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Friday, December 21, 2007

More about ID checks at 2008 UUA General Assembly.

The UUA has posted an extensive list of questions and answers about the ID requirements at the site of the 2008 General Assembly in Ft. Lauderdale. The FAQ addresses a number of the concerns that some trustees and some ministers have raised about the location of next summer's Assembly; make sure to read the whole thing. (My take on the controversy is here.)

[Update: See also this new open letter from Bill Sinkford, Gini Courter, and Beth McGregor to all UUA congregations.]

Several key excerpts follow:

Are there free speech limitations that will be imposed on any areas of the General Assembly?

No. There will be no limitations on free speech in any meetings of the General Assembly including plenaries, workshops, worship, etc. Convention center staff and security staff will not be monitoring any of our meetings to detect "anti-American sentiment." However, if any direct threat is made to the safety of any General Assembly attendee, security personnel will be notified.

Are there any limitations on the right to assemble at General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale?

The right to assemble in Fort Lauderdale is governed by regulations similar to those in effect in other cities which have hosted General Assembly. Groups that wish to assemble in an organized fashion outside of the convention center will require a permit from the City of Fort Lauderdale and must meet in the area designated on the permit. The Port is not the property of Fort Lauderdale, and organized assembly on Port grounds, outside of the Convention Center building itself, is not permitted.

. . .

Given this situation, is there any plan to change the structure of GA to make accommodations for the possibility that some delegates may not be able to enter the convention center?

Efforts are being made to establish a satellite site with a live audio/video connection that would allow the participation of delegates who are unable or unwilling to produce government-issued identification.

Will there be an off-site area for people to report any problems with the security screening to the General Assembly as it is happening? What recourse will anyone who is stopped have?

The pedestrian checkpoint will have a chaplain or other General Assembly personnel present to assist with any issues. Phone numbers for chaplains and the Right Relations Team will be well-publicized.

Did anyone provide assurances that the conference site would not be in the security zone by our GA date in any way that gives us legal recourse?

No. When the General Assembly site selection team visited in 2003, representatives of the Ft. Lauderdale Convention and Visitor's Bureau (CVB) stated that they were working on a plan to remove the security perimeter that would be acceptable to federal authorities. They said they fully expected this to be accomplished by the time of our arrival in 2008. We believe they made these statements in good faith. While the CVB has continued working on this issue, it has proved a much more difficult problem to solve than they originally thought. Just this year they received approval to build a fly-over road that will allow access only to the convention center and not the Port. The fly-over road will be completed in 2011.

Is there any portion of General Assembly, particularly the Service of the Living Tradition, that will not be subject to the security screening?

Worship services will be held in the convention center plenary hall, as that is the largest venue available, and ID will be required for entrance to the convention center. We are currently working to establish a satellite site with a live audio/video connection outside the port perimeter for plenary sessions and worship. The worship services are also streamed and may be viewed on a computer with a web connection.

. . .

Why did the Planning Committee recommend and the Board choose Fort Lauderdale as a GA site?

There were many reasons that made Fort Lauderdale a good choice. Fort Lauderdale was selected as a site in 2003, immediately following the Boston GA where the UUA was faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars in hotel attrition fees. Fort Lauderdale was the only city to guarantee no attrition fees and a heavily subsidized convention center which made it financially attractive. The convention center was large enough and professionally staffed; shuttling to hotels was affordable since the convention center was subsidized. Hotels were of good quality, relatively affordable, and offered a wide range of rates. In addition, the General Assembly had not been to the Florida District since 1991. A culturally and racially diverse community, affordable hotels, a subsidized convention center, and a welcoming community made Ft. Lauderdale a good choice.

Would it be possible to cancel GA, or move it to another site?

Because contracts with hotels have already been signed, the UUA would be obligated to pay cancellation fees (different than attrition fees) in excess of $800,000. We have established relationships with the local volunteer committee, and several years of preparatory work have been done on our justice initiatives of accessibility and environmental sustainability. Finding an alternative site that is large enough and provides the financial safeguards of Fort Lauderdale while meeting our other justice requirements would be impossible this close to the General Assembly.

The FAQ also says that the GA Planning Committee will make financial assistance available to people who cannot afford fees needed to obtain a government-issued ID. An application form will be available March 1.

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 21 December 2007 at 7:29 AM

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December 21, 2007 12:21 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill Sinkford, Gini Courter, and Beth McGregor have also sent an open letter to all UUA congregations responding to a letter sent by an unnamed individual to many or all congregations. That unnamed individual urged churches not to send delegates to the Fort Lauderdale GA. Wow.


December 21, 2007 05:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

Just to be clear, the letter was not sent anonymously. It was from a minister of one of our Florida congregations, and was signed by said minister. Beth, Gini and Bill simply chose not to call the person out. A bit of holiday kindness, if you ask me...

Kurt Jensen:

December 22, 2007 06:19 AM | Permalink for this comment

I have to say I really feel for the GA Planning team. They have so many constraints on where to hold a General Assembly. They are told by us to rotate GA around the country (which is a good thing, I believe), they must select venues that will support our numbers, have enough lodging, meet at least minimum accesibility requirements, are reasonably affordable, and meet other justice and environmental constraints. They are elected to do their best and they work hard to make each GA special.

Are there issues with GA 2008? Sure. Besides the id requirement, there will hot, humid weather, and difficulty at meal times. But I believe our leadership really has to support the location at this point. The drawbacks will have to be worked as best they can and I applaud the UUA leaderships willingness to go the extra mile to address those issues they can.

I thought Portland was a great city and know that Salt Lake City will also be a great location. I am impressed with the worship leaders already announced for this GA. While my plans do not include going to GA this year for reasons other than this ID situation, I will regret not participating in several of the speacial events and outstanding worship promised by GA 2008.

I hope folks take a step back from the positions they are all taking. Yes, it is not a good thing to have to show ID to go to GA, especially worship. No, its not so bad to require demonstrations, in my opinion, and certainly using this as a reason to advocate abolishing GAs in the future is an overreaction too.

The magic of GA is our gathering as a community of representatives of all our congregations. We need to hold to that and work through this.


December 24, 2007 04:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

See Jeff's great post, "Manufacturing outrage as religious practice," and Chutney's response, "Manufactured dissent and fake authenticity." The Real Anonymous, however, maintains that there really is something to be alarmed about at next year's GA.

Dan Harper posts a video blog that quotes the letter from Randy Becker, the UU minister whose letter to all UUA congregations provoked the latest letter from Sinkford, Courter, and McGregor. Dan's take-away: If the UUA can provide a satellite site for delegates who can't cross the ID checkpoint in Fort Lauderdale, why can't the UUA establish satellite sites all across the country and skip the expense of GA?


January 3, 2008 09:24 AM | Permalink for this comment

I see this i.d. thing as a choice between two losing propositions. If individual i.d.s are not checked, then safety enforcement too often falls back on some kind of profiling. It's been seen too often to be denied. Nowadays, when I stand in security lines at the airport, I console myself that I am doing this so Muslims, South Asians, Palestinians, etc, can fly on an equal basis with myself. Showing my i.d. becomes a gesture of witness that my white skin and American English should not incur privileges from our government.

I would separate out the issue of whether security personnel at our entrance. If they are there, i.d.s is exactly what they should be checking.

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