Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is reportedly planning to travel to Israel and use the trip to sign a bill that imposes a sweeping anti-Semiticism law that raises serious free speech implications. Florida and other states are enacting a bill being duplicated through the country that would ban statements that “making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective.” I have previously raised my concerns over the curtailment of free speech from such laws as well as bans on support for boycotts of Israel. While courts have struck down the boycott laws, supporters are still trying to curtail speech under ill-defined hate speech models. Recently, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations called for an international ban on anti-Semitic speech.
The bill passed the Florida House 114-0. a wide array of commentary in all state-funded institutions of higher education. The language raises many of the same free speech problems of the earlier boycott models. The bill prohibits discrimination, which is unassailable. However, it is the definition of anti-Semitism that raised the free speech concerns:(a) Examples of anti-Semitism include:
(a) Examples of anti-Semitism include:
1. Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews, often in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
2. Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective, especially, but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
3. Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, the State of Israel, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
4. Accusing Jews as a people or the State of Israel of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
Spreading “myths” or raising “imagined wrongdoing” defies meaningful limitations. It is equally difficult to draw limits around such ambiguous terms like “Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations.”
As is often the case, the speech limits were passed in the aftermath of a great tragedy of the shooting in California at a synagogue. With such a tragedy, no politician would want to be deemed as not supporting the victims or the cause of fighting anti-Semitism. Free speech remains an abstraction in the wake of such suffering and anger. However, people of good faith must be willing to risk such criticism to raise our concerns over speech regulations and criminalization.
We have seen such hate speech laws used throughout the world to strip away free speech protections. Over the course of the last 50 years, the French, English and Germans have waged an open war on free speech by criminalizing speech deemed insulting, harassing or intimidating. We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, (here and here and here and here and here and here and here) and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). There are encroachments appearing in the United States, particularly on college campuses. Notably, the media celebrated the speech of French President Emmanuel Macron before Congress where he called on the United States to follow the model of Europe on hate speech.
Worse yet, there is a rising generation that has been taught that hate speech does not deserve free speech protection and that speech codes are necessary to combat unwanted speech.
We will lose our free speech protections unless we have the courage to stand up for these values, even when those being protected are the least sympathetic members of our nation. We could not need the First Amendment to protect popular speech. However, if we turn away at these critical moments, we will soon find ourselves in the same downward spiral as Europe where speech codes have created an insatiable appetite for more and more limits.