DeSantis says Florida 'chose freedom over Fauci-ism,' urges conservatives to have a 'backbone'

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gave a wide-ranging speech on Wednesday in which he emphasized to social conservatives the need to combat “smear” campaigns and touted his stance against lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Speaking during a religious liberty summit hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), he argued that politicians need to do more than embrace a checklist of conservative positions. He said they should “have the backbone and the wherewithal to be willing to stand for those right things when the going gets tough, when the lights get hot, when people are throwing stuff at you and are trying to smear you. That is really where I think the rubber meets the road.”

ADF is a conservative law firm known for bringing high-profile religious liberty cases before the Supreme Court, including the controversy over a Christian florist who refused to serve a same-sex wedding ceremony. 

As the Supreme Court ended its term, it declined to hear that case and prompted disappointment among some. Although conservatives saw some wins in the court’s most recent term, many have also criticized the court for not going further in championing religious ‘liberty – something DeSantis echoed in his speech.

“I would say that judges as well – particularly these Article III judges – they need to show some fortitude and do what’s right,” he said. That was the same language Justice Neil Gorsuch used in criticizing his colleagues’ decision not using Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to overturn another precedent on religious liberty.

“You should take cases that are important to this country,” DeSantis added. “You should be willing to resolve issues of law that are going to have a significant impact on people’s freedoms and constitutional liberties.”

He was likely referring to, among other things, that florist’s predicament in Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, in which ADF is representing florist Barronelle Stutzman. The three dissenters in that case – Justices Alito, Roberts, and Thomas – would have presumably only needed one of the other justices to vote in favor of hearing the case.

“You shouldn’t view this through a political lens where you don’t want to make a decision because you’re worried about certain blowback or you’re worried about what the media will say, or you’re worried about all of these extraneous factors,” DeSantis said, touching on a common perception of Roberts’ decisions. 

“You take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and you need to be willing to do that without fear or favor and you need to be resolute, and you need to get the job done. Refusing to rule correctly or even to rule at all for fear of any type of extraneous consequences is cowardice, and we can’t have cowardly people in these positions at this moment in our history.”

In recent months, the Florida governor has made headlines and won conservatives’ praise for taking bold positions on issues like critical race theory and women’s sports. Widely seen as a front-runner for the 2024 Republican primaries, DeSantis appeared to use Wednesday’s speech to position himself as unique among Republicans fighting the culture wars.

DeSantis added that “academia, corporate media, big tech, big business – all of them adopt in various degrees a leftist, woke perspective in terms of what they want to see.”

“Most of them are entirely hostile to any type of conservative values or traditional principles. That’s just for sure. So, you know that going in. That’s what the battlefield looks like and if you stand up for the truth, you’re going to face the wrath of these institutions in many respects. The media will almost assuredly try to smear you, Big Tech may censor you, and big business may even try to boycott you, boycott your state, boycott your jurisdiction, but that’s what you have to be willing to put up with.” 

DeSantis also weighed in on transgender athlete controversies, saying: “You see these women athletes who were competing, performing well and then they get out of a competition because you’d have two males that would beat them in track or some of these other things.”

“And it’s fundamentally unfair, it’s discrimination against women athletes to force them to participate against male athletes. That’s just the bottom line,” he added, drawing applause. 

The governor took sharp aim at Biden coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci.

Fauci, who leads the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has received plenty of praise from Democrats. President Biden has said he’s “very confident” in the top health official, who’s also won numerous awards for his work. Conservatives, however, have slammed Fauci’s stances on lockdowns and mask-wearing at times.

“When people [ask] what did you do in Florida?” DeSantis said. “I answer very shortly and clearly: Florida chose freedom over Fauci-ism. I wasn’t about to let the state get Fauci’d,” he added. 

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