments. Let’s also be clear that it has been quite deliberately designed to be absurdly impenetrable, evidence of the latest show of Republican contempt for voting and democracy.

As if Dennis Baxley’s ALEC prompted voter suppression law wasn’t enough in targeting minorities, seniors, and young adults with restrictive new voting rules, his law removed the Sunday before Election Day from early voting in a blatant neo-Jim Crow racially motivated targeting of the “Souls to the Polls” effort by black churches. In addition, he insultingly claimed prevention of non-existent voter fraud, thereby donning a thin thong to mask the elephantine backside of their exposed corruption. Yet Baxley, Gov. Scott, and the Florida GOP cabal went further and further.

As if it wasn’t enough that Tea Party Governor Rick Scott’s selectively rescinded voter rights restoration for ex-felons, removing hundreds of thousands of individuals from exercising their vote who had fully paid their debt to society, Scott and his hatchet men sought feverishly to remove 180,000 more voters using inaccurate, inappropriate databases at the last minute while self-indulgently shrieking about undocumented and unproven voter fraud.

As if corrupt former FL GOP Chair Jim Greer’s admissions that the party has had an explicit internal strategy to deny the vote to specific groups like minorities and young adults, as well as recent revelations about open ballot buying in south Florida, the Florida GOP contracted with a third party solicitation business, Strategic Allied Consulting, that paid canvassers to bring in voter registrations, who happened to “lose” or deter citizens registering as Democrats, and filing (hold onto your hat) fraudulent voter registrations for the GOP, making the concerns about ACORN’s field work in 2008 seem totally tame.

Another Florida GOP move, now entering the curriculum at the Vladimir Putin School of Guaranteed Election Victory, will confront the voter who tries to complete their ballot with its 11 amendment proposals that range from utterly unconstitutional to unnecessary/useless, replete with intentionally confusing and obscure language. Having a master’s degree, I find the amendments incomprehensible. Good luck, average Joe and Jane Voter. Remember, this production didn’t happen by accident, friends.

A little history lesson is in order. There are two ways to amend the Florida constitution, either by citizen petition or by legislative action. The GOP dominated legislature holds the citizen petition process (and broad citizen participation in general) in contempt since things unpleasant to the GOP like the Hometown Democracy Amendment and the Fair Districts Amendment, for example, inconveniently found their way to qualifying. Therefore, the GOP legislators increased the voter majority needed for adoption from a simple majority – 50%+1 vote – to requiring 60% approval. They have also greatly shortened the amount of time to gain qualifying signatures, a massive grassroots effort anyway, that now makes it nearly impossible to accomplish without a huge multimillion dollar war chest to pay for a campaign. And thanks again, Dennis Baxley, for your contempt of citizen initiatives – this was another piece of your fine work to thwart democratic process.

Thinking they had everything lined up, GOP legislators put forth a couple of doozies championed by then House Speaker Dean Cannon in 2010 with the assistance of his leadership team including Dennis Baxley. Their three prize proposals were approved by the dominant GOP legislators and headed to the ballot. But then a lawsuit challenged their misleading and disingenuous titling and descriptions which led to their removal from the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court.

Speaker Cannon went ballistic – ther-mo-nuclear! – condemning the court for interfering in the legislature’s agenda by its … um … doing its job as an independent branch of government. Cannon’s vehemence that one party government should always, always, always prevail would never be assuaged, thereby explaining the current concerted effort to cripple the Supreme Court and any independent judiciary in Florida via the declared war on judicial retention by the Florida GOP (really!) plus Amendment 5 on the ballot which empowers the House to control the judiciary (not that unconstitutionality has ever concerned the GOP legislature and governor … ever).

The current effort was aided by (you guessed it) Dennis Baxley whose voter suppression law included a waiver of limitation on the text of any legislatively proposed amendment; citizen petitions remain limited to 140 words while ballot proposals by the legislature can spew verbiage ad nauseum, as can be witnessed on the current ballot.[1]

This gross prosaic indulgence has a despicable purpose. Voters of all kinds, but particularly those visiting a polling location either as early voters or as Election Day voters, are guaranteed – ga-run-teed! – to languish in the polling place, going cross-eyed trying to figure out what on God’s green earth they’re reading on the ballot, and causing lines to back up further and further and further. Breeding discouragement and ensuring that anyone with any kind of schedule will be spitting angry about the delays, plenty of citizens will be frustrated and/or forced to leave the line and relinquish their vote for 2012.

What to do?

  • First, request a mail-in ballot from the Supervisor of Elections by calling 620-3290 between 8:30am-4:30pm if you haven’t already.
  • Second, vote “no” on every single amendment, as recommended by numerous sources including the Florida League of Women Voters, until you get to the very last item on the ballot.
  • Third, the very last item is not a proposed amendment; it is the Munroe Hospital bond issue, and you must vote “yes” for that one.

Now that was easier, right?

Oops, one more thing:

  • Fourth, tell your friends to do one, two and three above, and then share with their friends.

Smart voters will save this democracy from the fascists and plutocrats yet.

[1] Hat tip to former County Commissioner and attorney Judy Johnson, who has provided totally balanced analyses of constitutional amendments for many years throughout the community, for explaining the reason for the change in text length.

Marion Democrats “fired up and ready to go!”


Today, we welcome guest contributor Delphine Blachowicz Herbert to Daily Marion.

Three hundred Marion County Democrats were “fired up and ready to go” when they packed to capacity the banquet hall of the Ocala Hilton on Sunday night to hear Grace Nelson, the wife of Florida Senator Bill Nelson, lead a salute to women who have been in the forefront of effective change both here and abroad.

The “Annual Proud to be a Democrat Dinner” attendees were welcomed by hostess Dr. Joyce Blake, State Committeewoman and Coordinated Campaign chair, and Reginald Landers, Jr., recently elected Chairman of the Marion County Democratic Executive Committee, both of whom pointed out that the party is “moving on up” and ready to turn Marion County “blue” with the relocation of its headquarters to 601 SW First Avenue in downtown Ocala.

Former Congresswoman Karen Thurman introduced Grace Nelson as “her personal first lady of Florida” and an effective ambassador for women and children across the state and around the world.

“Women know that power is not necessarily in a position,” Mrs. Nelson said, citing the influence of transformative politicians’ spouses such as Eleanor Roosevelt and her friendship with Mary Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona, and Michelle Obama who with Jill Biden fights for the rights of the men and women serving in the military, and against the obesity which afflicts the health of our nation and its youth in particular.

Nelson spoke movingly of her trips to Rwanda with her husband where almost a million people died in three months during the genocidal tribal warfare of 1994. Despite unspeakable atrocities, the women of Rwanda decided to forgive their oppressors with the result that women now occupy 59% of parliament, and the country claims the fastest growing GNP in all of Africa.

“Hate radio started poisoning the minds of the Rwandans,” Nelson said, drawing a parallel with those who kill elsewhere with words rather than machetes.  “This is not the Democratic way nor is it the Republican way,” voicing her concern that our children are growing up thinking that refusal to compromise or even discuss differing points of view is the norm.  Nelson feels that the gaping division between our citizens is a problem even more serious than the economy, the wars, or drug addiction.

“We must see our Earth as my husband did while in space, with no racial, political and religious divisions, just the beautiful home in Norman Rockwell’s portrait where people of all religious backgrounds  subscribe to varying versions of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Democratic candidates spoke briefly following Mrs. Nelson’s address.  They included Clovis Watson (State Rep), J. R. Gaillot (US Congress), Frank Bruno (State Senate), Diana Greene (School Superintendent), Jessica Hadley (County Commission) and Judge Cochran (Supervisor of Elections).

The evening concluded with a salute to eight local women who have worked for the common good in our community.  They are: Mary Sue Rich, Karen Thurmond, Edwina Harris, Sue Lyons, Juanita Cunningham, Marjorie Renfroe, Loretta Jenkins, and Oneida Darley.

Events coordinator Sally Eller Smith was workaholic-in-chief who made the evening a resounding success with serious assists from Michele Kudrna, Stephanie Miller, Eunice Dawkins, Nora Travieso, Sheila Feldman, and Jan Lentz.

The evening concluded with a salute to eight local women who have worked for the common good in our community.  They are: Mary Sue Rich, Karen Thurmond, Edwina Harris, Sue Lyons, Juanita Cunningham, Marjorie Renfroe, Loretta Jenkins, and Oneida Darley.

The energy you saw at the Democratic National Convention last week was on full display on Sunday night as local Democrats showed they are serious about working for good results ni the 2012 election.

where people of all religious backgrounds  subscribe to varying versions of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”/p

Update: What’s this, Watson? More?


Just a quick note to readers interested in yesterday’s post about the HD-20 race. You should go to the Comments at the end where you’ll find a long comment from “Public Citizen.” The comment contains a link to a YouTube video that is quite revealing.

Click here for the video

Being in Marion County, we aren’t customarily watching the happenings in the City of Alachua. This additional information is rather stunning and makes you wonder if people in Gainesville are even aware of the tight knit club running the City of Alachua that has included Clovis Watson.

The video is over 40 minutes long, but if you can’t watch the whole thing, be sure to check in at about 26:00 for Grapski’s lunchtime encounter with an egg eating Clovis Watson, pictured in the screen grab above.

You’ll also want to see Watson in a public announcement promising to help turn Alachua “red” for the Republicans at about 31:00. I guess it was during his “Republican” period.

Grapski’s ridiculous, unwarranted arrest at an Alachua  City Council meeting follows, showing just how out of control City of Alachua government can be. Watson wore several hats besides City Manager, at least one self-anointed, making him a key team member.

Charlie Grapski may be one of those royal pains that seem to haunt government operations, but most municipal officials have the ability to handle it without resorting to the deployment of law enforcement to bully citizens. Not so in Alachua; not so for Clovis Watson.

It all took place a few years ago, but take a look and evaluate it yourself.

Gay-Straight Alliance at local high school is new campaign issue


While the national debate over gay marriage escalated following the Vice President’s and President’s remarks of approval, Marion County campaigns for Superintendent and School Board can expect a similar rush of interest in LGBT issues. A lawsuit was filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Florida on behalf of two Vanguard High students who had sought to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), but were denied by School Superintendent Jim Yancey.

The Ocala Star Banner reported on the lawsuit which seeks to gain the youth group’s approval from Yancey, and recover legal fees.

Gay-Straight Alliance is a national network that is organized for “empowering youth activists to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools.”

Yancey’s reasons to deny the local group’s club application, which met all qualifying requirements, were reported in the noted Star Banner article:

The students had made official requests to Vanguard’s principal, who rejected them. They appealed to Yancey, who also refuted the club’s establishment because “the student club’s purpose is not age appropriate,” the lawsuit stated.

“We don’t have those kinds of conversation [sic] about sexual orientation in our school district,” Yancey said in a phone interview on Thursday. “Those are more appropriate for more family atmospheres and for adult conversations.”

This adds Marion County to the list of school districts that have denied Gay-Straight Alliances from forming and have ended up in court.

Civil rights advocates have successfully cited the 1984 Federal Equal Access Act in their demand for permission. Ironically, that law was promoted initially to allow Bible study clubs in schools.

The Act provides that if a school receives federal aid and has a “limited open forum,” or at least one student-led non-curriculum club that meets outside of class time, it must allow additional such clubs to be organized, and must give them equal access to meeting spaces and school publications. Exceptions can be made for groups that “materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school,” and a school can technically “opt out” of the act by prohibiting all non-curriculum clubs.

Given the GSA’s mission, the administration will have a difficult time defending refusal of this group’s request.

Now we can expect “the conversation” about sexual orientation in high schools will be taken up not only in court, but also in the political campaigns for school offices that are heating up, as a recent post here noted the high public interest in the School Superintendent race.

The loudest local voices can be expected to endorse Yancey’s decision, but as is common, the loudest voices aren’t always the wisest. One would be hard pressed to think of a better place for these conversations to take place, and for a better mission statement than the Gay-Straight Alliance.

To imagine that such conversations will occur in ‘families’ or ‘among adults’ in any kind of helpful fashion completely misses the point, and even denies reality. The place where the issue is being engaged is in the high schools, precisely not at family tables and water coolers, and obviously it is in high schools (at least) where the conversation on how to engage gay-straight relations needs to be facilitated.

Further, that something regarding human sexuality is not ‘age appropriate’ among high school students is utterly implausible.

However, to call it a “hot potato” that any intelligent administrator would prefer to avoid is perfectly on target. The phone would ring off the hook if such a group gained approval.

Just watch how the candidates will squirm, posture, and prevaricate when this challenge comes up. That irksome tax question is going to be preferable in the future.

To see how ‘families’ and ‘adults’ handle the issue, be sure to attend the next candidate forum or watch the Letters to the Editor page of the Star Banner for a sampling. It should bring forth a level of ugliness that indicates the need for a GSA in every high school at the very least.

Settle this case, save a bundle of money, and move forward in a way that encourages our students to learn about the world around them, not dwell in a fantasy of denial or drown in narrow-minded demagoguery.

Why “Stand Your Ground” Is Actually “Shoot First”


The parents of Trayvon Martin

Cross-posted from Progress Florida.

The tragic death of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of self-appointed “neighborhood watchman” George Zimmerman has reignited the debate over Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law. The law, passed with a bi-partisan vote and signed by then Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005 at the behest of the National Rifle Association, is described by its proponents as allowing people to defend themselves when attacked.

The sponsor of the bill in the Florida House, Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) has defended his law using this line of reasoning. From his article defending the law in today’s New York Times:

The Stand Your Ground law, as passed, clarified that individuals are lawfully able to defend themselves when attacked and there is no duty to retreat when an individual is attacked on his property. Since its enactment, 20 other states have implemented similar statues. Additionally, the American Legislative Exchange Council used the Florida law as model legislation for other states. Quite simply it is a good law that now protects individuals in most states.

But media reports about Trayvon Martin’s death indicate that Zimmerman’s unnecessary pursuit and confrontation of Martin elevated the prospect of a violent episode, and does not seem to be an act of self defense as defined by the law.

This has been and continues to be the argument of those who continue to support the so-called “Stand Your Ground law” – that it can’t possibly apply to George Zimmerman’s actions and that public anger is misplaced. Those who are making this argument – including Rep. Baxley – seem not to have read the actual law. Thankfully, Adam Winkler, a professor of law at UCLA, actually took the time to read the law and as he points out in today’s New York Times (emphasis mine):

Florida legislators, however, insist the Stand Your Ground law does not provide a defense for people like Zimmerman, who pursue and confront someone. Florida Senator Durrell Peadon, who sponsored the law, said that Zimmerman “has no protection under my law.” According to state Representative Dennis Baxley, “There’s nothing in this statute that authorizes you to pursue and confront people.” The law, Baxley notes, was designed only “to prevent you from being attacked by other people.”

The problem is that nothing in Peadon and Baxley’s law says this. It provides that any person may use deadly force when “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.” So long as someone reasonably thinks he or someone else is in danger, he can shoot to kill, regardless of whether the shooter is the one who initiated the hostile confrontation.

Indeed, given the law’s authorization of the use of deadly force to protect other people and, as the law also provides, “to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony,” Florida’s law unambiguously authorizes people to pursue and confront others. Whatever the merits of standing your ground when personally threatened, Florida’s law goes much further and encourages vigilantism. It tells people, who today are increasingly likely to be carrying concealed weapons, that they can pretend to be police officers and use their guns to protect and serve the broader public.

Unsurprisingly, like most legislation we see from the extreme right, the name of this law is poll tested and marketed for maximum persuasive effect. A lot of people, including well-intentioned progressives, are falling for this branding trap hook, line, and sinker. I admit I did as well at first. But in truth, “Stand Your Ground” has nothing to do with standing your ground and everything to do with allowing citizens to appoint themselves arms of the law. It’s “Shoot First” vigilantism, not self defense, and until this law is changed it’s only a matter of time before the next tragedy.

Furthermore, the dispute over Florida’s “Shoot First” law extends beyond the tragic death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. Since this law was enacted in 2005, the number of “justifiable homicides” has skyrocketed an estimated 300%.

Justifiable Homicides In Florida 2000-2010

(Source: Data issued by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement)

We must look beyond this statistic however, and understand some of the ramifications this law has had on everyday Floridians. From Susan Clary’s column in today’s Florida Voices:

  • Two men argue whether a teenager should be allowed to skateboard in a Tampa park. The fight ends with one man shooting the other dead in front of his 8-year-old daughter.
  • A 15-year-old died after two gangs brawled in Tallahassee, leaving no one accountable for his death.
  • A man shot and killed two people during an altercation aboard a 35-foot sailboat anchored near Riviera Beach.
  • A driver attacked and killed another with an ice pick during a road rage incident.
  • The owner of a towing company killed a man he claimed tried to run him over while retrieving his car from an impound lot.
  • A car salesman shot another man in a barroom argument over cigarettes.
  • A decorated Army veteran and father of two was killed outside his elderly mother’s Cape Coral home after a neighbor mistook him for a thief.
  • A drunken Land ‘O Lakes man was shot, but not killed, after he mistakenly tried the door at the wrong house in his neighborhood.
  • A man chased and killed a burglar in Miami and successfully claimed self-defense, though he shot the man in the back.

The stories go on. How many are needed to admit this law is a grave mistake?

We can only hope that the massive public outcry for justice in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s unnecessary and tragic death will lead to the end of Florida’s “Shoot First” law. It’s long past time to reign in the legal vigilantism this law allows, save lives, and allow our democratic system of justice to work.

Hell Just Froze! ACLU and Liberty Counsel Agree: Prayer Bill Is a Loser


That’s right, join me in picking your face up off the floor: the ACLU and Liberty Counsel actually agree about something. Not that the sky is blue or that water is wet. They agree that the school prayer bill (SB 98) sponsored by Sen. Gary Siplin (D-Orlando) is not worth the court fight.

This page had addressed Sen. Siplin’s ridiculous waste of a bill in a recent post. This comment from that post about sums it up:

[SB 98] is wrong-headed, inept, unnecessary, and doomed to legal oblivion.

Bear in mind, Liberty Counsel sustains itself by taking loser cases just like this – church vs. state cases – and billing their clients liberally, usually right-wing led governing bodies who are convinced that the Constitution is unconstitutional and are willing to spend taxpayer dollars to prove that they are complete imbeciles. SB 98 would have given a truckload of business to Liberty Counsel since each school district would need to litigate its own rules. In legalese, that would mean: cha-ching!

The only reason for Liberty Counsel to not endorse a bill like this is that it couldn’t make any decent billings. In short, they knew they couldn’t even put together a prima facie case, i.e. one that would survive a raised eyebrow in court. Wasting a judge’s time isn’t a smart move and could backfire badly. This law would be a total waste of time.

“I’m an advocate of student speech,” said Mat Staver, founder of [Liberty Counsel - pictured left]. “But this bill will run into constitutional problems and I don’t think it’s right to make school districts litigate this issue again — and they will have to.”

That phrase “constitutional problems” is a bit telling. Since Liberty Counsel’s line of work is “constitutional problems,” that’s like Winnie the Pooh turning down a jar of honey because it is too sweet. It is an indication of just how hopeless this proposal is.

But you also need to realize that this bill isn’t dead yet. No, no. Passions have been aroused and the righteous are unlikely to retreat just because of common sense. Oh, no.

There has been plenty of discussion in the House since the Senate already passed this 31-8. It’s been led by the Rev. Rep. Charlie Van Zant (R-Keystone – pictured left), the right wing nutty quote machine and Southern Baptist pastor whose district includes eastern Marion from the Forest to Stonecrest in Summerfield. This is right up Van Zant’s alley.

In fact, Van Zant, who is also a school board member in Clay County, is already embroiled in a school board lawsuit over prayer policy (no more flagpole prayers) with Liberty Counsel at his side (surprise, surprise). Van Zant is the perfect advocate for this law.

The House Education Committee discussion turned to what constituted an “inspirational message” which is literally what the bill would allow. It also demanded (demanded!) no adult oversight by any school official. What could possibly go wrong?

“What this bill does is open the possibility of messages of hate,” [Rep. Dwight] Bullard [D-Miami] argued. “We are not living in a post-racial society.”

Bullard is an African American and a teacher as well as ranking Democratic committee member.

Van Zant objected as the discussion continued to raise the possibility of racist commentary qualifying as an “inspirational message.”

Van Zant dismissed their concerns and told them to “get away” from saying “African-American … African-American … African-American.” [He said,] “We are all Americans.”

Thank you for another memorable quote, Rep. Van Zant. (No, Van Zant is not an African American, just in case you were wondering. He is an American to the best of our knowledge.) But he was on a roll; here’s another:

“Schools have been restricted from free speech,” Van Zant said …”We need to open up the schools to free speech so that students can say what’s on their minds, without censorship from the administration.”

Another noteworthy remark came from the representative who believes teachers should issue grades for parents, and sponsored a bill to implement it as law in Florida. Yes, you read that right: teachers grading parents.

But supporters of the proposal ridiculed opponents as effectively battling First Amendment freedoms. “What scares me the most is those who think we need to direct what students think,” said Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

In some circles, that wacky idea of “directing what students think” is part of what’s called “teaching,” part of a process known as “learning.” Of course, you would have to believe that students didn’t come with wisdom built-in, just like parenting is not a built-in skill, nor is teaching a built-in human characteristic, but a profession. Rep. Stargel is full of unusual ideas, but let’s wrap this up.

CS/SB 98 bill passed the House Education Committee 9-6, despite all of the above. It is now with the House Judiciary Committee. Maybe it will mercifully die there. Let’s pray for its demise, shall we?