Florida ‘Red Scare’ escalates; students now required to disclose political beliefs
Angling for the White House in 2024, Gov. Ron DeSantis is implementing one right-wing bill after another in an attempt to endear him to the far-right GOP voter base. In this July 2018 photo, taken when he was still a Congressman, DeSantis stands at the presidential podium and speaks alongside Donald Trump during a rally. | Chris O'Meara / AP

Earlier this week, People’s World reported Florida Congressman Anthony Sabatini’s call for the execution of Cuban leaders. This was followed by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez calling for air strikes on Cuba. Both unhinged calls to illegal violence were in response to the Cuban government’s supposed political repression of dissidents. If Florida Republicans really value diversity of thought and the right to protest, though, why do they seek to squelch it in their own state?

Last month, People’s World reported on the new Red Scare in the state of Florida currently being implemented by its Republican administration. Florida House Bill 233 requires that state-employed teachers register their personal political beliefs with the state. We now know the law is even more problematic than was reported.

For example, the law does not stop with its “loyalty oath”-like interrogations of teachers’ political stances. Students in Florida schools will now also be required to register their individual political beliefs and opinions with authorities. Gov. Ron DeSantis claims the “survey” of students will be used “to monitor intellectual diversity” on Florida’s campuses. The governor doesn’t specify whether the idea is to promote diversity or stamp it out. However, his other statements bemoaning “liberal ideology” among students and complaining that schools have become “socialism factories” give a hint as to his true motivation. Simply put, the government of Florida wants to suppress those political opinions with which the Republican Party does not agree. The First Amendment is under attack.

Unfortunately, as anti-worker laws are very common across the United States, it might be possible for some jaded citizens to not appreciate the gravity of a law requiring teachers employed by the state to register their political beliefs. After all, it is just one more example of how few rights and protections workers enjoy. But how can anyone, regardless of political ideology, not be up in arms about a requirement for students to do the same?

The Florida anti-diversity bill raises many questions. What will be done with the information collected? How will it be used? Will the data be anonymous? Who will have access to the information collected? What happens if someone refuses to answer? Will there be a return of McCarthy-style “blacklists” for those with opinions deemed undesirable? Will Republicans demand “affirmative action”-style quotas to ensure right-wing representation at colleges? Most importantly, how are the bill’s demands even remotely constitutional? Despite repeated requests from Florida Democrats and education professionals, DeSantis and Florida government officials refuse to offer any answers.

The State Board of Education previously limited Floridians’ freedom to possess or be exposed to ideas not sanctioned by the Republican Party when the State Board of Education banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory. Like HB-233, this policy change limits the ability of teachers to fulfill the role they are trained to do as professional educators and seeks to stamp out what Republicans consider to be dissenting viewpoints.

Unfortunately, the policies and laws aimed at educators are not the DeSantis administration’s only attack on the constitutional rights of Floridians. Both follow in the footsteps of House Bill 1, signed into law by the governor in April 2021. The bill, written in response to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, is dubbed by supporters as an “anti-riot bill.” It is more accurately called an anti-protester bill.

DeSantis ranks as the No. 2 choice among Republicans for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, behind former White House occupant Donald Trump. The two compete for the same base of voters, however, so some are already discussing the possibility of a Trump-DeSantis ticket. | Joe Cavaretta / South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

HB-1 is designed to increase both the government’s ability to monitor citizens and the power of the state to suppress the dissemination of ideas it deems unfavorable. The law creates the new criminal offense of “mob intimidation” and stipulates that three or more people using force or the threat of force to convince someone to “assume, abandon, or maintain” a certain viewpoint is “unlawful mob intimidation.” Given the open-ended nature of the word “force,” it is foreseeable that an act as simple as obstructing a sidewalk or shouting too loudly could open a protester up to a jail sentence of up to one year and a $1,000 fine.

The bill also increases police power and decreases protections for citizens who are practicing their constitutionally mandated right to protest. In an effort to encourage local police to be more forceful and violent when confronting demonstrators, HB-1 allows for citizens of localities to sue their government if they feel that local police didn’t respond forcefully enough to any protest in their community in which property was damaged.

DeSantis, along with his administration’s extremist and repressive right-wing policies, have proven to be very popular among the conservative elite across the country. In recent polls of Republicans by the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), DeSantis ranks as the second most popular choice for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination. As he trails only former White House occupant Donald Trump, many are already talking about a Trump-DeSantis joint ticket.

Florida Republicans have launched an all-out attack on diversity of thought and the First Amendment in their state. They hope to eliminate any idea with which they disagree or which might threaten their hold on power, buttressing their moves by further empowering police to persecute those that disagree and would stand up and say so. The policies work hand-in-hand with the voter suppression measures that the state GOP and Republicans across the country are implementing.

A line in the sand must be drawn. If Florida Republicans get away with these clearly unconstitutional policies, it won’t be long before we see the same policies implemented across the United States.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article represents the opinions of its author.


CONTRIBUTOR

Amiad Horowitz
Amiad Horowitz

Amiad Horowitz studied history with a specific focus on Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. He lives in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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