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Civil Rights

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a certain celebrity rodent

Youtube Screenshot

When Elon Musk bought Twitter, conservatives were ready to hold a ticker-tape parade. "Free speech is making a comeback," proclaimed Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. Fox News host Tucker Carlson exulted in this victory over liberals who are "trying to control what we say and think." Gloated Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, "The Left is terrified of free speech."

But the right's unquenchable ardor for unbridled expression depends on who is speaking and who is trying to stop them. When Twitter de-platformed Donald Trump after the Capitol riot, that was censorship. When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis punishes Disney for daring to oppose his "Parental Rights in Education" law, though, that's what Disney should expect for opening its big mouth.

The law he signed stripped the company of the special self-governing status it has had for 55 years, which enables Disney to handle many functions and obligations normally assigned to municipal governments. A conservative could see that privilege as a commendable way of preventing local bureaucrats from over-regulating an innovative corporation. But Florida Republicans were willing to do that only so long as Disney didn't step out of line.

On the day DeSantis signed the "Don't Say Gay" bill, Disney said the law "should never have been passed" and that it should "be repealed." The governor took great offense at the spectacle of a company that has long enriched the state presuming to question his wisdom.

Not that he minds big corporations involving themselves in political matters. He did not object when Disney contributed more than $100,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis political action committee. But if the company is going to make its views known, they had better align with his.

In their applause for DeSantis, conservatives have been unwilling to consider whether the anti-Disney measure contradicts the basic principles of free expression — and whether it violates the First Amendment. If they did, they would realize the new law is guilty on both counts.

The government does many things for its citizens that it is not required to do and is free to stop doing. Congress could abolish Pell Grants, which pay for college expenses. States can set conditions for eligibility for certain programs, such as requiring anyone getting unemployment compensation to look for work.

But once the government has extended certain benefits, it may not withdraw them from a beneficiary for exercising a constitutional right. The federal government may not revoke a student's Pell Grant, or a worker's unemployment benefits, for making a speech in favor of, or in opposition to, abortion rights or gun control or Joe Biden's immigration policy — any more than it may put them in jail.

The Supreme Court made this clear in a 1958 decision, among others. Back then, California granted property tax exemptions to military veterans, but only if they signed an oath that they did not advocate the use of force to overthrow the state or federal government. The court ruled the loyalty oath unconstitutional.

In language that could have been written with the Disney episode in mind, the court said: "To deny an exemption to claimants who engage in certain forms of speech is, in effect, to penalize them for such speech. Its deterrent effect is the same as if the State were to fine them for this speech."

DeSantis and his accomplices made little effort to conceal their illegitimate motives. "You're a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you're going to marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state?" he said. "We view that as a provocation, and we're going to fight back against that."

Said GOP Rep. Randy Fine: "It's time for them to remember that we are not California. And they are a California company. And we're not interested in their California values here in this state."

But the First Amendment says Californians can preach their values in all 50 states. Same goes for Floridians who venture beyond their own borders.

You can't pretend to be a champion of free speech while deploying the power of government to exact vengeance against people who disagree with you. Florida never had to grant a special taxing district to Disney. But having chosen to do so, it may not revoke it in political retribution.

DeSantis and Co., who regard the guardians of Mickey Mouse as woke, immoral and hostile to Florida values, are entitled to trumpet their views till their tonsils fall out. But here's the thing about freedom of speech: Disney gets to do the same.

Printed with permission from Creators.

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Texas Librarian Fired Over Abbot's Book Ban

On March 9, the Kingsland Branch Library in Llano County, Texas, lost a librarian. Suzette Baker told KXAN that she was fired for not complying with top-down directives to remove books from the library’s shelves. The termination letter sited Baker “for creating a disturbance, insubordination, violation of policies and failure to follow instructions.”

“The books in my library in Kingsland were not taken off the shelves, we did not move them, I told my boss that was censorship,” Baker told KXAN. One of the books that was deemed “inappropriate” and/or “pornographic” was a biography depicting the life of a woman “growing up as a transgendered teenager and obviously this group thought that was too much for their children to read.” Of course, as Baker and others have pointed out, no one is making your kids read anything. More importantly, public libraries are all about the freedom of information.

This is not the first time the Llano County library is in the news. Back in December, the library was closed for three days after a handful of harmful challenges to the library’s catalogue made by concerned racists, homophobes, and transphobes led a conservative judge to order a review of the materials in question. The Texas Library Association’s Wendy Woodland explained the historic push for censorship to the Texas Tribune back in December. “A library may get one or two [book challenges] in two years, or some librarians have never had challenges,” Woodland said. “So this is very rare and very unusual and different from the way challenges have been brought forth in the past.”Leila Green Little is incensed by the Kingsland Library’s firing of Becker, telling the local news that something has been rotten in Llano for some time now.

A patron of the library upset about the firing named Leila Green Little told KXAN changes at the county library have happened without transparency, pointing to library advisory board meetings being closed to the public. The library system's online reading service was also recently changed without notice, she said.
"I have now counted 12 books that I know have been removed from Llano County Library, and I can't get clarification from the library system on why," Little told KXAN. "There are very clear rules that should be followed with regards to censorship to books in the public library, those rules were not followed."

Suzette Baker, however, has become one of the first people to have her right to work taken away because of true governmental censorship. Not unlike our public schools, public libraries are some of the most important institutions for nurturing a healthy, democratic society. I can and will argue that the public library system is the single most important institution in our democracy in that anyone, of any background, of any economic situation, can access any and all information—both analog and digital—for free at their public library. It is no coincidence that the more conservative and fascistic elements our country have tried to crush public libraries for many years.

Texas’ censorship drive was accelerated by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s November push to have tons of books banned—especially ones that speak at all about race or have any LGBTQ content. The movement is supported by right-wing and conservative Christian think tanks trying to sanitize our country into something of an ethno-white theocracy; real dark-days kind of thinking. The general lists of books these groups are trying to ban from schools and now libraries are preoccupied with LGBTQ sexuality and the false-flag fear that children are turned gay by literature. Because these groups’ version of Christianity is also a white supremacist one, the banned titles tightly orbit the anti-racism “CRT” (critical race theory) books that conservatives are also trying to get banned.

All of these things come on the heels of challenges not seen since World War II-era Nazi Germany to books and the educational content available to American children. A Tennessee school board’s January banning of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus, by Art Spiegelman, from its eighth-grade Holocaust curriculum was symbolic of this march toward fascism.

Suzette Baker explained to KXAN the foundational tenets of the freedom of information and the freedom of ideas. “It may not be my book, it may not be your book, but it could be someone else’s book and we have no right to take that book away from them,” she said. Conservative “free speech warriors” and “cancel culture” aficionados like Joe Rogan, Glenn Greenwald, and others have been too busy feeling like Hunter Biden’s laptop is proof that Fox News isn’t bad or something to worry about actual attacks on the freedom of ideas and speech, and how those affect the most important resource we have: our youth.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos