Archive for April, 2012

Cartoon: Wading into the Inspirational Messages Swamp

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature passed and Governor Rick Scott signed a law inviting local school boards to allow so-called “inspirational messages” at mandatory school events. The ACLU of Florida and others have warned local districts that allowing organized, sanctioned school prayer and other similar messages may be nothing more than an invitation to expensive litigation.


Cartoon: Attorney General Pam Bondi Asks Supreme Court to Approve Racial Profiling


ACLU recognizes Defenders of Women’s Rights

Ron Bilbao, Senior Legislative Associate and Advocacy Coordinator

Joyce Hamilton Henry, ACLU of Florida Mid-FL Regional Director, presents the award to Representative Reed.

In 2012, Florida joined fifteen other states in establishing explicit protections in state statutes for incarcerated pregnant women. The effort was championed by two tireless and steadfast Florida legislators – Senator Arthenia Joyner and Representative Betty Reed – both from Tampa.

Moving this legislation through both chambers of the legislature, maneuvering through the resistant waters of the legislative process, battling against the tide of sometimes tough opposition from representatives of both law enforcement and corrections agencies, and negotiating with each committee chair along the way was no easy task. The resolve of these two women shines through in their success in pulling together so many others to stand behind them in passing this bill, from the Speaker of the House all the way to a grassroots coalition of advocates urging its passage.


Sen. Joyner and ACLU of Florida Mid Florida Regional Director, Joyce Hamilton-Henry

Representative Reed told me that she wanted to pass this bill because it was “all about the babies.” She grew up the oldest of her siblings and had to care for them when her mother passed away. She remembered the young ones being helpless and needing all the care she could give. She read the stories that came into the ACLU office about the women shackled in Florida’s jails and she dedicated two years to ensuring no woman or baby would have to suffer because of this cruel and archaic practice. Both Sen. Joyner and Rep. Reed knew what was at stake in passing this bill – not just the dignity of incarcerated pregnant women, but the dignity of all pregnant women in our society. These legislators exemplify the essence of that dignity.

This year, the ACLU of Florida recognizes Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Rep. Betty Reed as the 2012 Defenders of Women’s Rights.

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.