Friday, January 06, 2006

Unbuckling the Bible Belt

"Religious freedom and separation of church and state also are among the top issues in Pensacola, which Watson described as the 'buckle of the Bible belt.'"
Although things are changing ever so slowly, Pensacola still deserves its reputation for being a hotbed cold freezer of neo-con politics. As Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times put it during the last presidential election, "To call Escambia County a Republican stronghold is like calling Tiger Woods a decent golfer."

Somehow, though, a few liberals now and again manage to slip past the armed guards at the county border. One of them is Susan Watson. We mention her because she was one of the lead plaintiffs in the Florida voucher case of Bush v. Holmes.

Ms. Watson is no stranger to education issues or to the struggle to protect American civil rights. She first came to public attention when she took on the charlatan Hal Mason, who was once elected as an Escambia County school board member but then died in office.

For a thankfully short time, Mason virtually held the county's public school system hostage to his peculiar Know Nothing-like ideology, all the while refusing to disclose what, exactly, he'd been doing in California for a lengthy period of ten to twenty years that left a large, mysterious blank space on his resume. Mason's downfall can be traced largely to the courageous fight Susan Watson waged, almost single-handedly, against the nutty faction that dominated local school board politics a few years ago.

When interviewed by the St. Petersburg Times last summer, Ms. Watson explained that she had decided to challenge the state voucher system in Bush v. Holmes because "I don't want my tax dollars being thrown into the garbage, being thrown into schools that we don't monitor or test."

Her three children are, or soon will be, graduates of Pensacola High School. The oldest now attends the University of Chicago.

That's not the whole story, however. Susan Watson also has been a very active P.T.A. member. A few years ago, she became a founding officer of the "Panhandle Chapter" of the American Civil Liberties Union. Last summer, she was appointed "the ACLU's first full time director of Northwest Florida."

More recently, she's been making common cause with former conservative Georgia congressman Bob Barr and libertarian minister Chuck Baldwin against the more egregious aspects of the U.S. Patriot Act.

Pensacola still may be the 'buckle of the Bible Belt," but Susan Watson is valiantly working to set us free.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Pensacola still may be the 'buckle of the Bible Belt," but Susan Watson is valiantly working to set us free."

You equated this attack as an attack against Christianity.


I hope you forgive my incredulity, I didn't know people could be so foolish.