Spoiling for a legal fight, a minor Florida political party has banned African-Americans and non-Christians from its membership rolls.
The British Reformed Sectarian Party imposed the politically incorrect ban as a way to call attention to a longstanding dispute between the Republican Party of Florida and BRS Party founder Tom Kelly.
"The (GOP) and the court maintain that political parties are private, voluntary associations. Well, that's what we are," Kelly told Sunshine State News.
Kelly, whose mother is Hispanic, doesn't have a problem with blacks or non-Christians. But he says he's banning them as a way to publicly confront a problem he sees with "Nazi-like" loyalty oaths imposed by Florida's Republican and Democratic parties.
In 2000, Kelly was elected by his local precinct to the Orange County Republican Executive Committee. He was denied his seat when he refused to sign a party loyalty oath.
Calling the oath a "psychological screening test," the lifelong Republican sued in court, and lost. The last names of the three U.S. circuit judges who ruled against him -- Susan Black, Paul Roney and Walter Stapleton -- were to become the initials for the British Reform Sectarian Party.
Since it was established, the BRS Party has fielded just one candidate: Kelly. He ran against Dean Cannon in State House District 35 in 2008 and garnered 33 percent of the vote.
Like many "minor" parties, BRS is more of a political vanity party than an actual political force. BRS, which is headquartered at Kelly's Cocoa home, has never held a meeting and had, as of July 2008, just 39 members, according to the state Division of Elections.
"I don't even know who those (other 38) people are," Kelly laughs.
What separates the BRS from other third parties is its chairman's personal political jihad against the mainstream parties.
Kelly says he's determined to abolish party loyalty oaths, and he's daring someone -- anyone -- to sue him. That, Kelly figures, will expose what he calls the unconstitutional nature of the oath and discredit the notion that "voluntary" parties can do whatever they want with ther membership.
In 1983, the state attorney general's office issued a written opinion to the chairman of the Florida Democratic Party that concluded party loyalty oaths are not allowed in Florida because the Legislature did not enact them. Read the opinion here.
Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida, said concerns about erosion of First Amendment rights of free speech are counterbalanced by the "quasi-public" and regulated nature of political parties.
"They have a certain amount of latitude regarding their members," Smith said, noting that Florida has "closed primaries" which exclude nonmembers.
"It's different to base exclusion on race or religion," he said.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.