Florida’s ambiguous flag law leaves room for misinterpretation

A recent proposal in the Florida State Legislature further reveals the unmistakable motives of conservative lawmakers to alienate and ostracize Americans belonging to marginalized groups. HB 901, authored by Florida Republican Rep. David Borrero, would prohibit governmental entities such as schools and government agencies from displaying flags that represent “a political viewpoint, including, but not limited to, a politically partisan, racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint.” 

I feel that this discourse surrounding LGBTQ+ and civil rights in Republican states has reached an impasse. There doesn’t seem to be much more to say in terms of the ideological divide between those who create and support these bills and those who oppose them. Gov. Ron DeSantis and conservative legislators’ book-banning efforts, targeted bills and attempts to limit education, despite the repeated denial from their supporters, are demonstrably targeted at Queer and Black Americans.

The key issue with this type of legislation which Florida has been so intent on passing in recent years is regarding interpretation of the language used.

What’s difficult about this type of legislation is that one isn’t immediately able to discern its targeted nature. In fact, nothing about the rather short bill sounds overtly selective or objectionable at face value, which its supporters will use as its primary defense. However, if one reads between the lines, the malicious intent becomes clear.

Possibly the biggest indicator of this is the fact that a bill from last year which would’ve been nearly identical in effect, also authored by Borrero, failed to pass the Florida House’s Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law & Government Operations Subcommittee. This bill sought to ensure that exclusively the United States flag, Florida state flag and other government-affiliated flags are flown by government entities. 

Cut to now, and the current bill in question advanced past the very same Constitutional Rights committee. The only effective difference between the two bills is the latter’s greater focus on prohibiting “racial, sexual orientation and gender” viewpoints. If the Republicans in the Constitutional Rights Committee took issue with the previous bill, they certainly have no issue doing a complete reverse as soon as their buzzwords and culture war subjects are mentioned. 

If this wasn’t already enough evidence that the bill would be selectively enforced against certain social groups, Borrero himself reveals further hypocrisy when asked about the bill. Borrero affirmed that flags of other countries, particularly only those that the U.S. recognizes as legitimate states, would still be permitted. Notably, this would allow for an Israel flag to be flown but not a Palestine flag.

Such a detail is antithetical to what the bill supposedly sets out to do. A flag representing any foreign entity, let alone Israel, could easily fall under the umbrella of a “political viewpoint.” Why would a bill designed to remove political ideology from schools and government institutions allow for a flag relating to, quite literally, the most polarizing international political issue in the world? 

The key issue with this type of legislation which Florida has been so intent on passing in recent years is regarding interpretation of the language used. What’s stopping someone from claiming that a Betsy Ross flag shouldn’t belong in a history classroom? This claim is of course outlandish, but this flag does represent a “political viewpoint,” doesn’t it? This would be a completely sound argument to make under the legislation. When such flexible and loose language is used in bills, it allows for bad-faith actors to mold it to fit whatever agenda they desire.

With such blatant harmful intent from Florida legislators, it almost feels hackneyed to repeatedly point out the hypocrisy present in these bills. It must keep being reiterated, however, as conservative lawmakers are showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.




Featured photo courtesy of Pavel Danilyuk, Pexels