DeSantis Opens the Door to Hate Speech Laws
Scott Greer, Highly Respected, April 27, 2023
Ron DeSantis signed legislation in Israel this week that opens the door to hate speech laws in the Sunshine State.
The bill criminalizes “[h]arassment or intimidation based on religious or ethnic heritage.” This would include dropping “hate” leaflets on someone’s front lawn, projecting an offensive image on a building, spreading hate speech on a college campus, and shouting something mean with a bullhorn. If there is no “credible” threat behind this hate speech, the offender would face a first degree misdemeanor. If the law finds a credible threat behind the action, the offender would be hit with a third degree felony, which can result in up to five years in jail.
The bill effectively turns very minor offenses into “hate crimes.” Even if we accept the ban on projections or “littering” leaflets on private property, these are only nuisances. When you elevate what are typically unenforceable civil violations into “hate crimes,” it makes it far easier for left-wing officials to stifle speech.
DeSantis supporters dismiss worries about the bill. They say the law is only meant to protect private property, implying people deserve jail time if they drop flyers on private property. This view was best expressed by vertically challenged Dave Reaboi.
This is a disingenuous argument. This isn’t about property rights, this is about criminalizing hate speech. Supporters of the bill are open about what they want it to accomplish. Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood gleefully argues the law would allow him to throw “neo-Nazis” in jail.
“You have proposed a law that would make anti-Semitic remarks a felony. Does it have a shot at becoming law?” CNN host Poppy Harlow asked Sheriff Chitwood earlier this week.
“I expect it to be signed sometime this week, and it enhances penalties for what you just saw,” he replied. “If you go on private property, which is what we’re seeing, and drop off hateful literature targeting someone for their religion, it’s a felony. If you get up in somebody’s face with a bullhorn and start screaming anti-Semitic remarks to them, it’s felony stalking. So we’re really looking forward to this.”
The power to determine what is “threatening” or “harassment” would be left to liberal authorities like Sheriff Chitwood. If a person dropped a flier announcing it’s okay to be white in someone’s front lawn, a liberal district attorney could easily claim that’s intimidation. A liberal district attorney could also determine that using a bullhorn to say illegal aliens should go back home is intimidation. A speaker appearing on a college campus and saying things that offend students could be a form of intimidation. Liberal officials can easily abuse the law to target people they don’t like for the crime of free speech.
There’s already a precedent for this. Police around the country have opened criminal investigations into “It’s Okay To Be White” fliers. A man recently indicted for his role in the Charlottesville tiki torch march was denied bail in part because he had recently put up “hate” propaganda in another state. The prosecution argued this was dangerous behavior that required the man to be locked up. The Florida law empowers authorities to be even more zealous against the scourge of “hate speech.”
Some DeSantis supporters offer the cope that the law will be used to crack down against Antifa. Antifa usually keeps their activities to lefty areas. This argument requires one to believe liberal DAs will aggressively target left-wing extremists for doing nothing more than projecting “All Cops Are Bastards” on privately-owned buildings. There’s a better chance of Dylan Mulvaney becoming the Republican nominee for president.
The cope over Antifa also ignores the primary target of the bill. Its advocates want to crack down on groups like the “Goyim Defense League.” These groups try hard to offend people with their leaflets and messaging. Very few people agree with their propaganda. That makes them a useful bogeyman to push for hate speech legislation. Nobody wants to be seen on the side of trolls waving swastika flags.
But the First Amendment protects that speech, just as much it protects someone’s right to protest for abortion or gun control. The new law will not be limited to annoying trolls or idiots dressed up in SA outfits. It will be used against anyone who may happen to distribute propaganda a liberal claims is hateful. Just placing a right-wing flier on a privately-owned building could send you to jail.
If Democrats passed such a law in a blue state, every conservative would be up in arms. But since it was passed by conservative media’s favorite politician, a large number of right-wingers will defend it. They shouldn’t.
We should expect our leaders to firmly defend free speech. The Left works tirelessly to strip us of this fundamental liberty, whether it’s through Big Tech censorship or attempts to read hate speech laws into the Constitution. Republican lawmakers should not aid the Left’s mission to silence controversial speech. There is no need for the Florida law. Its only purpose is to chill speech that some find offensive.
DeSantis failed a critical test here. We can’t trust someone who will proudly sign a bill to criminalize hate speech–in a foreign country, no less. DeSantis doesn’t stand up for free speech. He’s not our guy.