This week Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida made a trip to Israel to sign HB 269, a bill that makes it a felony with up to five years in jail for passing out “offensive” flyers or pamphlets. This move has been widely criticized by free speech advocates and legal experts as a gross violation of the First Amendment. The bill states that anyone distributing “any material for the purpose of intimidating or threatening the owner” could be convicted of a felony “hate crime.” While we often write about the “hate speech” rules on Big Tech platforms, this is far worse. This is the state of Florida violating the First Amendment of the United States.
The legislation came about after activists from a group called the Goyim Defense League made headlines for several years for their activism efforts. The Goyim Defense League’s activism takes the form of distributing flyers that contain “uncomfortable truths” about the individuals who control the mainstream media in the United States. These flyers have been handed out across multiple states, including Florida, and have been met with mixed reactions from the public.
Despite the controversy surrounding the flyers, it is worth noting that they contain no threats of violence or threatening language. Rather, they present what the Goyim Defense League sees as a reality about the individuals who control the mainstream media, and invite readers to consider a different perspective. While some might consider this information to be “offensive,” there is nothing inherently threatening or “intimidating” about the distribution of flyers with factual information on them. The flyers even have a statement on them noting that they are “distributed randomly without malicious intent.”
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition. This means that individuals have the right to express their opinions, even if those opinions are controversial or unpopular. The government cannot censor or punish individuals for their speech, unless it poses an imminent danger or threat to others.
HB 269, however, seeks to criminalize speech that is deemed “intimidating” by the state. This is an extremely vague and subjective standard, and it could be used to silence a wide range of speech that is protected by the First Amendment. It is important to note that the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that speech that some may find offensive is still protected under the First Amendment.
This isn’t the first time Ron DeSantis has signed anti-First Amendment legislation while in Israel. Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 741, also known as the “Combating Public Disorder” bill, into law on May 14, 2019, in Jerusalem, Israel. The signing ceremony took place at the David Citadel Hotel, where DeSantis was joined by several prominent Jewish leaders and members of the Israeli government.
The bill aims to protect religious institutions and their members from discrimination and harassment. However, many have argued that it does much more than that, and that it represents a serious threat to free speech and civil liberties.
One of the main provisions of HB 741 is a requirement that all Florida public schools, colleges, and universities adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that includes certain forms of criticism of Israel. The definition in question is the one adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” and includes examples such as “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” and “applying double standards to Israel.”
Critics of HB 741 argue that this definition is overly broad and could be used to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies. They point out that the definition includes language that could be interpreted as equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, even though the two are not the same thing. They also argue that the definition is not necessary, as schools and universities already have policies in place to address discrimination and harassment.
Another provision of HB 741 requires law enforcement agencies to conduct training on identifying and responding to anti-Semitic incidents. Many have raised concerns that this provision could be used to target legitimate forms of protest and dissent. For example, if a group of pro-Palestinian activists were to stage a peaceful demonstration outside an Israeli consulate or embassy, could they be accused of engaging in an anti-Semitic incident?
Perhaps most controversially, HB 741 creates a private right of action for people who believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of their religion. This means that individuals who feel that they have been the victim of anti-Semitic discrimination can sue the alleged perpetrator for damages. This is highly likely to be used to stifle free speech and dissent. For example, a professor who expresses a controversial opinion about Israel could potentially be sued by a student who disagrees with them and feels that their religious beliefs have been discriminated against.
The fact that Governor DeSantis flew to a foreign country to sign both of these bills is absurd. Florida is a state in the United States, and its laws should be signed within the state’s borders. The reality that Gov. DeSantis chose to sign these bills in Israel, a foreign country, raises serious questions about his priorities and commitment to upholding the Constitution for the citizens of the United States and his state of Florida.
The implications of HB 269 and HB 741 are deeply troubling. They could be used to silence political dissent, punish those who criticize government officials, or suppress speech that challenges the status quo. In short, it is a direct attack on the First Amendment and the principles of free speech that are so essential to a healthy society.
We must be willing to engage in open dialogue with those who hold different views, and to stand up for our rights even when it is uncomfortable or unpopular to do so.
This means supporting organizations and individuals who are working to protect free speech, like Gab, and advocating for policies that promote openness and transparency in government. It also means being willing to speak out against efforts to silence dissent or suppress speech even when they come from our own political allies.
The defense of our fundamental rights is not a partisan issue. It is a matter of basic human dignity and freedom and it requires all of us to stand up and be counted. We must remain vigilant in the face of attempts to suppress speech and dissent, and be willing to push back against these efforts wherever they arise. Only by doing so can we ensure that America remains free for generations to come.
Jesus Christ is King of kings