‘Un-American’ legislative action brings out faith leaders

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Some of the speakers, including two Democratic legislators, called for Floridians to use the ballot box if they want to change the “un-American” actions during the legislative session that ended last Friday.

Several other suggestions were made during a press briefing in the Capitol where lawmakers were finalizing some of the troubling bills to be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis.  The gathering on the 22nd floor was called by faith leaders from throughout Florida.

The group expressed frustration over most of the 80-plus bills that were discusses during the session, focusing on many of the controversial ones. The list included universal school vouchers, voters’ rights, capital punishment and abortion.

None of the concerning legislations would have gone the way they did if lawmakers had a unity agenda, said Rev. Russell Meyer, Executive Director of the Florida Council of Churches. He said the 90-day session was a lost opportunity.

“That opportunity has been squandered to the point that Florida right now does not actually have an American form of government,” Meyer said. “I say that because this legislature has surrendered most of its legislative authority to the executive branch and separation of power no longer exists in the state of Florida. 

“This is an astounding thing. It has turned its back on over 200 years of Constitution authority.”

In addition to members of the clergy, the ACLU, NAACP, Equality Florida and the Southern Poverty Law Center were represented.

Rev. James Golden, who moderated the program, expressed frustration over laws that were passed or being voted on 18 floors down.

“The values that the people in this room share are different from the values of the people 18 floors down are working on right now,” said Golden, a Central Florida pastor.

Rev. Rachel Gunter Shapard, co-founder of Pastors for Florida Children & vice president of Together for Hope, further explained why the gathering was important.

“As the 60-day session of the 2023 Florida legislature draws to a close, we cannot let this moment pass without expressing our concern, disbelief, outrage as well as our resolve to work towards the Florida that we know we can be,” she said. “God is calling us to love our neighbors in the sunshine state, to care deeply for the under-resourced, the vulnerable, to create a Florida where democracy prevails, where civil liberties are upheld and all of our citizens have the opportunity to thrive.”

Many of the speakers had their own list of concerning laws that were passed by the Republican-led legislature. However, almost all made reference to HB 1467. That bill requires the banning of books that contain material harmful to children. 

“If we limit the access to books that students have and the ability to connect to their learning and reading we limit the success student will have in higher education,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association. “We limit the opportunities they will have and the competitiveness they will have if they decide to go to college and the university level.”

Educators in attendance also spoke about a universal school vouchers subsidized by public tax dollars. DeSantis signed legislation that gives school vouchers to every family in the state, essentially giving families private school choice.

“They are being defiant, distrustful, they are lying to the public,” said Crystal Etienne, who was described only as a   Florida public school teachers. “They are using spoken words to distract from their major goal. They want to keep me from teaching, they want to keep my students from learning.”

Rep. Angie Nixon, along with Rep. Dianne Heart left the chamber to support the ministers. Both called on voters to show up in 2024.

“We are in the lion’s den,” said Nixon, who is known for her activism in Jacksonville. “You all know what type of fight we are in and it’s only going to get worse. However, we know that organizing is how we can bring change.

“I believe that when we come together; Black, brown, gay, straight, rich, poor, low income, working class, we can win.”


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