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Community Voices: Bill threatens the very value of individual freedom

Tammy Briant Spratling

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The Florida Capitol. Photo: visittalahassee.com.

Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

House Bill 7/Senate Bill 148: Individual Freedom is bad for schools and workplaces, will deter businesses from moving into the state – and is just poorly written proposed legislation aimed at division over community. The fast-moving proposed legislation imperils anti-discrimination education. Community Tampa Bay envisions a community free from discrimination where all perspectives have a seat at the table to engage in cross-cultural interaction and dialogue.  

This proposed legislation threatens the very table and devalues the identities of those who sit at it. HB 7/SB 148: uses the term “Individual Freedom” to limit dialogue that can take place in schools and workplaces. The bill which proponents coined the “Anti-Woke Bill” inherently limits conversations around identity, race, gender and sexual orientation – while initially proposed to limit critical race theory in classrooms. It also aims to tell private businesses and membership organizations what they can and cannot discuss with their employees and members. The bill directs educators and employers not to teach anything that would cause “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress.”

Such vague language cannot be applied or administered with any certainty and simply begs unfettered subjective discretion.

This broad and vague language is both harmful and unconstitutional. Educators simply cannot predict feelings and certain topics cannot be taught honestly without a certain level of these feelings. Decades of Black and Brown students sat in classrooms feelings of discomfort and anguish while incomplete history was taught. With national calls for inclusive history that de-centers whiteness, concerns now arise about classroom discomfort.

It is clear what this is about. Proponents are concerned that learners will feel guilty for racism (and now also their gender). Initially, this was allegedly presented to respond to the question “why should anyone today feel guilty about something that happened hundreds of years ago?” Yet this legislation threatens conversations educators and workplaces can have about incidents that happened not 400 years ago, not 40 years ago, but 40 minutes ago on the bus or in the hall, on the playground or in the breakroom, and in the classroom or on the company retreat.

During a recent training, youth shared that a group of transgender friends had been threatened on the playground with physical violence, and two teenage Latinas shared boys cornered them in the hall and threatened them with sexual violence. This proposed legislation limits how educators and administrators can effectively respond to discriminatory incidences. And youth are talking amongst themselves about race, sex, sexual orientation and gender every single day. Educators are best positioned to facilitate these conversations, ensuring safety and embracing the discomfort.

Businesses too must understand the impact this proposed legislation has on their future opportunity to respond to discriminatory incidents and their efforts to create a culture free from discrimination. It is unclear how diversity, equity and inclusion efforts can be successful if a facilitator must guarantee that every adult does not respond with discomfort, guilt, anguish, or other psychological distress. This undoubtedly will lead to wasteful litigation where courts will be tied up sorting out subjective feelings and emotions. The bill’s newest proposed language would require courts to determine – did the educator tell the learner how to feel or did they just feel that way on their own?

This proposed legislation is aimed at far more than critical race theory or individual freedom. It is a full-on attack of equity work that is happening not only in schools but in private workplaces and membership organizations. Educators and DEI facilitators are better positioned than Legislators to ensure this education is conducted safely, and to support learners’ emotional responses.

Businesses and employers are taking notice of the Florida legislature’s priorities. These attacks are like a bowl of wet spaghetti noodles. Each individual noodle represents an equity premise: critical race theory, sexual orientation, gay, trans-rights, equity, inclusion, social emotional learning – and yes, even – belonging.

All these words have been weaponized by their opponents who throw them against the wall to see which ones will stick and be banned from our schools and workplaces. Their proponents fear racial progress and seek to stymie these conversations. There are tables across Florida where all perspectives are welcome to explore racial and gender progress. Let’s not let legislators kick the legs out from underneath them.

Tammy Briant Spratling is a lawyer, educator, and CEO of Community Tampa Bay. She has taught Law and the Civil Rights Movement at Stetson College of Law and Florida State University Law School. 

 

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Debi Mazor

    February 18, 2022at2:23 am

    The Current Florida Legislative session reaches a new low in a raft of repressive and reactionary bills, from restricting women’s rights over their bodies, citizens’ access to voting, local governments’ traditional control over matters within their borders, including growth and development, environmental concerns, quality of life issues, hours and wages, and educational and public school policies. Its latest foray, into “thought control” is, in my view, the most frightening development to date, conjuring up the nightmarish conditions of life in futuristic novels. These legislators are from some other time and place, not where I live in Saint Pete, FL

  2. Avatar

    K Garcia

    February 18, 2022at7:33 am

    We live in a bit of an “inclusivity bubble” in Saint Petersburg. That’s what makes it an outstanding city in which to live. This current raft of legislation merely attempts to grant privilege to some to the detriment of others. It’s an attempt to confer the ability to legally discriminate against some groups (gays, transgender, women, Latino, etc) where it conflicts with their narrow backward looking world view and to withdraw from the social contract that binds the rest of us together. They call it freedom but in reality it is privilege.

  3. Avatar

    Victoria

    February 18, 2022at10:15 am

    When you say: “Educators simply cannot predict feelings and certain topics cannot be taught honestly without a certain level of these feelings” then they better stick to academics and no politics. The US do not have any systemic racism. I’m happy the State of Florida is not going to stand on the sidelines of the WOKE people and this legislation is taking the right actions. This legislation shows progress in bringing our country together.

  4. Avatar

    Danny White

    February 18, 2022at2:05 pm

    There is no law that can wipe away what is unequivocally true. Nothing can erase the fact that there are human beings of all walks of life who love another on their own terms. There is nothing ‘woke’ about acknowledging the fact that not every human being is a cookie cutter of the other. What is most appalling about legislative overreach that aims to play God with women’s wombs, and silence in-school and workplace discussion about the spectrum of human complexity and diversity is that the proponents of such divisive laws are elected to represent ALL constituents, which undoubtedly includes the very human beings they seek to legally marginalize into shameful silence. If knowledge is truly power, then the twisted notion that withholding education about race, gender, and sexual orientation seems criminal. To dictate to a woman when, where, how and why they cannot resolve a pregnancy is an archaic and potentially lethal affront to a woman’s right to manage her own body. All of this dictatorial-style lawmaking mandates that voters express at the polls their displeasure and intolerance of tone deaf ideologies masquerading as intelligent adults.

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