Florida Republicans Push Bill To Criminalize Free Speech Protesting

Republicans in Florida, like Governor Ron DeSantis, are trying to curtail the free speech rights of some Floridians protesting f
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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Republicans in Florida, like Governor Ron DeSantis, are trying to curtail the free speech rights of some Floridians protesting for their rights--while they protect others who engage in violence against protesters.

Wednesday, the Florida House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 1. If passed by the full House and Senate, the bill would enact Governor Ron DeSantis’ priority legislation seeking to criminalize First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

Under this bill, police could arrest peaceful protesters when violence occurs at a rally even when those individuals have not engaged in any violence. It would also shield vigilantes from civil liability if they kill or injure protesters.

The Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform opposes this bill and its companion, Senate Bill 484. Throughout three public hearings, over a hundred people have spoken against this legislation with very few people speaking in favor. Multiple lawmakers have commented during the hearings about the thousands of calls and emails they have received in opposition to the bill. Yet the Florida House of Representatives appears poised to pass this bill and send it to the Senate.

The legislation is completely unnecessary. Law enforcement and prosecutors already have the tools needed to deal with any violence committed during a protest. If it becomes law, this legislation would have a chilling effect on people exercising their First Amendment rights. Protesters peacefully marching or rallying on any issue face the threat of criminal prosecution anytime they choose to march in public.

The following is a statement from Carrie Boyd, policy director for SPLC Action Fund.

“We have seen hours of public testimony where person after person has spoken out against this bill. And yet the majority of legislators on three different committees have passed it along. It’s time for our elected representatives to listen to the people. The public doesn’t want this, and the members of the Florida House were elected by the public and should represent the voices of their constituents.”

The following is a statement from Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel for the ACLU of Florida.

“There has been widespread opposition to HB 1, from all faiths, and all corners of the political and ideological spectrum, from constitutional lawyers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, to former Supreme Court Justice Quince, Constitutional Law Scholar Chemerinsky, the NAACP, League of Women Voters, ACLU of Florida, SPLC Action Fund, environmental organizations, and even singer Ariana Grande. It is rare to see the Conference of Catholic Bishops, Council of Florida Churches, Faith in Public Life, Evangelical Faith Leaders, Bend the Arc Jewish Clergy, the AME Church and so many diverse faith leaders in opposition to a single bill. And yet, despite the overwhelming opposition, and near lack of any public support for this bill, the legislature continues to ignore the will of its people.”

For a full list of organizations involved in the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, go to https://www.betterjusticefl.com/.

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