For more than four decades I have been privileged to be on the front lines of many struggles for human rights.
I am retiring as the longest-serving state director for the American Civil Liberties Union — 21 years in Florida and 23 years in Michigan.
It has been a wonderful, rewarding career.
Battles that seem to be about abstract legal principles are typically about people’s lives.
We helped create families by our work that ended the discriminatory ban on adoptions by gay men and lesbians, and helped same-sex couples whose marriages Florida officials refused to recognize until ordered by the federal judge in our case.
A teenager was barred from playing after-school basketball at the local Boys Club because she’s a girl. Her case led The Boys Clubs to become The Boys and Girls Clubs nationwide.
A professor received smaller monthly pension payments than male retirees because she’s a woman. Her case led to the end of pension discrimination nationwide.
We defended Floridians from their Legislature and governors — protecting women’s access to abortion, resisting Gov. Jeb Bush’s disgraceful use of government power in the Terri Schiavo saga and preventing the diversion of tax dollars from public to church-run schools.
Gov. Rick Scott’s attempt to impose drug testing on state employees and applicants for public assistance didn’t survive our legal challenges.
We helped strike down the dangerous gag order preventing doctors from talking to patients about the safe storage of guns in the home.
We worked successfully to prevent the Constitutional Revision Commission from approving proposals that would have repealed the ban on government funding of religion (the heart and soul of separation of church and state) and by just one vote shrinking the right to privacy, which protects a woman’s right to an abortion. Neither appeared on the ballot.
We helped end electronic paperless voting and replaced it with more reliable paper ballots so every vote would be accurately recorded. ACLU lawsuits challenged legislative schemes to make voting more difficult, and we worked with former Gov. Charlie Crist to expand voting rights through revised clemency rules.
It is especially gratifying to retire having played a role in crafting and securing passage of the constitutional amendment to end the injustice of Florida’s lifetime voting ban.
America is freer and more equal in 2018 than when I joined the ACLU in the 1960s, when there was legally enforced racial segregation, legally permissible gender discrimination and no legal rights for LGBT persons.
But democracy is far more fragile than many people recognize, and the short-term prognosis for human rights is not good. The pillars of constitutional democracy (a free press and independent courts) are under assault every day.
The ACLU will remain in the forefront of these battles. Democracy and human rights depend on it.
Howard Simon retired as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on Nov. 30.