Marion J. Radson: Take the pledge of civility

Published: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 11:47 p.m.

The City, County and Local Government Law Section of The Florida Bar asks all local governments in Florida to declare the month of May as Civility Month. The section, whose membership includes more than 1,500 local government attorneys, wants our elected leaders and citizens to be ever mindful of the importance of respectful and civil conduct in our democratic system of government.

All of us have witnessed the decline of civil conduct in our daily lives. We are bombarded with mass media that features rude and boisterous conduct as a seemingly appropriate means of behavior. The widespread use of emails and texting as a principal means of communication promotes informality and a relative ease of saying things we wouldn't say face-to-face.

Civility together with fairness and integrity can enhance the open exchange of ideas and assist in reaching consensus on diverse and difficult issues. Too often, anger, rudeness, ridicule and personal attacks rule the day. This type of behavior only serves to discourage public participation and to prevent a fair discussion of the issues.

The Florida Supreme Court and the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar have taken steps to address the decline of civility in the legal profession. The Florida Bar has adopted standards of conduct for all licensed attorneys in Florida. Recently, the Florida Supreme Court added a “civility pledge” to the Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar. This pledge requires all attorneys to exhibit “fairness, integrity and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.”

The words of editor, soldier and political leader, Carl Shurz, are chiseled in life-size form on the top of the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, Mo. His words are as true today as when he wrote them in the 1870s: “Democratic government will be the more successful the more public opinion ruling it is enlightened and inspired by full and thorough discussion ... the greatest danger threatening democratic institutions comes from those influences which tend to stifle or demoralize discussion.”

The attorneys of the City, County and Local Government Law Section urge all local governments in Florida to proclaim the month of May as Civility Month. We ask our leaders and citizens to take the pledge that appears on brass plaques on display in many public buildings: “We will be respectful of one another even when we disagree. We will direct all comments to the issues. We will avoid personal attacks.”

In the words of another great president, Abraham Lincoln: “Politeness costs so little.”

Marion J. Radson is the retired Gainesville city attorney, president of the Florida Municipal Attorneys Association and past chair of the City, County and Local Government Law Section of The Florida Bar.

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