The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Don’t Say Gay Laws and Ayn Rand

Republicans and conservatives are intentionally dishonest about the “Don’t Say Gay” law passed by the GOP in Florida. They quote one piece of the law banning any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity “in kindergarten through grade 3,” and then they stop. They intentionally hide the worst aspect of the law.

After they quote this section they divert the debate by claiming these classroom discussions include sexual explicit material forced on children — which is their perverse fantasy, not what happens—and then they accuse their opponent of “grooming” children for sexual abuse. I fear they have opponents confused with their preachers! But this distraction serves its purpose and directs the debate away from the section they avoid mentioning.

This law does NOT stop at grade 3 as they claim. It goes on to say “in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” In other words, it’s for all students in any grade. The first part bans it outright till grade 3 while the second bans it in practice in all other classrooms.

It is banned in practice because “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” is never defined, so it means anything the ruling Republicans want it to mean, and today’s Republicans interpret law as widely as they can.

By leaving the “crime” undefined every classroom discussion touching on these issues is a major risk to the teacher. No instructor or school official can know in advance if they are breaking the law. That is a recipe for total state control.

Ayn Rand, who was no conservative, warned, “ All laws must be objective (and objectively justifiable): men must know clearly, and in advance of taking an action, what the law forbids them to do (and why), what constitutes a crime and what penalty they will incur if they commit it.”

Ayn Rand in her New York City apartment circa 1953/

She went on to describe what the Republican Party has now become: “The retaliatory use of force requires objective rules of evidence to establish that a crime has been committed and to prove who committed it, as well as objective rules to define punishments and enforcement procedures. Men who attempt to prosecute crimes, without such rules, are a lynch mob.” Yes, what the Republicans are promoting is rule by the mob. We saw it January 6th at Trump’s insurrection and school districts across the country are experiencing it on a regular basis.

Law that is not objectively defined is law subjectively enforced. The powers that be can use the law to silence anyone they dislike by claiming the discussion was not developmentally appropriate. The teacher is guilty until proven innocent and there is no objective process of adjudication. It is all politically determined.

Rand described this as being “caught in the trap of non-objective law”
which leaves the victim—in this case teachers and school officials—“at the mercy of a bureaucrat’s whim.”

This leaves little leeway for the instructors whose only recourse becomes one of rigid self-censorship. “Non-objective law is the most effective weapon of human enslavement: its victims become its enforcers and enslave themselves,” wrote Rand. What other option does the teacher have if they are to avoid being deemed a criminal by the GOP regulatory state? To be safe they must silence themselves. Republicans can pretend they leave the door open for discussion but in reality it is firmly slammed shut under penalty of law.

Instructors can honestly think their comment is age appropriate, the students may be fine with the remarks, even most parents could be approving, but if one or two rabid evangelicals started screaming and demand Republican overlords investigate, the teacher can be deemed a criminal. Just as teachers can not know what is forbidden they can not know what is permitted.

The only way to stay safe under this badly written piece of legislation is to say nothing at all—and that is the actual goal of the Republicans. As Rand warned: “An undefinable law is not a law, but merely a license for some men to rule others.” I will leave the last word to Miss Rand:

It is a grave error to suppose that a dictatorship rules a nation by means of strict, rigid laws which are obeyed and enforced with rigorous, military precision. Such a rule would be evil, but almost bearable; men could endure the harshest edicts, provided these edicts were known, specific and stable; it is not the known that breaks men’s spirits, but the unpredictable. A dictatorship has to be capricious; it has to rule by means of the unexpected, the incomprehensible, the wantonly irrational; it has to deal not in death, but in sudden death; a state of chronic uncertainty is what men are psychologically unable to bear.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.