UPDATE (05/15/2023): Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation that blocks public colleges from using federal or state funding on campus activities and programs that advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion or promote political or social activism.
The law also bars curriculums that teach “identity politics” or “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.” This provision is aimed at curtailing education about critical race theory, an academic and legal framework that examines the role of systemic racism in American society.
The law goes into effect on July 1, 2023.
The original story continues as published below:
Some historically Black fraternities and sororities, including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, are worried a proposed bill moving through the Florida House during the 2023 legislative session would ban them and similar organizations from public universities in the state.
In March, multiple viral social media posts claimed that historically Black, Latino and other multicultural organizations could potentially be eliminated from college campuses if Florida House Bill 999 is signed into law. The posts alleged that language included in the bill’s text could prohibit university spending for these organizations if the funds are used to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
Several VERIFY viewers want to know if these claims are true.
Will House Bill 999 ban historically Black fraternities and sororities from Florida universities?
No, House Bill 999 will not ban historically Black fraternities and sororities from Florida universities.
WHAT WE FOUND
Florida House Bill 999 (HB 999), titled Postsecondary Educational Institutions, was introduced by Florida state Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola) on Feb. 21, 2023. The proposed legislation, as originally written, intends to bar public colleges and universities in the state from funding programs or campus activities that promote diversity, equity or inclusion (DEI) or “Critical Race Theory rhetoric.”
HB 999 would also prohibit majors and minors that teach about race, gender studies and intersectionality at Florida colleges and universities. The bill would also increase the authority of the Florida Board of Governors, the governing body for the state university system, and give university boards of trustees the power to hire faculty members and review their tenure at any time.
Black fraternities, sororities and other student-led multicultural organizations are typically funded through initiation or membership fees but sometimes they may receive additional funding for certain programs or activities through partnerships with state colleges or universities.
In the original text of the bill, line 341 said that colleges and universities in Florida would not be able to use state funds to “Promote, support, or maintain any programs or campus activities that violate s. 1000.05 or that espouse diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI] or Critical Race Theory rhetoric.” That language fueled fears that Black fraternities, sororities and other student-led multicultural organizations could potentially be eliminated from Florida campuses under the legislation.
During a legislative meeting with the House Postsecondary Education and Workforce committee on March 13, state Rep. Yvonne Hinson, a Democrat whose district includes the University of Florida, asked Andrade how HB 999 would impact Black sororities and fraternities and their ability to host social justice events and voter registration events on university campuses.
“It does not. It does not affect them at all,” Andrade replied.
Hinson and Florida state Rep. Michelle Rayner-Goolsby (D-St. Petersburg) both said they submitted amendments to HB 999 that included language that would have explicitly protected multicultural student clubs and historically Black fraternities and sororities on college campuses in Florida. But they said those amendments were rejected.
However, after facing pushback from some members of historically Black fraternities, sororities and other student groups in the state, the text of the bill was updated on March 15. The legislation now reads:
“... Student fees to support student-led organizations are permitted notwithstanding any speech or expressive activity by such organizations that would otherwise violate this subsection, provided that the public funds must be allocated to student-led organizations pursuant to written policies or regulations of each Florida College System institution or state university, as applicable.”
On March 20, Andrade also told VERIFY partner station First Coast News that historically Black fraternities, sororities and other student-led multicultural organizations would not be eliminated from college and university campuses in Florida.
“I would never do anything to harm or infringe or do away with the opportunity for students coming up behind me,” Andrade said. “Regardless of what [a] student-led organization espouses, believes in, [or] promotes, the restrictions in the bill regarding DEI do not apply to them.”
Instead, Andrade said HB 999 would do away with DEI administrators. According to Andrade, DEI administrators and departments in the state have used diversity, equity and inclusion to shut down speech they do not agree with and inject “arguments for discrimination in the name of equity.” He said the bill would also “review and remove” majors and minors that “don't meet the statutory mission and directive of the state university system.”
Many opponents of HB 999, including the American Historical Association, the American Council of Learned Societies, the ACLU of Florida and the American Political Science Association, have issued statements claiming the bill undermines academic freedom in higher education. Others say HB 999’s wording is both vague and unconstitutional.
Joe Cohn, the legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) told VERIFY that although HB 999 would not eliminate historically Black fraternities, sororities or other multicultural organizations from Florida colleges and universities, he did say the bill, as currently written, is “unconstitutional.”
“HB 999 is an unconstitutional bill that would double down on last year’s ‘Stop WOKE Act’ that injected the state government into deciding what ideas could and could not be taught in the classroom,” Cohn said.
“It isn't going to ban student organizations that are associated with minority groups. What it does do, though — which is still a problem — is that it prevents the university from entering into partnerships with those organizations on events that promote ideas that the government thinks are bad,” Cohn continued.
According to Cohn, the updated text in HB 999 would still let the state of Florida decide whether or not they will allow a college or university to partner with student-led organizations, which sometimes need additional funds to hold certain programs, activities or events on campus.
“Whether it's room reservations, printing up flyers or sending organizations to conferences, under this language, while the student organizations are using their student activity fees, those activities will be permitted, but they're not going to be eligible for any additional help that other organizations, including organizations that hold the opposite views, will be eligible for,” Cohn said.
NR Hines, a criminal justice policy strategist at the ACLU of Florida, called HB 999 “a vaguely written bill.”
“Unfortunately, it seems that the vagueness in this bill will lead to a kind of subjective application,” Hines told VERIFY. “The [Florida] Board of Governors is being basically put in charge, and allowing appointees that are politically appointed to have the power over this is troubling.”
VERIFY reached out to the National Pan-Hellenic Council, including eight of the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities it represents, as well as the National Multicultural Greek Council for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.