|Protests spike against new Florida bills|
|Friday, 23 March 2012 11:39|
Several controversial bills recently passed by Florida state legislature, ranging from prayer in public schools to drug testing for state employees, have sparked much protest among state residents and organizations. Numerous groups have threaten lawsuits if these two new bills are approved, arguing that they violate federal laws.
The 2012 "inspirational messages" bill would let Florida's public school boards allow the reading of student-initiated inspirational messages at assemblies and ceremonies.
Alex J. Luchenitser, the associate legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argues that this new bill allowing student-led, student-initiated prayer at high school football games is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court, he argues, established a precedent against this in the 2000 Santa Fe (New Mexico) Independent School District vs. Doe case, where student-led prayers at public high school football games was found to violate the Establishment Clause (forbidding the preference by the U.S. government of one religion over another) of the First Amendment.
"If the governor signs this, we're prepared to file litigation against any school districts that implement this law," said Luchenitser.
Critics are also poised to file a lawsuit over the state employee drug testing bill recently sent to state Governor Rick Scott's office for approval. Critics claim the bill is unconstitutional because of its similarity to a Florida case last October, where a federal judge barred the state from drug-testing welfare applicants based on the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment that bans illegal search and seizure.
According to reports, the governor's office says legal challenges are routine for any administration.
Fourteen lawsuits however have been filed against Florida state laws passed since 2011. Successful suits include the March 2012 decision by a Leon County judge against the state's law requiring public employees to contribute three percent of their salaries towards their pensions without renegotiating state contracts. Last September, a federal judge sided with physicians who filed a lawsuit against the state law that bars doctors from asking patients if they own guns.
Other active lawsuits against new state laws include one against the law requiring voters to present a photo ID at polling places and also enforces heavy penalties against voter registration groups for errors made during voter's registration. Some critics claim the law is geared to disenfranchise voters, especially minority voters.
Milton Auguste, a Delray Beach constitutional lawyer, urges Florida citizens to know that the Florida Supreme court and statewide federal courts exist to protect the rights of citizens.
"No party, either Republican or Democrat can be too powerful to abuse citizen's rights, without citizens having recourse to the state's courts."