Archive for the 'Free Speech' Category

Report: Protecting the Rights of Floridians in the Rick Scott Era

The ACLU of Florida has just issued a report entitled, “Protecting the Rights of Floridians in the Rick Scott Era: A Two-Year Report on Combatting Assaults by the Legislature and the Administration of Gov. Rick Scott on Civil Liberties,” which illustrates the work the ACLU and other organizations have undertaken to defend civil rights in Florida over  the last two years.

“In order to defend the rights of Floridians from their own state government, the ACLU of Florida was involved in nine lawsuits challenging Gov. Scott’s policies and legislative attacks on civil liberties[.]”

Among the issues listed in the report were:

  • the right to vote,
  • the right to be free from unreasonable searches,
  • religious freedom and the separation of church and state,
  • women’s rights and reproductive freedom,
  • an independent judiciary, and
  • freedom of speech.

The report was released at the halfway point of Governor Rick Scott’s term and before the new session of the Florida legislature gets under way.

“With the 2012 elections behind us and the 2014 gubernatorial election  already effectively begun,  it appears that the Governor is attempting to moderate his views to make them palatable,” said ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.

“But no public relations campaign can paper over the picture described in our report,” continued Simon, “that for the last two years, whether it has been the right to vote, freedom from unreasonable searches by government officials, women’s rights, the protection of personal privacy, religious freedom or freedom of speech, the ACLU has had to protect Floridians from a wide-ranging assault on their rights by their own Legislature and Governor.”

Download the report. (PDF)

Volunteers Needed: Join Us in Defense of Free Speech at the RNC

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

First Amendment

We’ve been preparing ourselves and our communities for months, and now it’s finally here. In just over a week, the eyes of the world will be on Florida when the 2012 Republican National Convention comes to Tampa.

Help us protect First Amendment rights on the streets of Tampa by volunteering with the ACLU of Florida.

With the help of ACLU supporters like you, we’ve held town halls, forums and webinars, we’ve created and distributed materials about First Amendment rights, and we’ve met with city and law enforcement leaders to make sure that people’s rights are being protected, all in preparation for what’s happening in our state in a few short days. Now is your chance to help us make sure that all of that work pays off.

While the world focuses on what’s happening inside the arena, there will be thousands of people outside attempting to exercise their First Amendment rights while navigating rules, restrictions and a major law enforcement presence. We need volunteers to help with a public education campaign to let demonstrators, journalists, activists and even local citizens know about their rights and the role of the ACLU in protecting those rights.

Sign up today to volunteer during the RNC and be a part of First Amendment history.

The RNC is coming. Is the Bill of Rights Ready?

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

First AmendmentAt the end of this month, thousands of protesters, journalists, and political activists will descend on the Tampa Bay area for the 2012 Republican National Convention. And with their arrival comes increased police presence, new local laws, and millions of dollars in surveillance and law enforcement equipment, all of which will change the way citizens in the area live their lives and understand their rights.

Join us on Tuesday, August 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. for 2012 RNC in Tampa: What You Need to Know, a free forum on what the RNC means for you and what you can do to protect your rights. We’ll discuss the rights of demonstrators and photographers, the permitting process and other rules and restrictions passed for the event, and take questions from the attendees on how you can stand up for your rights.

The event will feature leaders from the ACLU of Florida; First Amendment experts Dr. Bruce Friesen from the University of Tampa Human Rights Think Tank, and Prof. Louis Virelli of Stetson University College of Law; and civic leaders such as Public Defender Julianne Holt, Tampa City Attorney James Shimberg, and Tampa Police Department Assistant Chief John Bennett.

The event is co-sponsored by the University of Tampa and is free and open to the public. To RSVP or if you have any additional questions or comments, please contact our Mid-Florida Regional Director Joyce Hamilton Henry at jhamiltonhenry@aclufl.org.

Invite your friends, family, and anyone else who will be impacted by the RNC. We look forward to seeing you at the forum!

July 10 Webinar on the RNC in Tampa

First Amendment BullhornBaylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

In just over two months, our state will be at the center of global attention, as thousands of journalists, political activists, and protesters descend on Tampa for the 2012 Republican National Convention. How will policies and laws put into place for the Convention impact the rights of the reporters, demonstrators, and the citizens of Florida? And what can we do to ensure that our First Amendment rights and other freedoms are being upheld?

Join us online on Tuesday, July 10 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. for a free know-your-rights webinar, 2012 RNC in Tampa: What You Need to Know. We’ll discuss the rights of demonstrators and photographers, the permitting process and other rules and restrictions passed for the event, and take questions from the webinar attendees on how you can stand up for your rights.

The webinar will feature speakers from the ACLU of Florida, the Public Defender’s Office, as well as Tampa City Attorney James Shimberg, and Tampa Police Department Chief Jane Castor and Assistant Chief John Bennett.

Register for the webinar today to reserve your spot. You will receive an email with log-in information after you have registered. For additional questions or comments, contact our Mid-Florida Regional Director Joyce Hamilton Henry at jhamiltonhenry@aclufl.org.

UPDATE 7/10: Excitement for the webinar has exceeded our expectations! So many people have registered to learn to protect their rights that we may exceed the capacity for the webinar. If you have registered, try to log in early to ensure your spot in the webinar. If the webinar is full when you attempt to log in, keep trying, or follow us on Twitter as we livetweet the event at @ACLUFL, and download the PowerPoint (approx. 3MB) here.

Legal Victory – Voter Registration

Legal Victory – Voter Registration
By Derek Newton
ACLU of Florida Communications Director

Yesterday a federal court in Tallahassee blocked enforcement of a key portion of Florida’s new voting laws – the section which placed new restrictions and financial penalties on civic groups which undertook voter registration drives.

The new law was so bad that groups such as The League of Women Voters stopped registering voters entirely and two teachers were threatened with fines for registering students in their classrooms under the guise of cracking down on ‘voter fraud.’

The ACLU was part of the legal team representing The League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and other impacted groups in Constitutional challenge to the law. We argued, in part, that restricting the rights of individuals and organizations to engage in the political process without a compelling state interest was a violation of First Amendment. The judge agreed.

In the ruling the Judge wrote, “The short deadline, coupled with substantial penalties for noncompliance, make voter registration drives a risky business.  If the goal is to discourage voter registration drives and thus make it harder for new voters to register, the 48-hour deadline may succeed.”

Clearly, as we argued from the very considering on this law in the Legislature, the goal was to make it harder for people to register to vote. And limited those opportunities has a real impact on the people who do voter registration as well as the voters and communities they engage.

Other parts of the law made it harder to vote and harder to have your vote counted. Those provisions are also under review in another case where ACLU is part of the legal team. This one is before a federal court in the District of Columbia and will determine whether the changes are legal under the U.S. Voting Rights Act because of their disproportionate impact on racial and language minorities.

Those changes and Florida’s recent and deeply flawed efforts to remove legally registered voters from the voting roles are part of a pattern in Florida to make voting harder and more complicated.

But the decision yesterday was a significant step in re-establishing the rule of law of the weight of constitutional protections in Florida’s election procedures. As the judge also wrote yesterday, “Soliciting an application [to register to vote] is core First Amendment speech.”

Yes, it is.

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.”

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?

Guest Speakers in the Classroom

Joyce Hamilton Henry

Director, Mid-Florida Regional Office of the ACLU of Florida

One can clearly agree that the classroom curriculum is greatly enhanced by real life experiences of individuals and experts in the field.  This prepares our students for the real world and a global society.

After months of pressure from a group of individuals led by David Caton, the Hillsborough School Board decided to maintain its existing policy which will allow guest speakers in the classroom.  The Mid-Florida Regional Office of the ACLU of Florida was among several local organizations that supported the Council on Islamic Relations which was at the center of this controversy.  Several local leaders representing a diverse range of perspectives, faith and racial/ethnic groups spoke passionately about the need to provide students with this valuable component to their learning experience.

It was clear that the attempt to change the policy was driven by Islamophobia and bigotry.  The Hillsborough School Board rightly decided not to succumb to bullying tactics from Caton’s followers. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia revised earlier Guidelines which would have prevented advocacy organizations from speaking in classrooms.  On March 30, 2012, guest speakers in the classroom were the only topic of a lengthy Workshop. 

We applaud the Hillsborough School Board and Superintendent Elia for erring on the side of supporting healthy discourse in the classroom and for trusting the good judgment of the teachers guided by a policy that works.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Gregory Brothers, ACLU of FL Team Up on Photographers’ Rights

Derek Newton
Communications Director, ACLU of Florida

 A couple of weeks ago at the Sundance Film Festival, the open-collaborative production company hitRECord released a short animated music video on photographers’ First Amendment rights, in collaboration with the ACLU of Florida.

Ironically, while sharing digital information is fast, easy and quickly becoming universal, getting the word out about the right to record and share information is still a challenge. Even though the ACLU has drafted and released written material on the rights of photographers, a written pamphlet about the right to capture and share digital images just wouldn’t do. So we reached out to the directors and artists at htRECord to help spread the word about the right to take pictures in public.

Enlisting the help of The Gregory Brothers (best known for Auto-Tune the News), HitRecord reprised their song “You Can’t Turn the Lights Off Now,” from an earlier animated video about Prop 8 to fit the new message. Then, just six days before Sundance, HitRecord director Joseph Gordon-Levitt, asked artists around the world to help put images to the music for the big show.

In less than a week, more than 163 artists had contributed to the final video. Gordon-Levitt (aka RegularJOE) directed the final production and introduced it Sundance.

(Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube’s privacy statement on their website and Google’s privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU’s privacy statement, click here.)

While the video is fun, the message is serious. Taking photos in public of public actions — especially police — is a protected right.

But that has not stopped police from seizing cameras, destroying pictures or making arrests. We’ve seen it happen in mass protests such as the “Occupy” movements and in a high profile police involved shooting here in Miami Beach last year.

People have a right to monitor their government and share what they learn. That’s why the ACLU will keep fighting for the right to keep government — including the police — open and honest by defending the rights of photographers. Like the song says, “Corruption thrives on secrecy. Transparency is good for you and me.”

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