The Republican-led Florida Legislature gave Gov. Ron DeSantis another victory in what some call his political culture war by sending him a bill Thursday that will limit discussions teachers and businesses can have about race.
In a year DeSantis is seeking reelection and positioning himself for a 2024 presidential run, Republicans were united in backing the proposal the governor has said is a top priority. It passed on a 24-15 party-line vote.
"A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex," the bill read.
It applies to K-12 public schools, but not universities.
Black senators delivered impassioned speeches against the bill, and there was little Republican debate for it. Black senators said the bill will have a chilling effect on how American history is taught because teachers will fear lawsuits if students' parents object to how they present subjects like slavery, segregation, lynchings, and racism in the United States.
It also limits how private businesses can teach race sensitivity, which Democrats claimed is unconstitutional.
DeSantis held a campaign-like event when he announced he was going to seek legislation to prevent critical race theory instruction in schools and businesses.
Critical race theory is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as the concept in which race is a socially constructed category ingrained in American law intended to maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites. It holds that the U.S. society is inherently or systemically racist.
State Republican Sen. Manny Diaz, a Cuban-American who sponsored the bill, said people in Cuba are told what to think and that should not happen in the United States.
"My parents left that country because education wasn't about creating thinkers, it wasn't about having a debate like the one we're having today. That wasn't allowed. It was about indoctrination. Indoctrination by the government to tell you what you must think," Diaz said. "We send our students to school to learn, to be thinkers, not to be told what to think."
He said the bill does not prevent the teaching of horrific moments in the country's history.
"No one is trying to wash out or erase history," he said. "They have to teach about the fact that we had slavery, that we had Jim Crow laws ... but our history also includes the fact that have fought to remove those terrible things from our laws and our society."
After early criticism of the bill, it was amended to require the expansion of the teaching of Black history, including teaching students about the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping.
Diaz also acknowledged Wednesday during questions on the bill he did not consult with any of the five Black senators to get their thoughts before filing it. It was clear Thursday those members saw the bill as hurtful and politically motivated.
"The Republicans have lost touch with reality," Jones said after the vote. "Their arrogance has caused them not to care, because they believe they're winning and until members of their own party start pushing back on this narrative that they're trying to create nationally, they're going to keep doing the same thing."
In his debate, Jones mentioned parts of Florida history of racial injustice ranging from the massacre Black residents to the killing of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin.
"This is the so-called free state of Florida," he said. "This is exactly what Florida has always been. Florida has not changed yet. We still have a ways to go ... This will forever be a stain on history."
The bill was written with feel-good language. It was called the "Individual Freedom" bill and states that all people are equal before the law.
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