ACLU of Florida Panhandle Chapter

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ACLU of Florida Panhandle Chapter


Established 1988
Membership around 800
Regional director Sara Latshaw
Board officers Dale Boswell, president
Staff Benjamin Stevenson, attorney

The ACLU of Florida Panhandle Chapter is the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. The Panhandle and Bay County Chapters together make up the ACLU of Florida's Northwest Region, which has its regional office in Pensacola's Blount Building. Sara Latshaw became the regional director on March 30, 2013. On March 5, 2007, Benjamin Stevenson began work as the regional office's first staff attorney.[1]

The Panhandle Chapter was first organized in 1988, but the charter expired around 1995. It was renewed on November 11, 2000, when 35 members met at Washington High School to approve a new set of bylaws.[2] As of 2007, the Panhandle Chapter had about 800 members and financial supporters.[3]

The Panhandle Chapter serves the four western counties of Florida and is made up of three groups: the Escambia/Santa Rosa group, the University of West Florida group, and the Okaloosa/Walton group.


According to the group's website, the top issues faced by the chapter include:

  • Excessive force of law enforcement
  • LGBT rights
  • Religious freedom
  • Racial justice
  • Reproductive rights
  • Free speech

Notable cases[edit]

On August 27, 2008, the ACLU announced a lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County School District alleging that school officials (specifically Superintendent John Rogers and Pace High School Principal Frank Lay) had "used their government positions … to persistently and pervasively promote their personal religious beliefs in the public schools and at school events."[4] The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of two student plaintiffs, also alleged that teachers and staff preached about "judgment day with the Lord" and conducted Bible readings and biblical interpretations at student meetings.

According to Benjamin Stevenson, attorney for the Northwest Region, "We sent a number of letters and exchanged telephone calls to avoid litigation" in 2006. "After the School Board failed to bring the district in line with the Constitution and American values by ending the practice of school officials using their official positions to promote their religion, we had to act."[5]


  2. "ACLU forms chapter in Panhandle." Pensacola News Journal, November 12, 2000.
  3. According to regional director Susan Watson
  4. Complaint against Santa Rosa County School Board
  5. "ACLU sues school district." Pensacola News Journal, August 28, 2008.