Liberty conservatives looking to Florida governor Ron DeSantis as a possible heir to the MAGA movement may want to take a harder look at his support for the First Amendment while in office.
DeSantis championed and signed a bill that essentially bans criticism of Israel.
2019’s HB 741 bans any speech in the public school systems of Florida deemed to be “making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations” about Jews or “the power of Jews as a collective,” such as “the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”
HB 741 also bans “applying a double standard to Israel by requiring behavior of Israel that is not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, or focusing peace or human rights investigations only on Israel.”
Such language is impossible to ban on public schools and universities, where hundreds of thousands of people often speak about matters of political importance.
Powerful pro-Israel lobbying organizations often push similar measures to shut down criticism of Israel. Regardless of the political implications of the nation’s reputation in America and across the world, Florida’s law that narrowly identifies and essentially criminalizes specific political speech in public places is nakedly unconstitutional. There’s no reason to think this law has ever been enforced on any university campus, or it would almost instantly be overthrown by courts that recognize its violations of the First Amendment.
The bill also adds religion as a protected class to the state’s anti-discrimination laws, but its language pertaining specifically to criticism of Israel are unlike any speech code in law throughout the United States today.
DeSantis, who signed the bill in Israel, could conceivably push such a federal speech code as President if elected. This would open a range of new possibilities for censorious leftists eager to criminalize any criticism of liberalism, who would use law DeSantis already enacted to further censor conservatives and libertarians.