Florida v. Free Speech

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during his 2022 U.S. midterm elections night party in Tampa, Florida, Nov. 8, 2022. (Reuters/Marco Bello)

First Amendment Watch has compiled our coverage of Florida’s extraordinary number of serious violations of First Amendment rights. These include the state’s attacks on academic freedom, book bans, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempts to silence private companies, attacks on the media, anti-protest measures and a social media censorship law.

Attacks on Academic Freedom | DeSantis v. Private Companies | Attacks on the Media | Anti-Protest Measures | Social Media Censorship

Attacks on Academic Freedom
book ban rally

Federal Lawsuit Against Florida School District That Banned Books Can Move Forward, Judge Rules

The federal lawsuit alleges the Escambia County School District and its School Board are violating the First Amendment through the removal of 10 books.

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book bans

Florida Bans More Books Than Any Other U.S. State, Report Says

Florida bans more books from its public school libraries and classrooms than any other state in the country, according to a new report from PEN America released on Thursday.

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book ban rally

Three Laws Signed by DeSantis at the Center of Florida’s Surge in Book Bans

Book bans have been surging across the country, but in Florida, school boards across the state have been purging their shelves following the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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FILE PHOTO: DeSantis hosts a rally in Tampa after primary

DeSantis Defunds Diversity and Inclusion Programs in Florida Public Higher Education

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation May 15 that defunds diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the state’s public colleges and universities, as well as limits discussions of racism and sexism in required courses and student activities.

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book bans

PEN America Sues Florida School District Over Book Bans

PEN America, along with Penguin Random House publishing, select authors and parents of children enrolled in Florida’s Escambia County School District filed a federal lawsuit against the district and its board May 17 requesting banned books and those under review be returned to library shelves.

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Florida clergy and community leaders and others hold a “Stop The Black Attack” rally against ongoing state legislation in Tallahassee

An ‘Assault on the First Amendment’: Recent Legislation in DeSantis’ Florida

Two Florida bills filed by State Rep. Alex Andrade, a Gov. Ron DeSantis ally, on the same day in late February represent “a full-fledged assault on the First Amendment,” says Bobby Block, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation.

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DeSantis Didn’t Violate Court Order Blocking ‘Stop WOKE’ Act, Federal Judge Rules

A federal judge ruled Jan. 12 that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration did not violate an order blocking the academic provision of the “Stop WOKE” Act, which restricts race-based discussions in higher education classrooms.

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Federal Judge Blocks DeSantis’ ‘Stop WOKE’ Act, Says It’s ‘Positively Dystopian’

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker blocked a key provision of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Stop WOKE” Act, citing First Amendment violations of viewpoint discrimination after Florida claimed that public university professors were bound by state-sanctioned speech.

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FILE PHOTO: DeSantis hosts a rally in Tampa after primary

Florida’s ‘Stop WOKE’ Act and the Outrage of Public University Professors

Florida’s “Stop WOKE” Act has ignited fear and outrage from public university educators as a federal judge decides whether to issue a preliminary injunction to block the law’s academic provision which would restrict gender and race-centric discussions and teachings in the classroom.

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DeSantis v. Private Companies
Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando

Disney Appeals Dismissal of Free Speech Lawsuit as DeSantis Says ‘Move On’

Disney's notice of appeal says that the dismissal of its lawsuit sets a dangerous precedent and gives states the tool to weaponize viewpoint discrimination.

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Federal Judge Dismisses Disney’s Free Speech Lawsuit Against DeSantis

Disney said it plans to appeal the federal judge’s decision. A separate lawsuit over who controls the theme park's governing district is still pending in state court in Orlando.

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Disney

Disney Hopes Prosecutor’s Free Speech Case Against DeSantis Helps Its Own

A decision last week by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived a First Amendment challenge by former prosecutor Andrew Warren.

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Disney

DeSantis Attorneys Ask Federal Judge To Dismiss Disney’s Free Speech Lawsuit

The planned hearing is the first time oral arguments are being made in federal court over Disney’s claim that DeSantis used state powers to punish the entertainment giant.

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Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando

DeSantis Appointees Accuse Disney District Predecessors of Cronyism

The feud started last year after Disney publicly opposed the state’s so-called don’t say gay law, which restricts classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando

Ron DeSantis Appointees Seek Disney Communications About Florida Governor

The request for documents and communications was made Thursday by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, now controlled by DeSantis appointees.

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Disney

Disney Warns That If DeSantis Wins Lawsuit, Others Will Be Punished For ‘Disfavored’ Views

Disney says DeSantis unconstitutionally revamped and took over Walt Disney World’s governing district in retaliation after the company publicly opposed a state law.

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FILE PHOTO: DeSantis hosts a rally in Tampa after primary

Disney, DeSantis Legal Fights Ratchet Up As Company Demands Documents

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked that Disney’s First Amendment lawsuit against him be tossed from federal court, and Disney demanded emails, texts and other communications from the governor’s office.

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Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando

Disney Narrows Scope of Lawsuit Against DeSantis to Free Speech Claims

Disney narrowed the scope of its federal lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, focusing on First Amendment claims that the governor retaliated against the company following its public statement opposing the Parental Rights in Education bill, widely known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

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Disney

Disney Sues DeSantis Claiming Retaliation for Denouncing Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

Disney sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis April 26, claiming the governor and the legislature “orchestrated” a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” after the company issued a public statement opposing the Parental Rights in Education bill, widely dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

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Ruling Against Florida’s ‘Stop WOKE’ Law is Latest in First Amendment Encroachments

Chief Judge Mark Walker concluded that this law restricted speech and suppressed expression of Florida employers, employees and diversity consultants. He described the provision as “a naked viewpoint-based regulation on speech” that violated the First Amendment.

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Punishing Disney for Opposing Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law Poses Serious First Amendment Problems

Florida has placed itself at odds with the well-settled First Amendment rule prohibiting government officials from “subjecting an individual to retaliatory actions . . . for speaking out.” Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250 (2006).

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Attacks on the Media
Florida clergy and community leaders and others hold a “Stop The Black Attack” rally against ongoing state legislation in Tallahassee

An ‘Assault on the First Amendment’: Recent Legislation in DeSantis’ Florida

Two Florida bills filed by State Rep. Alex Andrade, a Gov. Ron DeSantis ally, on the same day in late February represent “a full-fledged assault on the First Amendment,” says Bobby Block, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation.

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Florida Governor

Florida Governor Draws Criticism After Limiting Media Access to Bill Signing Ceremony

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed new voting legislation on May 6th. The bill signing was broadcasted live on Fox & Friends, a morning news program on Fox News Channel, but all other media outlets were denied access. The decision drew criticism from media organizations and First Amendment scholars.

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Miami Herald Reporter Excluded From COVID-19 Press Briefing

Mary Ellen Klas, the bureau chief for the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau, was instead told she could watch the press conference from a live stream video feed, effectively preventing her from asking officials any questions.

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Anti-Protest Measures
FILE PHOTO: DeSantis hosts a rally in Tampa after primary

Florida University System Sued Over Effort To Disband Pro-Palestinian Student Group

Chancellor Ray Rodrigues had ordered schools to disband chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, saying the national organization supports terrorism.

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Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis campaigns in South Carolina

Florida Pauses Plan to Disband Pro-Palestinian Student Groups

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression had denounced the original plan, citing concerns over free speech.

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Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis campaigns in South Carolina

Florida Orders State Universities to Disband Pro-Palestinian Student Group

Chancellor Ray Rodrigues wrote to university presidents Tuesday at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ urging, saying the student group is illegally backing Hamas militants.

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Eleventh Circuit Upholds Preliminary Injunction Against DeSantis’ ‘Anti-Riot’ Bill

Chief Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida granted a preliminary injunction against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “anti-riot” bill in September 2021, stating that the law was “vague and overbroad.”

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Florida Governor

Florida Governor Faces Two Lawsuits Challenging Anti-Protest Law

Since Florida Governor Ron. DeSantis signed the “Combating Public Disorder” act into law this past April, civil liberties groups across the country have questioned its constitutionality. Now, two separate groups have sought to challenge the law in federal court. 

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Florida Governor

Anti-Riot or Anti-Protest? Florida Governor Signs Contentious New Bill

On April 19th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law H.B. 1, new legislation that includes a collection of amendments and additions to existing Florida statutes concerning criminal charges for violent protests. The legislation enhances penalties for people who commit crimes during a riot and gives the state the power to approve funding of local budgets, particularly in regards to funding law enforcement.

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Social Media Censorship
Man using iPhone 7 with social media apps

Florida Lawmakers Pass Ban on Social Media for Kids Under 16 Despite Concerns

Opponents say the law blatantly violates the First Amendment and that it should be left to parents, not the government, to monitor children’s social media use.

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supreme court building

Supreme Court to Decide Whether State Laws Limiting Social Platforms Violate Constitution

The Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide whether state laws that seek to regulate Facebook, TikTok, X and other social media platforms violate the Constitution.

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President biden

Concerns Raised On Judge’s Injunction Against Government Communications with Social Media Platforms

A federal judge in Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration and key government agencies from communicating with major social media platforms about user content the sites host— a ruling which could result in major First Amendment implications.

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Supreme Court to Decide if it will Hear Case of Florida’s Social Media Censorship Law

A federal appeals court unanimously found Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ social media censorship law unconstitutional in May 2022, and upheld a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the law.

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Twitter, DeSantis, Zuckerberg

Florida’s New Social Media Law Suffers from Serious Constitutional Flaws

A Florida law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on May 24, 2021, that regulates what speech social media companies must allow and disallow suffers from serious constitutional problems.  It already has been challenged in federal court by NetChoice, a lobbying firm that represents Twitter, Facebook, and other online companies, and Computer & Communications Industry Association.   

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Florida Governor

New Florida Law Takes Aim at Social Media Platforms Over Alleged Censorship

On May 24th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that aims to curb alleged censorship by social media platforms. The new law, SB 7072, levies financial penalties on social media companies for deplatforming candidates for public office, and affords users the opportunity to sue for alleged censorship.

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