Does Florida law ban the state from taking action against a dentist for antisemitic remarks?

Florida legislators are calling for regulators to suspend the license of a dentist who has made antisemitic statements, but the question is whether a new law championed by Republicans in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic will make that goal more difficult.

Rep. Randy Fine was among those who championed the 2023 law, aimed at protecting the free speech rights of health care providers. It came amid concerns that doctors could lose their licenses for speaking out about COVID-19 vaccines and other treatments.

This past week, Fine — a Brevard County Republican and the only Jewish Republican in the Legislature — wrote a letter to the Florida Board of Dentistry, asking members to suspend the license of Fadi Kablawi.

Fine cited several instances of Kablawi making antisemitic statements in his preachings, all of which came after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel, in which more than 1,400 were killed and more than 200 civilians were taken hostage. Those comments included referring to Jews as “the brothers of apes and pigs” during an April 26 sermon.

“Oh Allah, annihilate the tyrannical Jews,” Fine quoted Kablawi as saying. In clips of the sermon circulating on social media Kablawi says the Israeli army is “worse than the Nazis,” and suggests that Jewish people are harvesting the organs of Palestinian children.

“Practicing medicine in Florida is a privilege — not a right — and as the Chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, I call on you to immediately suspend Dr. Kablawi’s license and commence a thorough investigation of his practice,” Fine wrote to Jose Mellado, Chair of the Board of Dentistry.

Fine chairs the powerful House Health Care Services Committee, and he helped steer the legislation that bans the Department of Health or the medical licensing Boards from taking disciplinary action against, or denying a license to, an individual because the individual has spoken or written publicly about a health care service or public policy.

Rep. Joel Rudman, a physician and Republican from Navarre, sponsored the legislation (HB 1403) in the House, telling members that the bill “reaffirms, codifies and furthermore protects our two most God given rights in the field of medicine: the rights of medical conscience and the right to free speech by health care providers.”

Fine told Florida Politics he does not think his call to have Kablawi’s license suspended runs afoul of the 2023 law he helped champion.

“What I will say is not everything he said, while offensive, would trigger his license revocation. What triggers his license revocation is the calling for the death of his patients,” Fine said.

“The reason I did what I did is to raise awareness. This doctor, this dentist has been saying this sort of thing for years. It’s all documented, I just didn’t know about it. So the good news is whether he loses his license or not he’ll probably lose his practice because he practices in one of the most Jewish areas of Florida, and they don’t have to go to him anymore.”

Kablawi said during an interview with WPLG that his comments were taken “out of context” and that his speeches are political statements about the war in Gaza and that his prayers are not threats. He also said he would consider legal action if his license was suspended.

The members of the Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus also called for the suspension of Kablawi’s license saying they were “concerned with Dr. Kablawi’s incendiary rhetoric and the potential danger it poses to his patients.”

Unlike Fine, the Chair of the caucus — Democratic Rep. Michael Gottliebdid not support the legislation. In addition to banning Boards from taking action against health care providers for freedom of speech, the measure created statutes to ensure that providers and payors can “care for patients in a manner consistent with their moral, ethical, and religious convictions.”

Gotlieb, a lawyer, did agree with Fine that the speech isn’t protected.

“When you look at the law, you have to understand that it’s implicit in the bill that passed, that the speech that is protected is constitutionally protected speech, not speech that’s not constitutionally protected,” Gottlieb said. “And calling for a genocide and inciting a genocide is not constitutionally protected speech. I can’t go into a movie theater and scream fire, right? So not all speech is constitutionally protected.”

The law that legislators passed — and which was called the “Physicians Freedom of Speech” measure when signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis — was approved on a 28-11 party-line vote in the Senate and a 84-34 vote in the House.

Meanwhile, Fine has called on the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) to suspend the taxpayer scholarships of 74 students who attend the Reviver Academy, a school that is owned and operated by Kablawi’s mosque. The scholarships total more than $500,000 annually. “We are literally funding the training of future terrorists. Not in Iran. Here. This has to stop and it has to stop immediately.”

Fine asked the FDOE to suspend the mosque’s eligibility for the scholarships and “commence a thorough investigation into the school.”

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