Florida

GOP Representative Goes From Christian Revival Meeting To Supporting Marriage Equality

Last week, Rep. David Jolly, a Republican from Florida, spoke at Rodney Howard-Browne's ongoing "Celebrate America" revival meeting in Washington, DC which was organized in order to bring about a Third Great Awakening in America by lighting "fires right in the belly of the beast" so that God can "cast a Gospel net across the capital."

Speaking about 46:00 into the gathering, Jolly told the crowd that he grew up the son of a preacher and accepted Jesus as his Savior at five years old and now his faith serves as the foundation of his views about government.

"I subscribe to a view of freedom that is rooted in the tenets of faith," Jolly declared, explaining that human beings are granted liberty and freedom by God and then decide how much power to turn over to the government in order to protect those rights.

As members of Congress, he said, "we don't apologize for our Christian faith, we own our Christian faith, we share our Christian faith" because elected representatives have the responsibility "to do what we believe is right for the future of our country and reflect the biblical principles as we act upon that."

Jolly concluded by asking the audience to pray for all elected leaders "because we are at a point in world history where man cannot get us out of this alone and it's going to take a divinely inspired wisdom from the Lord Jesus Christ and as I said at the beginning, we don't apologize for that."

Saying that the only reason he is in Congress at the moment is because that is where God wants him to be, Jolly promised that "I will work every day to reflect the biblical principles and faith principles we all believe in and I will do my part to join you in leading this country in what we believe is the right direction based upon the foundation of faith and I will do that until the same Hands of Providence that brought me to this office lead me out of it":

That was all pretty standard Religious Right language, which is why we didn't even bother writing it up when we first watched it yesterday ... but that was before Jolly announced his support for marriage equality:

Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) announced his support for gay marriage Monday, saying that he believes it is "fully appropriate" for a state to recognize both same-sex marriages and "traditional" ones, even though he, as a Christian, believes in the the latter.

When asked by The Washington Post whether he supports gay marriage, in light of a Florida judge's decision last week to overturn the state's ban, Jolly said that his personal views on marriage are that it should be limited to one man and one woman. But, he added, states should not be defining the "sanctity" of marriage.

“As a matter of my Christian faith, I believe in traditional marriage," said Jolly in a statement to The Post. "But as a matter of Constitutional principle I believe in a form of limited government that protects personal liberty. To me, that means that the sanctity of one’s marriage should be defined by their faith and by their church, not by their state. Accordingly, I believe it is fully appropriate for a state to recognize both traditional marriage as well as same-sex marriage, and therefore I support the recent decision by a Monroe County Circuit Judge.”

When a member of Congress can cater to a Religious Right event and then, a week later, announce his support for government recognition of gay marriage, it starts to become increasingly obvious that anti-gay activists’ fight against marriage equality is on its last legs.

How the Shifting Cuban Vote Can Change History

The Pew Research Center reported last week that the partisan affiliations of Cuban Americans are shifting dramatically as the younger generation coming of age in the United States is affiliating with the Democratic party rather than the GOP.

The shift in the Cuban population — which long leaned Republican — is helping to create a larger shift to the left among Latino voters. Studies of the Cuban population in Florida mark 2004 as the turning point when the number of registered Republicans in Miami-Dade County began declining dramatically. In 2000, 75 percent of Florida Cubans voted for George W. Bush; in 2004, 71 percent voted for Bush; and in 2008, 65 percent voted for McCain. But in 2012, Obama won 49 percent of the Cuban vote in Florida, compared to Romney’s 47 percent, the first time in recent history that a Democratic presidential candidate has outpolled the Republican in that demographic.

This shift provides a powerful example of the increasingly pivotal role of the Latino community in national elections. If Cuban Americans had voted in 2000 in the same patterns as they vote now, the outcome of the 2000 presidential election — which was decided by a handful of votes in Florida (and a bad Supreme Court decision) — could very well have been different, as would our history.

These changes are reflected in the larger Hispanic/Latino community. While the percentage of Latinos may be small, this community is growing fast and increasingly provides the margin to put progressive candidates over the top.

That’s why it makes such a dramatic difference when progressives reach out to the community and hold Republicans accountable for their anti-Latino, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Watch below some of PFAW’s ads that have engaged Latino communities in recent elections.

PFAW

FL Legislator Says Obama's Election 'Is An Indictment Of Our Educational System In This Country'

Infuriated by the state Department of Education's approval of a textbook that he felt was baised in favor of Islam, Florida state Sen. Alan Hays introduced legislation giving local school districts the power to choose their own textbooks. 

The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott last month and today Hays was the guest on "WallBuilders Live" to discuss his effort where he declared that the election of President Barack Obama is proof positive that our entire educational system is fundamentally broken.

Obama's election, Hays said, "is an indictment of our educational system in this country," explaining that "it's because our students have not been properly educated that somebody with that kind of resume could even be considered a candidate, much less elected."

"It's an embarrassment to all of us," Hays concluded and host Rick Green completely agreed, saying that Obama's election "shows that we've dumbed down the education system to the point that our people do not now know to measure a candidate against the values upon which a constitutional republic can survive":

Conservative Activists Defend GOPer Who Said Common Core Turns Kids Gay

Right-wing activists are rallying behind Florida state Rep. Charles Van Zant, the GOP politician who warned that Common Core will turn children gay.

Van Zant pointed to Florida’s education contract with American Institutes for Research (AIR), a group that produces material focusing on LGBT youth. Those materials, however, are not part of the contract with Florida, and in any case it would be absurd to claim that LGBT-inclusive resources would “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual,” as Van Zant did.

In an email alert today, an alliance of Tea Party and Religious Right groups called the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition told its members to “thank Rep. Van Zant for his courageous stand” for “correctly call[ing] out AIR’s social engineering agenda.”

“Representative Van Zant was completely correct in his statements that AIR is promoting the GLBT lifestyle in children, and they are doing the same within families and churches,” wrote Dr. Karen Effrem, the coalition’s executive director. The group criticized “AIR's blatant promotion of the GLBT lifestyle,” including its “full blown promotion of these sexual practices in families, churches, and society at large.”

Florida Eagle Forum also blasted AIR for having “a significant history of promoting identification of the GLBT lifestyle for children as young as seven years old.”

Raymond Johnson of Biblical Concepts Ministries wrote in a press release today that Van Zant “spoke the truth” with his Common Core comments and thanked him for standing “against the onslaught of the radical LGBT agenda.” Johnson cites a satirical Michael Swift essay about gay people using the schools to “sodomize your sons.”

I was in attendance at the Orlando education conference where FL State House District 19 Representative Charles Van Zant Spoke and I personally heard his entire speech. Rep Van Zants [sic] statements are true, he spoke the truth and I support Mr. Van Zant's statements and also share his concern.

I have read the mentioned document and am sickened at the blatant, vile, wicked, and false LGBT propaganda AIR is promoting to teachers, parents and students. This document linked below is a clear fulfillment of the "Homosexual Manifesto" entered in the congressional record by Author Micheal [sic] Swift February 15, 1987. Stating in part,

"We shall sodomize your sons, we shall seduce them in your schools, in your locker rooms, in your sports arenas, in your seminaries, in your youth groups, wherever men are with men together. Your sons shall become our minions and do our bidding. They will be recast in our image. They will come to crave and adore us."

I am outraged that Education Commissioner Pam Stewart would award a state funded contract to AIR. Commissioner Stewart, the state board of education and FL House Speaker Will Weatherford have continued to defend this outrageous and inappropriate contract with AIR.

I am publicly asking Commissioner Stewart and the state board of education to discontinue any business with AIR, and apologize for such a egregious error, or resign immediately.

We are grateful that Representative Van Zant raised concern making the public aware of this situation, hopefully through this attention we the people can help correct this wrong. BCM and conservative Christians will continue to support righteous leaders like Representative Van Zant that continue to stand for traditional, moral, family values against the onslaught of the radical LGBT agenda.

On the Brown Anniversary, The Struggle for Equal Education Continues

The following is a guest post from Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard, a member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

Six decades ago the nation said “separate, but equal” is separate, but it certainly is not equal. This week we celebrate the 60 year anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Brown gave our nation the opportunity to show the world that we are as good as our promise. And while the impact of this groundbreaking decision cannot be overstated, a quality education is still not a guarantee for African American and Latino students today.  

In my state of Florida and across the country, students of color continue to be underserved by our school system. Recent data from the Department of Education highlights massive racial inequalities that persist six decades later. Beginning in preschool, African American students are suspended disproportionately – a distressingly early start on what many have characterized as the school-to-prison pipeline. Students of color are more likely to have lower paid teachers and fewer course options.

Undocumented students also face serious barriers in our education system. In Florida, undocumented students do not receive in-state tuition at state universities and colleges. Florida’s DREAM Act would fix this, allowing undocumented students who attended a Florida high school for at least three years to receive in-state tuition to attend one of Florida’s public colleges or universities.

Our students’ success or failure is incumbent on each and every one of us. As a teacher and as a member of the state Senate’s education committee, I know that building strong communities, a strong economy, a strong electorate, and a strong country requires investments in a public education system that works for all students. When we fail to fight for equal educational opportunities, our democracy is at risk. If we hope to improve our future, we must realize we are only as successful as our least privileged.

On the anniversary of the Brown decision, May 17th, I will join over 120 young elected officials from all corners of the nation to discuss and build education policy together. We will honor this moment in history through continued action to improve our children’s education system. We will do this because our kids deserve the chance to be their best, and because our future will demand it of them.

PFAW

Florida Man Requests To Marry 'Porn Filled Apple Computer' In Super-Clever Marriage Equality Protest

Many anti-gay activists are strangely obsessed with the idea that marriage equality might someday lead to legalized human-object marriage, whether that object is a car, a turtle, or the Eiffel Tower.

A Florida man has taken this obsession to a new level, filing a motion to intervene in the case challenging the state’s marriage equality ban, purporting to seek the right to marry his “porn filled Apple computer.”

The Broward/Palm Beach New Times provides this quote from the motion of Chris Sevier, which it notes is “Short on sound legal grounding (and even shorter on wit)”:

Recently, I purchased an Apple computer. The computer was sold to me without filters to block out pornography. I was not provided with any warning by Apple that pornography was highly addictive and could alter my reward cycle by the manufacturer. Over time, I began preferring sex with my computer over sex with real women. Naturally, I 'fell in love' with my computer and preferred having sex with it over all other persons or things, as a result of classic conditioning upon orgasm.

Unsurprisingly, Sevier’s motion was rejected last week by the clearly unamused Judge Robert L. Hinkle:

Chris Sevier has moved to intervene, apparently asserting he wishes to marry his computer. Perhaps the motion is satirical. Or perhaps it is only removed from reality. Either way, the motion has no place in this lawsuit. Mr. Sevier has alleged nothing that would support intervention.

The New Times notes that Sevier has tried this sort of thing before:

A Chris Sevier sued Apple because it sold him a computer without telling him about the evils of porn. A Chris Sevier sued A&E after it fired Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson after he was caught spewing antigay talk. And just recently, a Chris Sevier tried to butt his way into Utah's gay marriage legal case . In a 50-page motion, he claimed he was there to make the court "put up or shut up" on the gay marriage issue.

In his motion in the Utah case, Sevier laid out his totally air-tight argument, warning that marriage equality and the “slippery slope” he warns will ensue will result in Americans “becoming salves of our glands, not slaves of virtue”:

Either (1) we will be reduced to a Nation that hypocritically enforces the equal protection and due process clause to suit the interest of the largest minority, which yields discrimination against the true minority classes of sexual orientation, causing hypocrisy to undermine foundation laws, yielding instability; (2) we will remain a Christian Nation that protects traditional marriage, as a relationship set apart because it has the potential of bearing life between two people, who are in a legally binding relationship, who have naturally corresponding sexual organs with the exclusive potential to produce children with DNA that matches theirs; which, of course, makes that relationship both scientifically and factually distinct from all others-religious aside; or (3) we will progress into a Nation that gives equal protection to all classes of sexual orientation allowing everyone to marrying anyone and anything to suit their appetite in the name of tolerance, equality, and love -becoming slaves of ourglands, not slaves of virtue. There is no other possible alternative.

Marco Rubio Fails Florida, Doesn't Help Florida Judicial Nominees

Rubio lets his party delay the filling of four emergency judicial vacancies with consensus nominees who he recommended.
PFAW

Obstruction 2.0: How Republican Senators Continue to Block Judicial Nominations Post-“Filibuster Reform”

Tuesday afternoon, PFAW hosted a special member telebriefing on the continued GOP obstruction of judicial nominees. The briefing featured PFAW’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon. They discussed how Republicans’ obstruction has reached staggering levels, despite changes in Senate filibuster rules.

Marge gave a brief background on the issue of GOP obstruction of judicial nominations, explaining how important federal judgeships are for deciding many issues that affect everyday Americans and defining why Republicans are determined to continue obstruction confirmations of judicial nominees. Their underlying goal is to keep as many seats empty as possible so a President Cruz or Rubio can fill them with right-wing ideologues.

She addressed the current narrative that President Obama has had more confirmations at this time than Bush had, and explained that these numbers need to be put in the context of the fact that Obama has had around 70 more vacancies to fill than his predecessor. That means for Obama’s confirmation results to be seen as equivalent to those of President Bush, he would have had to have many more nominees confirmed at this point in his presidency.

Paul began a discussion of some of the choke methods Republicans are employing to block the confirmation of President Obama's nominees to the bench. Paul delineated how all too often, GOP senators do not cooperate with the White House to suggest candidates for nomination, delaying the process from the very beginning. Once nominees are made and are sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, we have seen GOP Senators delay the hearing by not submitting their blue slips, an unofficial tradition that gives home state Senators an opportunity to express their support for the nominee.

Marge explained ways in which Republicans are delaying the process once nominees are in committee, where the minority is allowed to request one-week delays. To express the magnitude of the obstruction, Marge explained how of the 270 nominees who have had a vote during President Obama's term, only 11 have had their votes held on time.

Once on the Senate floor, the situation doesn't get better as senators are able to filibuster nominees by refusing to give unanimous consent to the simple act of holding a yes-or-no confirmation vote. To offset these delays, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been forced to file for cloture. Since the rules change in November, there have been cloture votes on all the nominees, adding hours of senate time in post-cloture debates (30 hours per circuit court nominee).

Marge highlighted that if all 30 nominees on the floor were voted on today, which is possible, then the number of current vacancies would drop precipitously, down to the level at this point in George W. Bush’s presidency. It is essential that these be voted on now, and that confirmation votes for nominations coming out of committee be voted on expeditiously.

Fielding questions from PFAW members, Marge and Paul discussed particular cases of obstruction like that of William Thomas's nomination in Florida, where Senator Marco Rubio withheld his blue slip in support of the nominee-–one that he himself had recommended in the first place. Members also made the connection between the effect of big money in politics and the motivations for GOP senators to obstruct confirmations, and attempted to find ways in which everyday Americans can make their voices heard to their senators regarding the issues of obstruction in judicial nominations. Paul used the example of the DC Circuit Court fight, where with the activism from people across the country rallying together helped get all the court's vacancies filled.

Marge and Paul, along with PFAW members, emphasized how as activists, we can intervene in the fight to take back our democracy by letting Senators know that average Americans are paying attention, watching how they respond and vote on judicial nominations, and considering who may be pulling their strings. For instance, a caller in Florida wanting to influence Marco Rubio could call his office and ask him to prevent a delay in a committee vote for nominees to fill four emergency vacancies. And everyone, regardless of whether there are vacancies in their state, can call their senators and call for the quick confirmation of the large number of nominees awaiting a floor vote. She also highlighted what is at stake in this mid-term election since the officials we elect today will help confirm the judges that will decide important cases that affect average Americans. For this reason, it is important to have demographic and experiential diversity in the courts so judges making decisions understand the impact of the law on regular Americans.

Click here more information on our Fair and Just Courts campaign.

PFAW

The Never-Ending Tale Of The Little Girl Who Could Not Pray

Last week, we wrote a post about the fact that the story at the center of a recent column by Todd Starnes claiming that a young girl had supposedly been told that she was not allow to pray before eating her lunch at school had been definitively debunked after the shool in question conducted an investigation and "found zero evidence an incident ever occurred."

In a gesture of goodwill, the school offered an apology to the family nonetheless and it was seemingly accepted through their attorney, Jeremy Dys of the Liberty Institute, who issued a statement saying:

"We are grateful for the apology offered by Seminole County Schools. The Perez family gladly accepts this apology, along with the assurances to the community by the School Board that students in Seminole County School are free to exercise their First Amendment freedoms while at school."

That should have been the end of the entire saga, but apparently Dys and the family are intent on keeping it going (presumably to benefit Todd Starnes forthcoming book) a little longer and have now reversed course by rejecting the school's apology, accusing the school of never having done an investigation in the first place, and threatening legal action:

Two days after stating that Gabriella Perez's family had accepted the apology, lawyer Jeremy Dys said their position changed after reading the comments of district spokesman Michael Lawrence in the Orlando Sentinel.

Dys said it is clear now the district's response wasn't "a real apology." In addition, "we're not really confident the investigation actually took place," he said.

He sent a letter to Seminole schools on Friday requesting video footage from the school, emails to or about the family and phone logs relating to the case, including documentation of harassing or negative phone calls.

Gabriella, a 5-year-old kindergartner, told her parents that a staffer at Carillon Elementary said she could not pray over her lunch sometime in March. Lawrence, the district spokesman, said Wednesday an investigation had turned up "zero evidence" the incident occurred.

The girl's father, Marcos Perez, is vice president of sales for a Christian book publisher promoting a book about "the attack on traditional values" in America. The family began homeschooling Gabriella after she described the cafeteria incident.

Dys' letter also claims Lawrence made "false and defamatory statements publicly and intentionally" about Gabriella and her family, and requested that he be disciplined.

"Mr. Lawrence went out and essentially called our client a liar," Dys said Friday.

The school district did an investigation into the alleged incident and concluded that "there's no proof whatsoever" that it even occurred and that the person identified by the young girl as having told her not to pray was nowhere near the lunchroom at the time it supposedly happened ... and now the very people who brought these allegations are threatening legal action, claiming that they are the victims of "false and defamatory statements" because their claims turned out to be bogus.

Will Marco Rubio Let His Colleagues Delay Four Florida Judicial Nominees?

With a dire need to fill emergency vacancies in Florida, will Rubio ask the GOP not to delay a committee vote on four Florida judicial nominees?
PFAW

Todd Starnes Gets Definitively Debunked

A few weeks ago, we wrote a post about the amazing coincidence that was at the center of one of Todd Starnes' recent columns about a young girl who had allegedly been told that she was not allowed to pray before eating her lunch in her elementary school lunch room.

As it turned out, the young girl just so happened to be the daughter of the man who is the Vice President of Sales at the Christian publishing house that is publishing Starnes' next book, which just so happens to be all about how religious liberty is under attack in America.

Even after this rather curious connection was pointed out and the school said there was no evidence that the incident had even happened, the parents and their lawyers at the Liberty Institute continued to demand an investigation and an apology from the school; at one point even arranging a line-up of school employees so the girl could identify just which teacher had allegedly told her that she was not allowed to pray.

The school at the center of this "controversy" bent over backwards to satisfy the parents and conducted a full investigation into the incident. Yesterday, the school district announced its findings and, as expected, found the allegations to be completely bogus:

School officials said Wednesday that they can't find any evidence to suggest that a kindergartner was told not to pray in a Seminole County elementary lunchroom.

But the school district apologized anyway, and a lawyer for the girl's parents said they are satisfied with the outcome.

"We found zero evidence an incident ever occurred," said district spokesman Mike Lawrence. "There's no proof whatsoever."

...

As for the identified staffer, a school-district investigator has concluded that "there is no way possible that person was anywhere near the lunchroom" that kindergartners and first-graders use. In addition to the student and her family, the district has interviewed staffers, the accused adult and Gabriella's classmates, Lawrence said.

Predictably, the parents and their right-wing attorney are trying to use the fact that the school issued a perfunctory apology to spin this as a victory:

In a statement, Jeremy Dys, the family's attorney, said, "We are grateful for the apology offered by Seminole County Schools. The Perez family gladly accepts this apology, along with the assurances to the community by the School Board that students in Seminole County School are free to exercise their First Amendment freedoms while at school."

Voting Rights Advocates Rack Up More Wins

Earlier this month, PFAW reported on what has gone right for voting rights at the state level in 2014. While there is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack, states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown that we can win. Now we've uncovered even more evidence of why we can and should keep fighting the challenges that lay before us.
PFAW

Florida & Oregon Drop Out Of Kris Kobach's Faulty Voter Roll Crosscheck Program

The Miami Herald reported Friday that Florida and Oregon have dropped out of Interstate Crosscheck, the disputed voter-fraud detection service run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, with Oregon election officials citing "unreliable" data from the program.

Interstate Crosscheck’s reports in 2013 include Florida data based on the 2012 election. However, Florida is absent from the 2014 report.

We asked a spokeswoman for Republican Secretary of State Ken Detzner why Florida dropped out.

“The Department of State and Supervisors of Elections currently work with elections officials in other states to update registrations regarding residency, and we are always exploring options to improve the elections process,” Brittany Lesser said.

Oregon is another state that changed its mind about sharing its voter data with the Kansas project. Its explanation was more blunt than the one we got from Florida.

“We left because the data we received was unreliable and we felt joining the ERIC project would better meet our needs, said Tony Green, spokesman for Oregon Secretary of State.

ERIC is a project of the Pew Charitable Trust  to improve the accuracy and efficiency of state voter registration systems. States must pay to participate in ERIC while the Kansas project is free.

Voting rights opponents went into full-blown panic mode last week when North Carolina elections officials, citing data from Kobach's program, announced that 35,000 people who voted in North Carolina could have also voted in another state. That this number turned out to be completely overblown -- and that the state's top elections official urged caution in jumping to conclusions  -- did not stop Dick Morris and the Tea Party Nation from claiming that as many as a million Democrats voted twice in the 2012 elections.

via Rick Hasen​

The Amazing Coincidence Behind Todd Starnes' Latest Christian Victimization Column

Earlier today we wrote a post about a new Religious Right tale of supposed victimization emerging out of Florida involving a young girl who was allegedly told that she was not allowed to pray in the lunchroom before eating her lunch.

The whole thing seemed rather suspect, as these tales usually are, since it emerged from a video posted on YouTube by the girl's parents and was then immediately turned into a column by Todd Starnes, who is notorious for ginning up these sorts of one-sided, fake controversies:

A Florida school district is giving teachers a refresher course on religious liberty after the parents of a five-year-old kindergarten student said a teacher told their daughter that she was not allowed to pray before eating her lunch time meal.

Marcos Perez, of Oviedo, Fla., said the incident occurred earlier this month in the lunch room at Carillon Elementary School.

He said his daughter  was sitting at a table about to eat when she bowed her head and began to pray.

“A teacher saw her and told her, ‘you’re not allowed to do that,’” he said.

Perez said his little girl replied, “But it’s good to pray.” The teacher alleged replied, “It’s not good.”

He said his daughter tried to pray once more but was admonished by the teacher. The child was not formally punished, he said.

“She’s a really good girl and if there are rules, she follows them,” he said. “She knows the biblical values we are raising her with. She was really conflicted but she wanted to submit to the authority.”

Perez said he and his wife were so upset over the incident they sat down with a video camera and had their daughter recount what happened. They posted the video to YouTube. And they also tried to reassure their daughter that she had done nothing wrong.

As we noted this morning, school officials are denying the incident took place, but now that the story is gaining some national attention, local media outlets have begun reporting on it and revealing interesting things ... such as the fact that this young girl's father, Marcos Perez, just so happens to be the Vice President of Sales at the Christian publishing house that is publishing Todd Starnes' next book:

School officials have not interviewed the girl, who has been pulled from kindergarten at Carillon by her parents, who said they intend to home school her.

Her father is vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary-based Christian book publisher. The company is currently promoting the book "God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values," by Todd Starnes.

Just last month, Charisma House issued a press release that featured none other than Perez promoting Starnes' forthcoming book:

“We are highly anticipating the release of God Less America,” said Marcos Perez, vice president of sales at Charisma House. “From a sales standpoint, we believe this contest will engage our partnering bookstores and add to the momentum that is already building for this book release.”

FOX News commentator Todd Starnes’s highly anticipated book God Less America(FrontLine/Charisma House) uses both recent news stories and compelling interviews with today’s top conservative leaders to bring to light what is happening across our country. In his award-winning, satire-meets-serious writing style he strikes an important blow in today’s culture wars.

What are the chances that one month before Starnes' book, in which he seeks to catalog just how religious liberty is being squashed in America, is released, an incident like this takes place that perfectly exemplifies the very thing that Starnes' book claims to chronicle? 

Even more amazingly, it just happens to involve the daughter of the very man responsible for promoting Starnes' book!

What an amazing coincidence!

The Religious Right's Never-Ending Campaign To Gin Up Tales Of Victimization Rolls On

Last week, a video was posted on YouTube featuring a five year-old girl telling her parents that she was told by a "lunchroom teacher" at Carillon Elementary School in Oviedo, Florida that she was not allowed to pray before eating her lunch.

When the little girl responded that "it's good to pray," she claims that she was told "it's not good" and was prevented from praying.

Naturally, after the video was posted on-line, serial fabricator Todd Starnes picked it up and turned it into a column while the Family Research Council featured the story in its daily email. On top of that, attorneys from the Religious Right legal group Liberty Institute are now representing the parents and will hold a press conference today:

Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys invites all working media to attend a press availability with Mr. Perez, Tuesday, April 1, at 3:30 PM ET on the sidewalk by the sign outside of Carillon Elementary School, 3200 Lockwood Blvd., Oviedo, FL. 

"Of course, students can pray at school!" said Dys.  "As the Supreme Court held over half a century ago: Students do not 'shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.'  The school is in violation of Department of Education guidelines that specifically protect this type of prayer, and thus could jeopardize its federal funding."

The Perez Family cited this offense to their daughter's religious liberty as the most immediate reason to remove their daughter from the public education system. "Mainly because of this incident, we have exercised our option as parents to teach our daughter at home," said Marcos Perez.  "We live in a very good school district, but we cannot, in good conscience, send our daughter to a school where her religious liberty has been compromised."

All the attention is now generating some local media coverage and, as usually happens in these sorts of cases where Religious Right activists gin up some tale of supposed anti-Christian persecution, school officials are saying the incident never happened:

Michael Lawrence told Local 6 that the principal spoke with staff members in the cafeteria at the time of the incident and said no one recalled having any contact with the child.

"The situation as stated by the parent has not occurred according to the school's investigation," said Michael Lawrence, communications officer for Seminole County Schools. "We're dealing with very young children here so there's quite a bit of an opportunity for miscommunication to occur. The timing and the issues were very odd considering that the first thing that happened was that a video was done, it was on YouTube."

...

Lawrence said the lunchroom is not under video surveillance and the alleged incident was not recorded. Lawrence also added that the school district allows children to pray on campus anytime.

"If a student wishes to pray at lunch to herself we do not have a policy against that," said Lawrence. He said the principal will remind staff members that prayer in school is OK.

...

School board member Amy Lockhart told Local 6 the incident cannot be confirmed.

"However, that being said I would be greatly disturbed to find that any Seminole County Public School student had their individual liberties infringed upon in this manner by one of our staff members," said Lockhart. "The freedom to pray when, where and how one chooses is a foundational freedom of our great nation."

If this seems familiar, that is probably because it sounds a lot like the tale of Raymond Raines, a two decade-old myth about a young boy who had supposedly been sentenced to a week of detention for simply praying before eating his lunch in the cafeteria of an elementary school in St. Louis that Religious Right activists still cite today even though it is totally false.

Update: In a totally unsurprising development, The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the girl's father, Marcos Perez, just so happens to be the VP of sales at the Christian publishing house that is publishing Todd Starnes' forthcoming book:

School officials have not interviewed the girl, who has been pulled from kindergarten at Carillon by her parents, who said they intend to home school her.

Her father is vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary-based Christian book publisher. The company is currently promoting the book "God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values," by Todd Starnes.

Florida Puts Hold on Voter Purge, North Carolina Lifts the Veil on Voter ID Law

When we last checked in with the controversial Florida voter purge, advocates and media alike were speculating over what route Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner would take in 2014, with Detzner's office considering comparing its voter records with the US Department of Homeland Security's federal citizenship database known as Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE). Now we know: the purge is off for 2014. Also this week, in North Carolina US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ruled that lawmakers must release correspondence related to the formation of the state's new voter ID law, saying that though some records might be shielded, many are considered public.
PFAW

Rubio's Delay Increases Urgency of Florida Judicial Nominations

Early this year, President Obama nominated Judge Beth Bloom, Judge Darrin P. Gayles, Judge Carlos Eduardo Mendoza, and Paul G. Byron to the Southern and Middle District Courts of Florida. Of the four vacancies in the Southern District, three have been declared judicial emergencies. The situation in Florida is so dire that even if every vacancy were to be filled tomorrow, it would not be enough to take care of the courts’ growing workloads. In fact, the Judicial Conference has requested a number of new judgeships for the state, including:

• 5 new judgeships for the Middle District, plus a temporary judgeship; and
• 3 new judgeships for the Southern District, plus the conversion of a temporary judgeship to a permanent position.

It is imperative that these nominations be confirmed swiftly; the Senate’s delays in confirming nominees translate to delays for Floridians waiting for their day in court.

Sen. Marco Rubio stated on NPR last month that he did “not anticipate having any objection to moving forward on any of [President Obama’s] nominees” for the district courts in Florida. In fact, the nominees were recommended by Sen. Rubio, along with Sen. Bill Nelson, based upon the recommendations of a bipartisan committee the two senators put together. Yet to date Sen. Rubio –unlike Sen. Nelson—has not signed the “blue slips” the Senate Judiciary Committee customarily requires before nominees are given a committee hearing. This is cause for some concern in light of Sen. Rubio’s refusal last year to sign off on other Florida nominees to seats that he himself had recommended.

Rubio’s slow-walking of his “blue slips” comes in the context of the GOP obstruction that has needlessly delayed the confirmation of most Obama nominees. After committee approval, President Obama’s district court nominees have been forced to wait an average of three times longer for a confirmation vote than President George W. Bush’s at this point in his presidency. Obama’s circuit court nominees are forced to wait nearly two months longer than Bush’s. This slowing down of the process seems completely gratuitous and politically motivated since the overwhelming majority of Obama’s judicial nominees have been confirmed unanimously or near-unanimously.

The current nominees are also important because they represent much-needed diversity in the federal courts. Gayles, for example, would be the first openly gay African-American man on the federal bench. However, with Rubio’s history of unfavorable treatment of previous nominees he has recommended, there is little expectation that he will help move this nomination process forward any faster. Gayles is up for the same seat to which William Thomas, also an openly gay African American man, was nominated in November 2012, a nomination that Rubio sabotaged.

Some were expecting these four Florida nominees (who were nominated in early February) to have their committee hearings this week, but because Rubio has not submitted his blue slips, that will not happen.

We join advocacy groups in Florida in urging Rubio to help get the state’s nominees confirmed as soon as possible.
 

PFAW

Florida Senate Committee Takes Up Voting Rights Bill

SPB 7068 – which cleared a procedural hurdle on March 10 and is expected to come back before the Committee later this month – addresses a number of issues, including the use of certain drop-off locations for the submission of absentee ballots. Last year, Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a directive against the use of some drop-off sites, such as tax collector offices and county library branches, despite their use in Pinellas County since 2008.
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