Sparks flew during a committee hearing this week after a White lobbyist told a Black lawmaker that hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan deserve a voice on Florida’s college campuses.
Lobbyist Barney Bishop drew ire from committee members and other lobbyists on Wednesday while speaking in support of Rep. Spencer Roach’s college free speech legislation (HB 233).
During the hearing, Bishop asserted that hate groups deserve equal protection under the First Amendment, even on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“It doesn’t matter whether you like the speech,” Bishop told members. “It doesn’t matter whether you like the speakers. It doesn’t matter, Rep. Alexander, if it is the KKK. It doesn’t matter if it’s the communists. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Nazis.”
Bishop continued: “Everyone in this country has the right to freedom of speech and freedom of thought. If you don’t like it, walk away.”
Bishop’s remarks drew a passionate response from Rep. Ramon Alexander, a Democrat.
A former Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University student government president, Alexander said he was “extremely offended” by the remarks, calling the KKK America’s “original terrorist organization.”
“I’m going to put in on the record: if the KKK comes on FAMU’s campus, all hell is going to break loose,” he said.
While House Post-Secondary Education & Lifelong Learning Subcommittee Chair Amber Mariano worked to calm tensions, Bishop further asserted that the KKK is not America’s “original terrorist organization.”
“Shameful,” Alexander exclaimed, noting that Bishop once sat on FAMU’s Board of Trustees. “Complete BS. And you’re not a Democrat.”
Bishop now serves as the founding chair of Citizens for Responsible Spending, a self-professed watchdog group focused on Tallahassee city government.
Earlier in his career, Bishop worked as Executive Director of the Florida Democratic Party.
During his remarks, Bishop cited several instances of campus censorship within Florida.
Waiving printouts from news articles before the panel, Bishop noted that students from the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida attempted to ban conservative speaker Ben Shapiro from speaking on campus.
“I think it’s a very serious threat,” Bishop later told Florida Politics about cancel culture. “I think all we’ve seen is the tip of the iceberg.”
Speaking in an interview Friday, Bishop condemned the KKK and other hateful ideologies.
He also lamented Alexander’s “narrow-mindedness.”
“I will defend to the last breath of my body for Representative Alexander to say just what he said. He is entitled to that opinion. I will fight with anybody that tries to keep Rep. Alexander from saying that.”
“But the difference is, I’m not scared of words. I’m not scared of thought and I’m not scared for myself. I’m scared for our country because people like Rep. Alexander represent a threat to free thought and free speech.”
Instead of an interview, Alexander told Florida Politics that his remarks made during the committee “speak for themselves.”
Lobbyist Phillip Singleton of Singleton Consulting, meanwhile, took issue with Bishop’s remarks.
Singleton said he is “taken aback” that the lobby corps and others have yet to denounce Bishop’s position, which he described as “disrespectful.”
“As a lobbyist you can choose what interests you want to represent, where your heart really lies,” Singleton said. “If your interests lie with the KKK, the Nazis and communists, then you might as well get Castro on board too and go to every Hispanic, every Black and every White member of this Legislature and let them know how you feel.”
The intellectual freedom bill advanced Wednesday along a 12-6 party-line vote.
The proposal would require colleges and universities to administer yearly surveys to students gauging intellectual freedom and thought diversity on campus.
It comes as the latest Republican effort to thwart “cancel culture” and promote free speech.