Tallahasee and the “Righteous War”

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

They call it a “righteous war.”

That’s how one representative on the floor of the Florida House actually described the nationwide attack on women’s health that the Florida legislature has thrown its weight behind. I was sitting in the House Gallery when he said it. This week, I’ve had a front-row seat to see what this war looks like.

For the last four days, I’ve been in Tallahassee working with the ACLU of Florida’s Senior Legislative Associate, Ron Bilbao. In these busy last two weeks of the 2012 Legislative Session, bills are moving quickly out of committees, and legislators are staying on the floor late into the night trying to get their priorities passed. We’ve been working hard to make sure that voices of Floridians that care about the Constitution and the personal freedoms which it protects are still being heard during the frantic end of the session.

It hasn’t always been easy.  Yesterday, the House passed a bill which would let school districts alienate religious minority students by forcing them to participate in school-sponsored prayer at student events. Despite claims by the bill’s sponsor that it wasn’t about religion, just “inspirational messages,” Governor Rick Scott supported the bill by saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe individuals should have a right to say a prayer.”

Of course, individuals have always had a right to say a prayer in school – but the Constitution doesn’t allow government to use its power to advance one religion over another, which is exactly what this bill lets districts do.

Constitutionality hasn’t been at the front of many legislators’ minds from what I’ve seen. This week also saw the passage of a bill that would expand suspiconless, warrantless drug testing of state employees, even while a federal judge could issue a ruling declaring the whole idea of government employee drug testing unconstitutional any day now. They also passed a bill banning the “application of foreign law,” code for Shariah law, singling out Muslim Floridians as inherently a threat to law and order and advancing the ugly and discriminatory notion that anything Islamic is un-American.

And then of course, there’s the bill which passed the House yesterday which would shame and intimidate women with junk medical science and further regulate women’s access to safe and legal abortion care out of existence – the “righteous war” one.

It’s not all hopeless. In my time at the capitol I’ve met with legislative staff and other advocates who are working hard to stop the assaults on freedom and protect the rights of the people of Florida. We’ve been able to provide them with information and resources to help them protect your rights. Together, we may yet be able to stop some of these bills from passing in the Senate. In fact, you still have a chance to send a message to your Senators letting them know that you trust Florida women and want the war on women’s health to stop.

The defenders of freedom may be outnumbered at the Capitol, but they are fighting hard for all of us. They understand something that many of their coworkers don’t: there’s nothing righteous about a war on people’s rights.

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