Freedom means the government bans something new every day. Just ask the newest rising star in the Party of Small Government—at least according to very savvy politico types—Florida Governor Ronald DeSantis. He cut his teeth as a national figure by styling his state as the last bastion of human freedom in the United States during the pandemic, a place where the government wouldn't make you do anything ever. But DeSantis is almost inevitably going to run for president, and now that the pandemic is finished as a public policy issue, he needs some grand public gestures to get him into the news cycle and onto the Fox News airwaves on a regular basis. It's certainly more fun than talking about his record on Medicare and Social Security. Enter the bans.

Below, you'll find a list of things whose banning the Florida governor championed or carried out directly. As you reach a new subject, remember that you've taken another stride towards true freedom.


PEN America compiled a list of 176 books that were removed from classrooms in Duval County, Florida, last year because they fell afoul of new laws passed by the Florida legislature and signed by DeSantis. ABC News reports that upwards of 1 million books are now under review in that jurisdiction, home to Jacksonville: "There are approximately 1.6 million titles in our classroom and media center libraries that need to be reviewed by a certified media specialist," said Tracy Pierce of Duval County Public Schools. These "media specialists" are incentivized to err on the side of banning a book because of vague criteria—more on that below—and fear of stiff punishments if they fail to ban all the right books. There are widespread reports of teachers removing or covering up their classroom book collections.

Titles that have been caught up in these reviews include books on Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, "Queen of Salsa" Celia Cruz, and baseball legends Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. (County officials have said the latter two are back on shelves.) When asked about the Clemente book, DeSantis said, "Roberto Clemente? I mean, seriously. That's politics," which is accurate in a way. These books require investigation because they supposedly run afoul of three fresh laws: The "Stop W.O.K.E." Act, the Parental Rights in Education law, and House Bill 1467, which focuses on books alleged to contain "pornographic" or otherwise "inappropriate" content. 

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We must urgently review whether these shelves contain dangerous materials. Images

Teaching About How Gay People Exist

The laws above have also had an impact on what teachers believe they can say in the classroom. A key provision of the Parental Rights in Education statute, which critics have called "Don't Say Gay," is the following: "Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards." You probably won't find many people fighting the K-3 provision, but who decides what's "appropriate" or "in accordance with standards" everywhere else? It seems almost intentionally vague, tailored to once again have people on the ground err on the side of not talking about this stuff at all. 

Meanwhile, the bill's sponsors in the legislature were less clever than DeSantis and made it clear that the "sexual orientation or gender identity" language was about keeping talk of how "Sally has two moms or Johnny has two dads" out of the classroom.

AP African American Studies—No, All AP Courses?

DeSantis has sought to ban AP African American Studies, claiming that the course lacked "educational value" because among the curriculum's 100-plus units, a few focused on queer theory or the prison abolition movement. (State officials have also claimed the course is historically inaccurate and violates a state law on how race issues are taught in schools.) This prompted the College Board to change the curriculum, though they've denied it was in response to political pressure, and DeSantis is now floating a general ban on AP courses. He's also pushing the study of Western Civilization, as if that's in short supply in American schools and universities.

Teaching About Privilege and Oppression

The Stop W.O.K.E. Act focuses on the notion that teachers are teaching white kids that they're inherently evil racists and Black students that they're morally superior to their white counterparts. It outlaws this supposedly widespread behavior, but also includes a ban on teaching that "a person’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex." This is a very strange formulation: that some people have faced oppression or enjoyed privilege in America is not a matter of their moral character, it's a social dynamic. But again, the sweeping language and harsh penalties will likely work to push discussions of race—a real and persistent social force in American life—out of the classroom. According to PEN America, the fact that this statute applies to public colleges and universities likely renders it unconstitutional.

DEI Training

The Stop W.O.K.E. Act also applies to public and private employers who want to train their employees in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Again, your mileage may vary on the effectiveness of these programs, but the government stepping in to ban private firms from training their employees in a certain way—particularly when it could inform how they interact with customers—would be blasted as insane government overreach if the idea came from Democrats. A federal judge has blockedthis provision on free speech grounds. 

ESG Investing

"ESG" stands for environmental, social, and governance—essentially, investment strategies that take into account social and environmental impact. DeSantis no like this:

This is part of an extended campaign: "No investment decisions at the state or local government with ESG," he said, "no use of ESG in procurement and contracting, and no use of ESG when issuing local or state bonds." DeSantis is painting this as a retired cop getting ripped off by Woke Hedge Funds on the basis that an ESG investment vehicle might yield slightly lower returns because it considers, say, the future habitability of our planet. Maybe it should be refreshing to hear a Republican consider the plight of everyday people who can be caught up in schemes from powerful financial interests, though in this case DeSantis translates it to a pure distillation of Reaganomic corporate governance: nothing matters except money. You may well consider many firms' ESG programs to be bullshit—plenty of environmentalists do!—but it's worth considering that DeSantis can't actually say Florida cops are getting ripped off because Bloomberg found Florida's public money wasn't really in ESG in the first place. 

Granted, all this is best understood as secondary to the aim of punishing companies who do politics that Ronald DeSantis does not like. This hit a high point with his war on Disney after one of Florida's largest employers pushed back on the "Don't Say Gay" bill.


DeSantis would be quick to insist he has not pushed to get rid of tenure at public colleges and universities, only for tenured professors to come under "review" every five years. He's since pushed for more frequent reviews, to be carried out by institutional boards appointed by...Ronald DeSantis. If you stand a chance of getting fired every five years, or maybe more often, that ain't tenure. The point of tenure is to shield teachers from retribution, particularly from politicians who can affect public institutions, when they study controversial topics. This is going to affect what teachers teach and research, which is, of course, the point.

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Jack Holmes is a senior staff writer at Esquire, where he covers politics and sports. He also hosts Unapocalypse, a show about solutions to the climate crisis.