The board has forced all students to endure Christian prayers by allowing student "representatives" to give unrestricted "messages" at the beginning and end of graduation ceremonies, a clear violation of the First Amendment. Happily, though the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit stated that the act of selecting senior class "chaplains" was as clear a violation of the constitution as was the original case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 which prohibited "prayer, benediction, or invocation at any graduation ceremony" conducted or sponsored by a public school board. The court also ruled that it was equally unconstitutional to "transfer" the authority to a student in so far as the board was only hiding behind the children in hopes of evading the board's universal responsibility to follow the law put forth in the Constitution.
A previous lawsuit to end this unconstitutional practice in 1994 was vacated as moot only because the students who brought the original suit had graduated. The latest suit, however, decided that "The practices at graduation exercises in Duval County are a government endorsement of religion. Graduation ceremonies are an occasion of singular importance for all of the seniors and their families, and conformity with an officially sanctioned set of religious views should not be the price of attending one's own high school graduation", stated Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida.
Added Cee Cee Severin, spokesperson for the Greater Jacksonville Chapter of the ACLU of Florida, "As difficult as this decision may be for some members of our school board and community to accept, we are grateful that the courts have agreed ... that prayers and other religious practices belong in the home, the church, the synagogues, and the mosques, and not in our public schools."(1)
Once again, even your Congress is trying to unconstitutionally reverse many court decisions defending a person's right to privacy in regards to, among many other subjects, their views on religion. Using the distracting title of "Religious Liberty Act", your representatives are wording the once acceptable measure to allow employers, landlords, and even doctors to question you about your views on religion as well as irrelevant interrogations on "Is that your spouse?" and "Are those your children or are they adopted?" and "Are you straight or gay?" or "Are you pregnant" and even "Are you HIV positive?"
Nearly every recent court decision that protects a person against unwarranted intrusion into their private lives will be completely overturned by this crass legislation and meddlesome acts by bigoted and ultra-religious and even sexist politicians. Even should the information be completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand you will be forced to either answer or accept the loss of opportunity of gaining employment or medical assistance or a place to live or whatever is the quest at hand.
The civil rights that you and all Americans now take for granted is once again under attack in this offensive act. Your very private lives will be forced open by the same hypocrites who so loudly proclaim their desire to get government out of your lives but who demand exactly the opposite whenever the topic is their personal religious demands or their overt bigotry. (2)
The curse of the Bush family continues to accost the nation's values, this time emanating from good old Jeb Bush, the Governor of Florida. This time the assaults are in the forms of, first, a bill that allows the state to offer an anti-choice (read anti-abortion) license plate message and, second, one which mandates that students participate in "patriotic programs".
The "Choose Life" License Plate bill was already vetoed once by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles but, like all such nonsense, it has floated to the top of the scum pond once again. The bill has far too many areas that are not clearly spelled out, such as which groups will receive the money raised by the plates, although it was openly admitted during debate that anti-abortion groups could easily get large portions of these state funds but no pro-choice groups would qualify. This government support for only one side of a truly contentious privacy issue is in all ways unconstitutional and will only provoke even more violent confrontations between the two groups.
The second bill would force students to participate in programs which they might find objectionable on personal grounds. Requiring a student to stand for the pledge of allegiance has been shown by the U.S. Supreme Court to be an unconstitutional demand and those who decline to do so are protected by our Constitution. The offer of an "opt-out" for students whose parents sign a written form allowing their children not to participate is unconstitutional in that the Constitution prohibits government coerced speech which includes the requirement of parental permission. To force a child to participate in programs designed to instill "patriotic values" smacks of the same requirement that the Nazis demanded of the German children in order to create a generation incapable of independent thought or planning. (3)
Finally, the Right is attacking a woman's legitimate ability to choose an abortion by trying to sneak in the back door a bill to greatly limit that right. Michigan's poorly camouflaged "Infant Protection Act" will criminalize many otherwise safe and legal early term abortions, including even fetal operations intended solely to save the life or to cure pre-birth conditions and insure a healthy and physically stable child.
In fact, the act has been purposely written in such a vague way that all abortions could be considered illegal in Michigan under this law, a law that defies federal laws and even the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court. Michigan's Senate refused to amend the act in ways which would have allowed exceptions to the law that would protect the mother's health or would have legally defined "viability" or even wording that would have clarified that the act could not be construed to make legal abortions illegal in the state.
The fanatics who so blithely try to force their bigotry's and personal religious views on the rest of us have even gone so far as to invented the term "partial birth abortions", a term that is not in any medical dictionary and cannot be found in any context other than the Right's propaganda materials. The term was invented in order to misrepresent the medically accepted procedure and the Right refuses to acknowledge that the procedure is seldom even performed or even considered, using their own invention and outright lie to pretend that they are fighting something when they are only creating straw men to knock down.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled over and over that a woman has the right to choose the safest method in all medical procedures and that abortion must be considered in that same category of rights. This latest attempt to overturn established law through unconstitutional state acts will fail, as has all other attempts by the Right to legislate their narrow-minded view of morality. (4)
Gentle readers, the Right refuses to accept defeat in their intolerant demands that all of us bow to their view of morality. To defend our constitutional rights is a never ending battle but one that absolutely must be fought without fail. All Americans must accept the fact that we are allowed to follow whatever religious or ethical path we choose. But, as has been confirmed over and again by Supreme Court rulings, my right to swing my fist ends exactly at the tip of your nose. You may believe as you see fit but no one has the right to demand that we all follow your views in lockstep. Somehow, we have to pound that view into the heads of conservatives until they accept that small but all important Constitutional fact.
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