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Former state Supreme Court justice: Despite outrage over Hamas attack, honor the First Amendment

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente
Courtesy of the Florida Supreme Court
Courtesy of the Florida Supreme Court
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente

Barbara Pariente, the first Jewish woman on the Florida Supreme Court: In America, "freedom for the speech we hate"

Florida’s leaders are expressing outrage over the Hamas attack on Israel. Republican Representative Randy Fine, who is Jewish, is calling for colleges and universities to expel chartered student groups that attempt to “justify the killing of Jews.”

“If I think about it too much, I feel like I’m going crazy, and I don’t know if it’s from anger or grief or questioning how this world can actually exist this way,” he said. “If I do fall asleep, I dream of the video of two little boys being taken hostage by monsters. I haven’t seen their faces, but I saw their hair. Two little redheads. If you come to my office, you can see a picture of two that I have at home that have that exact same red hair. They want to kill them, too.”

“Representative Fine is justifiable angry, but the question is ‘How should that anger be expressed?’”

Former state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, who is also Jewish, says that while Fine’s outrage is understandable, Floridians must not violate the promise of the First Amendment.

“He apparently has said that any college or university student that attempts to justify the killing of Jews must be expelled immediately,” she said of Fine, “and any public funds cut off.”

Pariente was the first Jewish woman to sit on the Florida Supreme Court. She says her heart is with the victims of the attack. Yet, the Constitution still governs. 

“First Amendment scholars have expressed their concerns that as understandable as our horror is of what happened in Israel, we can’t allow that horror to be transformed into an unconstitutional action,” she said.

Pariente points to a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision called Tinker v the School Board. It concerned high school students wearing black arm bands to express their solidarity with anti-war protesters who were holding rallies and burning their draft cards. But the black arm bands were protected speech.

“The First Amendment teaches us that we must, in this country, have freedom for the speech we hate,” Pariente says. “So, the worse the speech is, as long as the speech is not inciting violence, or threats of violence, it’s protected.”

Pariente is emphatic that the First Amendment isn’t an excuse for inciting violence. She says she doesn’t support any student expressing solidarity with Hamas. But the question is what are their actions? If they deface a Jewish house of worship or harass Jewish students for expressing their views, that’s crossing a line. But…. 

“Expressing support for Hamas, expressing support for Palestine, condemning Israel for working against a two-state solution is, in my view, appropriate subjects for discourse,” she said. “That’s where the line has got to be drawn.”

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Margie Menzel