Florida’s governor and legislature have taken heat from the Left for rooting out sexualized and pornographic materials in public schools. However, they have also taken heat from some ostensibly on the Right, most recently former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
On February 19, Hogan appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd and said that he doesn’t believe parental rights in education should be the most important issue for candidates in 2024.
“I think it’s an important issue, and I do hear it and people are concerned about this,” Hogan said. “However … demanding that things be done a certain way or that you can’t say this and can’t say that. You have to be careful.”
Hogan went on to say that he’s a “small government, common sense conservative,” and that Florida’s decision to protect children from sexualized and pornographic content in schools is “authoritarian” and “sounds like big government.”
In the same vein, some have criticized Florida’s approach as “book banning,” while a few teachers having catastrophized the situation, saying they have been “forced to pack up [their] classroom library.”
If true, one wonders what kind of content was in their libraries.
From this over-the-top rhetoric, you would think that books, libraries, and reading are things of the past in Florida’s schools. But what kind of books does Florida’s law, HB 1467, actually prohibit?
The bill, signed into law on March 3, 2022, states that classroom materials must be “free of pornography,” “suited to student needs,” and “appropriate for the grade level and age group from which the materials are used.”
The statute defines pornography as any picture, book, pamphlet or magazine that “depicts nudity or sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sexual battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors.”
To be clear, the only books that are being banned in Florida are those which children should never have access to in the first place. And any adult giving this content to children should not be defended. They should be arrested.
Additionally, Florida has prohibited the teaching of critical race theory in public schools and stopped the teaching of gender ideology to students in kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Were these moves somehow a violation of “small government” principles or an act of “authoritarianism?”
Not even close.
First of all, Florida funds its K-12 public schools to the tune of $13.6 billion annually. The state government controls funding for public schools, and therefore it has every right to decide what activities and materials will be funded with taxpayer dollars.
As Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, has pointed out, “Public authorities control public schools. They always have and will. The question is whether the education blob gets to run out of control and impose its political agenda on the schools or not.”
There are those who argue that a limited government cannot “legislate morality” or make moral judgements. But governments make moral choices all the time. In fact, everything that is illegal should be so because it is immoral. The only question is here which morality wins out.
If the citizens of Florida would prefer their children be able to view pornographic materials in schools, they can choose new representation in their next election. But considering Republicans now have a supermajority in both chambers of the Florida legislature, they have done the opposite.
Moreover, conservatives are not instinctively in favor of “small” government, as Hogan asserts. Conservatives favor “limited” government; there is a difference. After all, conservatives are not libertarians.
A limited government is one in which the government fulfils its specified and enumerated roles and responsibilities, no more and no less.
On the question of education, state governments unquestionably have the power to fund and regulate education systems.
The U.S. Constitution does not directly address public education, but it does do so indirectly under the Tenth Amendment, which stipulates, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
It was James Madison, the author of the Constitution, who remarked that “a popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy.”
And George Washington, in his Farewell Address to the people of the United States, said, “Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.”
“In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened,” Washington added.
The Founding Fathers envisioned public education as one of the roles of state governments.
So no, it’s not authoritarian for state governments to protect their children from pornographic materials in public schools. And limited government principles do not prohibit them from doing so.
In fact, good government, and common decency, requires states to promote virtue and restrain vice. That’s exactly what Florida’s law does.
As President Washington said, “It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government … Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”
Photo from Getty Images.