The Republican governor claims the state is “free of socialist doctrine,” but is being called out for a measure that undermines one of the cornerstones of democracy: the right to free speech.
Even as Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to tout Florida as the “freest” state in the nation, a United Nations report released Tuesday strongly calls into question the Republican’s claim.
The document speaks directly to a law passed by state Republicans in 2021 in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests, which took place in 2020 and were largely peaceful with occasional clashes between police, protesters, and counter-protesters.
DeSantis’ so-called “Combating Public Disorder” law (HB1), which is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, increases penalties for people who participate in protests that turn “disorderly.” It also allows people to sue cities that don’t crack down on uprisings.
Critics of the law assert that it promotes the arrest of peaceful individuals if other demonstrators act violently, among other issues.
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The goal is to thwart protests in Florida, like those waged by abortion rights protesters in front of US Supreme Court justices’ homes in Virginia, by making it a second-degree misdemeanor. Violators face 60 days in jail and fines of up to $500.
Called Out by the UN
Democrats who oppose the bill argue it infringes on people’s First Amendment rights to free speech, one of the cornerstones of a democracy, as opposed to a Communist regime, where citizens don’t have the right to protest.
And the United Nations’ Committee, that monitors human rights across the globe, seems to agree.
“The Committee is concerned about reports of increasing legislative measures and initiatives at the state level that unduly restrict the right to peaceful assembly following anti-racism protests in recent years, such as the HB1 Combating Public Disorder law in Florida,” the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) report states.
The report, which also covered issues in countries like Azerbaijan, Benin and Nicaragua, recommended that the US “take all necessary measures to ensure the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly without any discrimination.”
“The United Nations just told Governor DeSantis that he’s moving in the wrong direction,” Ben Frazier, the head of Jacksonville’s Northside Coalition, told the Miami Herald. “The legislature and the governor need to U-turn, do an about face and stop violating the First Amendment rights of Floridians to protest and to peaceably assemble.”