Florida Governor Signs Bills to Educate Students on the Pitfalls of Communism and to Protect Free Speech On Campus

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a collegiate athletics roundtable.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a collegiate athletics roundtable. (Image: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

On June 22, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed three education bills, one of which is HB5 that mandates teaching high school students about communism and totalitarianism. The two other bills, SB 1108 and HB 233, promote civic knowledge among students to ensure freedom of thought on college and university campuses.

Introduced by Republican Representative Jack Zika, HB5 requires the Florida Department of Education (BOE) to develop an integrated civic education curriculum for public school students that will help in the development of civic responsibility.

In addition, the bill also established a “Portraits in Patriotism Act.” It requires the DOE “to curate oral history resources which integrates into the civics education curriculum personal stories of diverse individuals who demonstrate civic-minded qualities, including first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with the philosophies of the United States,” states the bill’s official summary.

The text of the bill declares that public schools will be required to integrate a comparative discussion of political ideologies, including communism and totalitarianism. These ideologies are in “conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy” that make up the founding principles of the United States of America.

“Our students will learn from an integrated civic education curriculum that compares our rights & freedoms to places where they don’t exist like China & North Korea,” DeSantis tweeted.

At a press briefing, the governor explained that students need to understand why people escape totalitarian and communist dictatorships and risk their lives to come to America and settle down in Florida.

SB 1108 requires state university and college students to undergo a civic literacy assessment as well as a civic literacy course in order to graduate. Before this bill, students only had to undergo one of these two requirements. High school students will only have to take a civil literacy assessment. If they pass the test, the student will be exempted from having to take a civics test in university or college.

The bill also requires public school students from the 11th and 12th grades to be exposed to a character development curriculum that will “include instructions on voting using the uniform primary and general election ballot.”

“The sad reality is that only two in five Americans can correctly name the three branches of government, and more than a third of Americans cannot name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is abundantly clear that we need to do a much better job of educating our students in civics to prepare them for the rest of their lives,” DeSantis said in a statement.

HB 233 is designed to ensure that Florida colleges and universities protect the expression of diverse viewpoints on their campuses. It requires educational institutions to conduct annual assessments on viewpoint diversity and intellectual freedom through a survey adopted by the State Board of Education (SBE). The institutions are barred from shielding students, staff, or faculty from protected free speech.

The bill also “authorizes a student to record video or audio of class lectures for personal educational use, in connection with a complaint to the public institution of higher education where the recording was made, or as evidence in, or in preparation for, a criminal or civil proceeding.”

DeSantis stated that he wants Florida’s universities to focus on academic rigor and critical thinking. The state does not want these institutions as “hotbeds for stale ideology.” The governor reiterated that the students must not be shielded from ideas and that First Amendment speech must be practiced in colleges and universities.

Earlier in June, DeSantis signed a bill to combat Chinese communist influence in Florida’s education sector. The bill prohibits higher academic institutions from entering into agreements with entities backed by or close to the Chinese Communist Party.