Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation on Tuesday that orders Florida’s State Board of Education and the Board of Governors to monitor “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on its public universities annually.
The bill, H.B. 233, was passed in order to ensure that “students, faculty and staff feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.” In order to reach this ideal, the bill requires the creation of a nonpartisan survey which will be used annually by universities to determine the extent to which varying ideas are presented.
Additionally, Florida colleges would not be able to “shield” students, faculty or staff from “expressive activities,” which the bill defines to include oral or written communication of ideas including “peaceful assembly, protests, and speeches; distributing literature; carrying signs; circulating petitions; faculty research, lectures, writings, and commentary, whether published or unpublished; and the recording and publication, including the Internet publication, of video and audio recorded in outdoor areas of campus.” However, the bill is quick to explain that these expressive activities do not include speech that is commercial or defamatory in nature.
“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” DeSantis said in a press conference. “Unfortunately, now the norm is, really, these are more intellectually repressive environments.”
Furthermore, the bill allows students to record video or audio of class lectures to be used for personal educational use, though they must get permission from their professors in order to publish these recordings. If the student desires to make a complaint against a professor, they may also use the video or audio as evidence for their case.
H.B. 233 is monumental in not only helping prevent colleges and universities in Florida from becoming massive centers of groupthink, but it also ensures that Christians can continue to share their beliefs on campus under the protection of the law. College institutions are meant to be places where ideas are given and considered – not factories that teach arbitrarily on what is right or wrong (even when the same universities would deny any sort of objective moral law).
In addition to H.B. 233, DeSantis also signed two other bills on Tuesday, H.B. 5 and S.B. 1101. H.B. 5 requires K-12 students in Florida to learn about the “evils of communism” in their high school civics classes, while S.B. 1101 requires college students “to complete a civic literacy course and pass a specified assessment to demonstrate competency in civic literacy” in order to graduate.
As Christians, it is important that freedom of speech is protected, so that we can worship freely and share our views in the public square. Though it may allow us to avoid uncomfortable situations when someone with an opposing viewpoint isn’t allowed to express it, that will always leave us a step closer to someone justifying the silencing of the Gospel. Many in our modern day don’t want to be told that they need salvation through Jesus Christ, nor do they want to submit to God. Some may even call the mere mention of this idea “hate speech.”
Yet, even if the spreading of the Gospel is outlawed, we will still continue to do so, as God has commissioned us to this task (Matthew 28:18-20), and His authority will always trump the authority of any worldly authority (Acts 5:27-29).
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