Denouncing the advancement of House Bill 1 in the Florida legislature on Wednesday, the state's ACLU chapter warned that if signed into law, the undemocratic anti-protest bill pushed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis would "silence and criminalize" people who want to exercise their First Amendment rights to peacefully advocate for social change.
"The right to peacefully assemble and protest is protected by the First Amendment and has been a profoundly important way for generation after generation to effect positive change throughout the history of our country."
—Micah Kubic, ACLU of Florida
"This bill does nothing but criminalize peaceful protest, silence dissent, and inhibit Floridians from seeking to influence how our state leaders make decisions about our lives," Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in response to the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee's vote to pass HB1.
"We know the true nature of this bill and its origins," said Kubic. "We know that it is not about public safety, but about criminalizing peaceful protesters advocating for racial justice."
As Common Dreams reported earlier this year, progressives have been sounding the alarm that Republican lawmakers in multiple states are exploiting the deadly January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of then-President Donald Trump's supporters to push for anti-protest bills, which critics say have nothing to do with stemming the tide of far-right extremism and everything to do with suppressing left-wing dissent and quashing protests against police brutality, fossil fuel pipelines, and more.
We're fighting to protect free speech in Florida for all of us! pic.twitter.com/dVSAABFduO— ACLU of Florida (@ACLUFL) March 4, 2021
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In Florida, Trump ally DeSantis promoted HB1 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 484—punitive proposals that critics say are meant to repress Black Lives Matter and other social justice protests—on January 6, "the same day insurrectionists were storming the Capitol," as journalist Christopher Cook pointed out earlier this year in a critique of what he called the "righteous bipartisan weaponizing of this crisis."
As journalist Iliana Hagenah wrote at the time, DeSantis used the riots in Washington, D.C., attended by several neo-Confederates, as a pretext to "make taking down Confederate statues a felony" in Florida.
According to The Intercept's Alleen Brown and Akela Lacy, the GOP's new anti-protest bills reflect an attempt to "rebrand" earlier anti-democratic efforts to crack down on dissent, taking advantage of outrage over the right-wing attack on the Capitol to undermine demonstrations for progressive causes.
Kubic called it "disappointing to see that despite widespread and diverse opposition to this bill, the committee advanced Gov. DeSantis' undemocratic anti-protest proposal."
"The right to peacefully assemble and protest is protected by the First Amendment and has been a profoundly important way for generation after generation to effect positive change throughout the history of our country," he said, adding: "Legislators should stop this bill instead of compromising the rights of Floridians for political gain."