Florida Doesn’t Need a Free Speech Czar

The probable 2024 presidential candidate wants to be a free speech czar and tell people what speech is acceptable.

Full disclosure:  I’m a liberal Democrat.  So, I won’t be sending in my vote-by-mail ballot for Ron DeSantis in November.  Nor will I vote for him in 2024, assuming we’ll have free and fair elections by then.

Free speech czar DeSantis with Trump
DeSantis with Trump, Public Domain.

But don’t stop reading if you’re an independent voter, a conservative, or even a libertarian.  It’s even okay if you think you want to stand in line to vote for DeSantis in November.  You can relax because I’ll mostly be quoting people who are not liberal Democrats to make my point.

In fact, I’m glad there are folk who don’t view my governor as a fascist, authoritarian, or even a Maduro-like Communist free speech bully.  Independent voices are necessary because we agree on an important issue while arriving at our perspective differently.

Good for them, I say.

For example, conservative writer David French challenged DeSantis recently for punishing Mickey Mouse.  The freedom-lovin’ guv beheaded the mouse after the Disney CEO spoke out against the DeSantis-inspired “Don’t Say Gay” law.  DeSantis charged the Disney CEO with committing the crime of “Corporate Speech.”  The probable 2024 presidential candidate added that Florida residents should not be “subsidizing” such speech.  Thus, DeSantis got the Republican-controlled state Legislature to revoke a decades old law that let Disney act like its own government.

French wrote in The Atlantic about two conservative attorney friends:  “But they’re dead wrong on this issue. ‘You get what you ask for’ or ‘they will deserve it’ are not principles of constitutional law or a free society.”  French added, “In fact, the opposite is true.  The First Amendment affirmatively protects the right of private institutions to engage in political speech, and that protection extends to safeguarding them from government reprisal for their speech.”

Thomas L. Knapp, a libertarian writer in Florida, also opposed the governor’s action.  In blunt terms, he wrote that the anti-Disney law is “an example of Rule Number One in Florida politics since 2018:  Don’t publicly disagree with Ron DeSantis, or he’ll throw a tantrum and try to punish you.”

Thank you, David French.  Kudos, Thomas L. Knapp.  Your independent voices basically said that Florida doesn’t need a speech czar.  This liberal Democrat agrees.

Not surprisingly, though, DeSantis got rave reviews for his Disney audition from some quarters.  Many conservatives delighted. Fox News swooned.

So, the ambitious young governor continued his Radio City Music Hall routine.  All but wearing a top hat and dancing shoes, DeSantis aimed for a wider audience with his “Stop WOKE Act.”  With this act, he wants to tell private businesses and public educational institutions what speech is acceptable, like a free speech czar.

Again, his ardent followers lauded this new theatrical audition.  And again, independent voices dared to disagree.  For starters, The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) filed a lawsuit.  The group debuted in 1999, answering the call of “college student and faculty victims of illiberal policies and double standards,” according to the FIRE website.

Noted USA Today after FIRE sued:  The Woke Act is “‘intended to chill speech,’ said Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney with FIRE.  ‘The entire point of the new law is to set out certain categories or concepts that the state disdains and says you can’t introduce.'” The national newspaper added, FIRE “has sided with Florida Republicans in the past on campus speech issues.”

But attorneys for DeSantis and state Attorney General Ashley Moody were having none of that.  The thing is, the attorneys insisted, people who work for public schools, colleges and universities are engaging in “government speech.”  Of course, they continued, the government can regulate government speech.

Now, though, some Florida businesses also sued over the “Stop WOKE Act.” Significantly, these businesses have not made news for grooming liberal thinkers.  Simply put, the capitalists want to run their own businesses, WLRN reported. The South Florida radio station backed up the point by quoting the lawyers for the business owners.  “This law enacts unconstitutional viewpoint-based restrictions on the speech of Florida’s business owners and employers operating within the state in violation of their First Amendment rights.”

So, my governor, trained at Yale and then Harvard Law School, wants his working-class backers to accept sophisticated legal distinctions.  He seems to suggest that there may very well be something called Free Speech.  However, DeSantis sees major limits on this type of freedom.  For instance, corporate speech can be punished by the state, and government speech can be limited or curtailed, says Florida Speech Czar Ron DeSantis.

Come on, Man.  What’s gonna happen if you win reelection and claim a mandate?  Whose Free Speech rights will you seize next?

Ironically, our would-be prez advances his cause all the while telling the nation that Florida is the freest state in the country.

Such gall brings another strong term to mind to describe my governor:  Liar.

Steve Schneider