Op-Ed: Take back your right to be heard

When the Florida Supreme Court allowed a lower court ruling to stand last fall, saying people have a right to attend public meetings, but not to speak at them, the high court profoundly undermined democratic government in this state.

Now lawmakers have a chance to put right that grievous error, and we should be urging them loudly to do so.

You’d think such a right would be protected by U.S. and state constitutions.

Perhaps the Florida courts were sending a message to the Legislature that the open government statutes were not explicit enough on this point.

Let legislators and the governor know that Florida law should make clear that the right to speak at public meetings, to seek redress of grievances and other goals, is essential to government in the sunshine.

This ruling as it stands does not merely mean that you have to wait your turn, or limit the length of your comments, or that some kinds of meetings may not be suitable for comment, for example workshops. No, the ruling means a public body can deny you the right to speak at all at any of its meetings, if it chooses.

Florida is renowned for strong open government laws. It has a history of court interpretations in favor of free access and participation, so this was a chilling development.

We would hope no precedent would take hold, despite the ruling.

But citizens should not enjoy the right to speak at the sufferance of city councils, county commissions, school boards and any other body covered by the Sunshine Law.

That right should be yours, guaranteed by constitution, statutes and courts.

Tell lawmakers to secure that right.