Archive for May, 2012

Fifty Shades of Censorship

Maria Kayanan
Associate Legal Director, ACLU of Florida

Fifty Shades of Grey Cover

I’m a lawyer, not a literary critic. I can’t predict whether E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy has literary merit or is just a blip on the radar screen of popular culture.  Have I read the books?  Sure.  Research is central to a lawyer’s work.  Do I care who’ll play Anastasia Steele or Christian Grey in the film version of the trilogy?  Nope.

But I care about the First Amendment, and I know censorship when I see it.  When the Brevard public library removed from circulation nineteen copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, based on one individual’s misguided sense of decorum, a resounding chorus of “Really?” was heard across the country:  in 2012, would a public library, an arm of the government, really strip a book from its collection on the ground that it was “semi-pornographic”?  Mind you, this is a public library that carries the Zane chronicles, including Gettin’ Buck Wild:  Sex Chronicles II (Zane Does Incredible, Erotic Things). Really.

In Brevard County, “Really?” became “Hell, no,” as men and women, card-carrying members of the Brevard County Library System demanded that the books be returned to the shelves.  On May 24, the ACLU of Florida and the National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter to the Brevard County Commissioners, reminding them that the County’s removal of “Fifty Shades of Grey” from circulation violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Section 4 of the Florida Constitution and exposed the County Commission to potential liability.

Yesterday, on May 28, the County’s Communications Director announced that “The Brevard County Library System will return ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ to its library shelves.”  The Library Services Director, who had made the initial decision to scrap the books, remarked “We have always stood against censorship.”  Really.

But all’s well that ends well:  score one for the First Amendment.  “Laters, baby.”

Report Card in Apopka

By Derek Newton
Communications Director

Apopka is a small community outside Orlando that is on the verge of being consumed by Central Florida sprawl and suburban planning but its agrarian roots and the impact of the Hispanic community are easy to see.

ACLU Policy and Advocacy Counsel Julie Ebenstein addresses the media in Apopka, FL on May 23, 2012

A stone’s throw from Apopka High School is the HOPE CommUnity Center which, “is dedicated to empowerment of Central Florida’s immigrant and working poor communities through Education, Advocacy and Spiritual Growth.”

As a landmark for immigrant families, it was a perfect setting for yesterday’s ACLU of Florida press conference at which we issued a report card on the unsettling practice of school districts not making clear that Social Security numbers (SSN) are not required for enrollment in public schools. In spite of federal law requiring it, many school districts, including several in Central Florida, are still asking for SSN on enrollment forms without stating the information is voluntary.

The result is that immigrant families may have to choose between sending kids to school and what they think could be in inquiry into the citizenship status of those children or other family members.

 It’s would be a tragic choice especially considering no such choice is necessary. Since schools don’t need a SSN to enroll, there is no reason to put parents and families through that difficulty.

After surveying all 67 Florida districts, the ACLU found nearly half of those districts – 30 in all – received a grade of “C” or lower in how they ask for and handle SSN on enrollment forms. Eleven districts, including a handful in Central Florida, failed outright by making no effort whatsoever to comply with federal law on the use of SSN.  

Based on our report card and press conference, several districts including Orange County (which received an “F”), said they would re-examine their enrollment form for next school year.

Vengo de un país de gente hermosa que es asesinada cada treinta minutos

When People Ask Me
by Carolina Gonzalez
Public Information Officer

ImageWhen people ask where I come from, I always say “I come from a country of beautiful people who are murdered every 30 minutes” (According to El Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia). That country is Venezuela. As many people in my country, I had been witness (an even victim) of violence due to common delinquency, and with the hope that things can change I started orienting my professional career towards social justice and humanitarian work.

 One of the biggest social artistic projects that I developed in Venezuela with a team of colleagues was “Esperanza” (Hope), which featured 52 mothers who had lost one or several children due to violence, and who wish to send out a message of peace. Our presentation included large installations of images of these mother’s faces blanketing Caracas as an outcry for peace. Our intention: to give a face to the hope for the end of violence.

I arrived in the United States three years ago as an International Student, following the dream of receiving artistic education that will allow me to continue using art to improve people’s lives. When I first came to this country I spoke very little English and it was very challenging for me to understand the classes. At the beginning I had to do the assignments at least four days in advance and then take money from my pocket (with a student budget) to take it to an editor that would correct it and make sure that what I had written was understandable. Studying took me twice as long as the average person because of the language barrier. Nevertheless and despite all the obstacles I got my degree Summa Cum Laude.

After having sat in a classroom being just a listener, I have now become part of the ACLU team as Public Information Officer. I think my testimony is an example of the strength and perseverance that immigrants have when they come to the United States, who not only overcome the cultural barriers and achieve their personal goals, but also contribute to American society. Therefore, to me it’s a real honor to have the privilege of being part of the ACLU and fight for the rights of these people. I consider that this organization has made an indelible line of social justice in the history of United States and even it has been an inspiration for other organizations around the world. 

I will always be grateful to ACLU for allowing me to be part of its fight.

Cuando las personas me preguntan de dónde vengo, siempre respondo “Vengo de un país de gente hermosa que es asesinada cada treinta minutos” (Según cifras del Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia). Ese país es Venezuela. Al igual que muchas personas en mi país, yo he sido testigo (e incluso víctima) de la violencia debido a la delincuencia común, y con la esperanza de que las cosas pueden cambiar, comencé a orientar mi carrera profesional hacia la justicia social y la labor humanitaria.

Uno de los proyectos artístico sociales más grandes que desarrollé en Venezuela con un grupo de colegas fue “Esperanza”, el cual retrató a 52 madres que han perdido a uno o varios hijos a causa de la violencia, para hacer un clamor de paz. Nuestra carta de presentación fueron las gigantografías de sus rostros que tapizaron la ciudad de Caracas. Nuestra intención: ponerle cara a la esperanza por el fin de la violencia. 

Yo llegué a los Estados Unidos hace tres años como Estudiante Internacional, siguiendo el sueño de recibir más formación artística que me permitiera continuar utilizando el arte para mejorar la vida de las personas. Al principio hablaba muy poco inglés y para mí era muy retador entender las clases. De hecho, al principio tenía que hacer los trabajos y tareas con al menos cuatro días de anticipación para poder enviarlas a un corrector de texto que se asegurara de que lo que yo había escrito se entendiera (incluso tomaba dinero de mi estrecho presupuesto de estudiante para poder pagar estas correcciones). Adicionalmente, estudiar me tomaba el doble de tiempo que a un estudiante promedio debido también a la barrera del idioma. Sin embargo, a pesar de todos estos obstáculos obtuve mi título Summa Cum Laude.

 Luego de haber estado sentada en el salón de clases, siendo solo una oyente, ahora he pasado a formar parte del equipo de La Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles de la Florida (ACLU). Creo firmemente que mi testimonio es un ejemplo de la fuerza y perseverancia que tienen las personas inmigrantes cuando vienen a Los Estados Unidos, quienes no sólo superan las barreras culturas y alcanzan sus metas personales, sino que también contribuyen con la sociedad americana. Por ello, para mí es un verdadero honor el tener el privilegio de formar parte del ACLU y luchar por los derechos de estas personas. Considero que esta organización ha marcado una línea imborrable de justicia social en la historia de los Estados Unidos, e incluso ha servido de inspiración a otras organizaciones alrededor del mundo. Siempre le estaré agradecida al ACLU por permitirme formar parte de su lucha.

Standing On Shaky Ground: Rick Scott’s Defense Of Selective Constitutional Rights

Guest Post
By Martha Jackovics
Beach Peanuts
beachpeanuts@gmail.com
@BeachPeanuts

On the very same day that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn sent a request to Gov. Rick Scott to restrict carrying firearms during the Republican Convention this summer, the governor responded:

No.

Not exactly a shocking response from the gun owner, NRA member, and the man who stacked the new Stand Your Ground Task Force with gun friendly lawmakers,some who actually wrote the law and have already defended it as it pertains to Trayvon Martin case in op-eds before they were appointed.

From The Tampa Tribune:

“The short answer to your request is found in the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in Article 1, Section 8 of the Florida Constitution,” Scott replied.

Both sections guarantee citizens’ rights to keep and bear guns, he noted.

In his letter, Buckhorn appealed to the governor to restrict carrying firearms during the RNC in downtown Tampa under the emergency powers granted to the governor during times of emergency. Given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the RNC, placing no limits on gun possession could increase the threat to public safety, Buckhorn’s letter argued.

Scott replied that he understood Buckhorn’s concern. The city already plans to ban sticks, poles, water guns and lots of other potential weapons from a downtown “event zone.”

(In his letter, Scott adds this: “Firearms are noticeably included, however, in the 2nd Amendment. The choice to allow the government to ban sticks and poles, but not firearms, is one that the People made in enacting their state and federal constitutions.)

“But it is unclear how disarming law-abiding citizens would better protect them from the dangers and threats posed by those who would flout the law,” Scott wrote. “It is at just such times that the constitutional right to self defense is most precious and must be protected from government overreach.”

Scott said he was confident law enforcement would be able to protect Tampa’s citizens and visitors without the extra step of banning guns.

Buckhorn said he wasn’t concerned with people licensed to carry concealed weapons, a list that used to include him. He said he was more worried about one of those licensed weapons getting loose and landing in the wrong hands.

“Some of the people that will be here in August are not exactly model citizens,” he said. “I think even the most ardent 2nd Amendment supporter would understand why I made that request.”

Yes, even the most ardent 2nd Amendment supporters would understand Buckhorn’s point, (not to mention law-enforcement officers) but this is Rick Scott we’re talking about, and we can add this to the very long list of things that he fails to understand about governing. 

Also not shocking is the hypocrisy employed in Scott’s decision. 

It seems Gov. Scott would prefer risking a “shootout at the O.K. Corral” situation rather than diss the NRA trample on one’s constitutional rights. After all, Scott is a well known defender of constitutional rights!

Except when he isn’t.

Also in his letter to Mayor Buckhorn, Scott wrote

“We have had political conventions in this country since the dawn of the Republic. They are an essential means of furthering our constitutional rights to free speech and to vote. “Our fundamental right to keep and bear arms has coexisted with those freedoms for just as long, and I see no reason to depart from that tradition this year.”

Surely you jest, Gov. Overreach? Our constitutional rights to free speech and to vote? In Rick Scott’s Florida, constitutional rights are selective.

For example, some would say that the concept of free speech ceased to exist once Scott bought his way into Tallahassee and declared Florida “Open For Business.Scott’s alliance with “big business” has been beneficial to both, and he seems to be a firm believer in the Mitt Romney school of thought:

“Corporations are people, my friends!”

That’s not the only similarity between the two. In fact, anyone thinking of voting for Romney might want to pay a visit to Florida or talk to a resident first. Florida under Scott’s slash and burn policies can provide an ugly preview of the potential disaster in the wake of a President Romney. The lower your income, if you have one, the less rights you have. Just ask a Florida welfare recipient.

Voting rights were one of the first things to come under assault in Florida after Scott arrived. Sure, we still have the “right” to vote, but thanks to Scott and the conservative majority in the legislature, it’s much harder to exercise that right. Where was Scott’s love of the Constitution when the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on civil rights and the Constitution was holding hearings on those voting restrictions? As you’ll recall, when asked what steps Scott’s administration planned to take to ensure Florida’s new laws didn’t disenfranchise Florida voters, he didn’t bother to respond. He never showed up for the hearings either.

In fact, Rick Scott spends a great deal of time AND money on issues dealing with the rights of Floridians. Unfortunately it’s taxpayer money, and it’s due to Scott restricting those rights rather than defending them, and we all pay dearly on both counts. Never mind that the courts have often ruled in our favor. Scott, or the “Supreme Executive”as he refers to himself, just declares those courts “wrong” and we’re forced to spend more on seemingly endless appeals. So many, in fact, when Scott “disagreed” with a judge recently who found an unconstitutional breach of contract where Scott cut state salaries to offset pensions, the governor’s press release began with: “As you would expect, I believe this decision is simply wrong.

“As you would expect” will no doubt become boilerplate for many a future press release from the governor’s office, as the potential for appeal list is long. From drug testing welfare recipients and state employees, to privatizing prisons and education from elementary schools to colleges and universities, and on and on.

With so many challenges at such high costs, Scott’s method of governing seems to fly in the face of his philosophy as a fiscally conservative, “small government candidate,” but no matter. While Rick Scott disagrees with so many in the judicial branch, he’s come up with a “simple” solution for that too. Simply convince the legislature to give you the power to hand pick the judges yourself, pretend that your constituents would like nothing more than allowing their governor unchecked power, then give this response publicly to the media: “When you’re elected governor, people expect you to not have a limit on who you can appoint.” 

In Florida right now, Constitutional rights are fragile things and they need to be protected. Do you trust this man with yours?



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