Could a seemingly innocent education bill championed by Republicans actually be a way for them to censor school textbooks and prevent students from learning about certain cultures and religions? In the words of Sarah Palin: “You betcha.”
On Friday, the Florida State Senate passed a bill drafted by Republican Senator Alan Hays that would change the way textbooks are chosen in the Sunshine State. This measure, which was opposed by every Democratic Senator, would alter a process that had been created to “avoid religious and political bias” and empower the local school districts to choose their own textbooks without the approval of the Florida Department of Education.
But there’s more to this legislation than just education, after all it’s opposed by the Florida Parent Teacher Association and the Florida School Board Association. Add to that, this proposal was not requested by any local school boards. In fact, some boards have voiced concerns that they lack the funds and resources to review textbooks.
So why this law? Well, two reasons. It’s part of the Republicans backlash to the Common Core academic standards that they incorrectly dub a federal program. (It’s not, it’s a bipartisan State initiative started by Governors.)
But the bigger reason Senator Hays is pushing for this law is because of Islam. No, he isn’t a Muslim. (Thankfully.)
You see, in November a protest erupted in Volusia County, Florida by outraged parents who claimed the school’s world history textbook had dedicated more pages to Islam than other religions. (Apparently they counted the pages although a local media outlet contests the parents’ math proficiency.) One of the protest organizers even recommended that students tear out the chapter on Islam. God forbid Florida students learn about other cultures and religions.
Soon anti-Muslim groups got involved to stop the “Islamization of public school” textbooks, including the despicable “Act for America.” When you see the name, “Act for America” please keep in mind that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has listed it as a hate group and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has identified them as “extremists.”
Well these Muslim book bashers found a perfect friend in Senator Hays. After all, for the past four years Hays has introduced legislation to ban sharia law in Florida courts. Of course, there hasn’t been any instances of people trying to impose Sharia law in Florida but why should Hays let facts get in the way of demonizing Muslims when it plays to his base? And play to his base it does.
Hays is a man with a track record of anti-gay and anti-Hispanic comments so demonizing Muslims is a perfect compliment to his buffet of intolerance. A few years ago Hays allegedly told people from an AIDS health care program that his own cousin was “queer as a three dollar bill” and that he “deserved what he got” when he died of AIDS. Hays denied making that comment but just a few months earlier Hays had allegedly stated he was “repulsed” by homosexuals and that they needed psychological treatment. So you can decide whom to believe.
In 2011, Hays also made horribly insensitive comments about Florida’s Latino population implying that, “the vast majority of Hispanics in Central Florida are somehow illegal or somehow not worthy of voting.” This prompted a loud chorus of condemnations by Hispanic groups.
One of the protest organizers even recommended that students tear out the chapter on Islam.
And the Republican Party in Hays own Senate district recently featured a speaker from “Act for America” (yes, that horrible group) who offered a talk described as: “If you believe that Islam is just another religion (and not a threat to America and the world)…then you especially need to hear this presentation.”
But putting aside Hays personal views about gays, Latinos and Muslims, the legislation is alarming because it could lead to censorship. As Democratic Florida State Senator Geraldine Thompson explained to me, this law would enable all 67 Florida school districts to adopt their own textbooks. Consequently, some districts may ban books that discuss other lifestyles or cultures they find objectionable.
Senator Thompson even cautioned that this proposal could open the door for those who don’t believe the Holocaust happened to object to books that include that subject. This is not as far fetched as you might think. A recent Florida news report found that there has been a resurgence of the KKK in Senator Hays’ district and the surrounding area. While it can’t be independently verified, the Klan leader boasted over a 1,000 members. Clearly numbers like that could influence a small local school board’s choice of textbooks.
(I reached out to Senator Hays for comment but he never responded. Although I wasn’t surprised because his staffer I spoke to had never heard of The Daily Beast.)
This proposed law could truly result in conservative school districts putting aside what’s in the best interest of the students and instead only choosing textbooks that teach political and social views that comport with their right wing politics.
At this point, the Senate bill is headed to the Florida State House for consideration. Hopefully, the members of the Florida House, Democrats and Republicans alike, will reject Senator Hays' proposed legislation. Any other result will open the dangerous door of censorship in the Florida school system.