“The bill criminalizes the “improper treatment of objects of significant religious importance to religious communities.” The prohibition marks a sea change in a country where no one has been convicted of blasphemy since 1946, and successive governments have defended freedom of expression following newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in 2005.
The Danish change of heart can mostly be traced to Rasmus Paludan, an anti-Muslim bigot and far-right activist, whose favorite pastime consists of burning Qurans around the country. These Quran burnings have not only led to violence and terrorist threats from religious extremists but also concerted intimidation from the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has worked to protect Islam from what they term “defamation” since the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1988.
A plurality of Danes support the bill. After all, why should they risk terrorist attacks and economic sanctions due to the antics of a widely despised extremist whose ideas and actions are off-putting even to secular non-muslims? Many Danes feel there are better and more sophisticated ways to criticize a religion than torching books.
But it is precisely the tolerance of the most offensive ideas put forth by the individuals most despised by polite society that is the true measure of the civic commitment to free speech. Once you abandon principle for expediency, it establishes a precedent that incentivizes demands for further concessions.
Using violence and diplomatic coercion, religious extremists and the OIC have established that even in liberal democracies, religions and their followers are entitled to special legal protection that trumps individual freedoms. No doubt the Danish prohibition will form the tip of the spear in the OIC’s global campaign to purge “blasphemous” content.”
“French adds that “the case is no slam dunk.” But “if a prosecutor believes—as Smith appears to—that he can prove Trump knew his claims were false and then engineered a series of schemes to cajole, coerce, deceive and defraud in order to preserve his place in the White House, it would be a travesty of justice not to file charges,” he writes.”
“contrary to the city’s insistence, drag shows are clearly protected speech. “There is no question that governments have a legitimate interest in protecting children from genuine obscenity. But the City has not provided a shred of evidence that would implicate that legitimate interest. Moreover, that legitimate interest ‘does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed. Speech that is neither obscene as to youths nor subject to some other legitimate proscription cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them.'”
Attempts at banning drag shows have become increasingly popular across the country, often with public officials citing the apparent “obscenity” of the performances, especially those that allow children to attend. However, this latest injunction shows yet again that drag performances are protected speech and that local governments, public colleges, and other state actors have no legal basis for attempting to restrict them.”
“” Professors are not mouthpieces for the government. For decades, the Supreme Court of the United States has defended professors’ academic freedom from governmental intrusion,” Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), tells Reason. “As the Supreme Court wrote in Keyishian v. Board of Regents: ‘Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.'”
“Unfortunately, Rufo’s ideas aren’t hypothetical. In recent months, several legislative efforts—most notably in Florida—have attempted to quash professors’ academic freedom. “Legislative initiatives like the STOP Woke Act and HB 999 seek to use the power of the state to shut down speech and scholarship on politically disfavored views,” adds Cohn. “These efforts cannot be squared with our longstanding national commitment to academic freedom.”
An argument supporting censorship in the name of “the pursuit of truth as the telos of America’s public universities,” as Rufo claimed, is ultimately shortsighted. Not only does Rufo fail to see how the powers he would give the government could be wielded against his ideological allies, but he also fails to see how censorship ultimately runs counter to the same American values he claims to support.
“Professors must be able to teach, conduct research, and publish scholarship without fear of viewpoint-based retribution from the government,” says Cohn. “And students must be able to learn from faculty who are not muzzled by the state.””
“Signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in April 2022, the law prohibits private employers and university professors from endorsing certain concepts related to race and other categories of identity. The statute drew lawsuits almost immediately. A number of employers and a diversity consultant challenged a provision that says private employers may not require employees to attend a training or activity that promotes any of eight listed concepts.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker, writing for the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division, then issued an injunction against enforcing that provision. “Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely,” Walker wrote. “But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.”
In November, Walker issued another injunction, this one blocking a similar section of the law that applies to university professors. He accused the state of essentially arguing that “professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves,” a position Walker described as “positively dystopian.”
“The First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark,” he concluded.
It is this November injunction the 11th Circuit just left in place.
“Conservatives who cheer on the Florida law should consider what liberal states—or, for that matter, a Democratic-controlled Congress—could do if allowed to engage in similar regulation,” Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, warns at The Volokh Conspiracy. “The same powers that Florida uses to target ‘woke’ employer speech can just as easily be used against conservative employers.””
“At the governor’s urging, Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature is pushing to weaken state laws that have long protected journalists against defamation suits and frivolous lawsuits. The proposal is part DeSantis’ ongoing feud with media outlets like The New York Times, Miami Herald, CNN and The Washington Post — media companies he claims are biased against Republicans — as he prepares for a likely 2024 presidential bid.
Beyond making it easier to sue journalists, the proposal is also being positioned to spark a larger legal battle with the goal of eventually overturning New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits public officials’ ability to sue publishers for defamation, according to state Rep. Alex Andrade, the Florida Republican sponsoring the bill.”
“the proposed bill goes further than simply decrying media bias. Free-press advocates call the measure unconstitutional and suggest it could have far-reaching consequences beyond major media outlets.
“I have never seen anything remotely like this legislation,” said Seth Stern, director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “I can’t say I have seen every bill ever introduced, but I’d be quite surprised if any state Legislature had seriously considered such a brazen and blatantly unconstitutional attack on speech and press freedoms.”
He added: “This bill is particularly remarkable since its provisions have the vocal support of a governor and likely presidential candidate.”
DeSantis’ office said he “will make a decision on the merits of the bill in final form if and when it passes and is delivered to the governor’s office.””
“Andrade’s proposal incorporates many of the elements DeSantis called for during the roundtable, including:
— allowing plaintiffs who sue media outlets for defamation to collect attorneys fees;
— adding a provision to state law specifying that comments made by anonymous sources are presumed false for the purposes of defamation lawsuits;
— lowering the legal threshold for a “public figure” to successfully sue for defamation;
— repealing the “journalist’s privilege” section of state law, which protects journalists from being compelled to do things like reveal the identity of sources in court, for defamation lawsuits.
Stern said 49 states and several appellate circuits recognize a reporter’s privilege against court-compelled disclosure of source material and stressed that it’s essential for people to be able to speak to reporters without risking their jobs or freedoms.
“Journalists do not work for the government and it’s none of the government’s business how journalists gather news,” he added.
Andrade, however, said the privilege language in his bill would not allow a judge to force a journalist to reveal an anonymous source, but removes existing protections if they decide not to.”
““The law protects journalists from being ‘compelled’ by judges to disclose anonymous sources, but if a journalist has been sued for defamation, and wants to avoid liability, this section makes clear that they cannot claim a special privilege to avoid disclosing the source of the defamatory information and also avoid liability,” Andrade said.
Critics of the bill took issue with the section about attorneys fees, saying it could add a financial incentive to file defamation lawsuits and erode the laws preventing retaliatory lawsuits filed to silence criticism. Florida, like other states, has anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) laws designed to help stop frivolous lawsuits.
“One of my largest concerns with the bill is the rolling back of the anti-SLAPP protection for defamation defendants,” said Adam Schulman, a senior attorney with the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, which advocates for free markets, free speech and limited governments. ”That’s just moving in the wrong direction.”
He said beyond large media companies, some of which have legal teams, the changes could affect the “ordinary guy” who leaves an “unfavorable Yelp review.”
“At one time, it was not considered ‘conservative’ to advocate for turning on the spigot to all sorts of troll-like civil litigation that will line the pockets of bottom-feeding plaintiffs’ lawyers,” Schulman said.
Stern said the new bill would leave those protections “toothless.” Under most anti-SLAPP laws, individuals can recover attorneys’ fees if they can show they were sued in retaliation for criticizing the government.”
“the Republican appointed Chris Rufo, the architect of the 2021 moral panic over “critical race theory,” to the board of a public liberal arts school in Florida. As Rufo told New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, his goal — and the goal of several other DeSantis appointees to the New College of Florida’s board — is to transform New College, a liberal bastion in the South, into something more like Hillsdale College, a conservative school in Michigan with close ties to former President Donald Trump.
The one positive thing that can be said about this appointment is that it is, at least, legal — something that cannot be said about many of the governor’s attempts to sic the government on institutions he deems too liberal. DeSantis isn’t just determined to use his public office to suppress dissenting voices and promote his own reactionary views; he’s also quite willing to thumb his nose at the Constitution in order to do so.
Indeed, DeSantis often seems to revel in his contempt for the First Amendment, even fundraising off of it. Shortly before DeSantis signed unconstitutional legislation punishing the Walt Disney Company for criticizing one of his policies, the governor sent a fundraising email to supporters touting the fact that he was doing so. The company, DeSantis said, was being punished after it “tried to attack me to advance their woke agenda.”
DeSantis signed legislation imposing speech codes on university professors, as well as legislation attempting to seize control of content moderation at sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. He attacks classroom teachers with vague, unconstitutional laws stigmatizing LGBTQ people. His administration threatens drag performers with criminal charges.
In his victory speech shortly after winning reelection in his increasingly conservative state, DeSantis pledged to “fight the woke in the legislature,” “fight the woke in the schools,” and to “fight the woke in the corporations.”
One of his lawyers later clarified that the word “woke” means “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”
As a constitutional matter, a governor is allowed to give speeches arguing that the United States is somehow miraculously immune from systemic injustice. He may sign legislation repealing programs intended to cure these injustices. He may appoint officials to public school boards that share his belief that the US is immune to these injustices. And he may even enact policies that help perpetuate these injustices, assuming that those policies violate neither the state nor federal constitution.
But DeSantis goes much further. He wields the government’s sovereign powers to sanction speech he does not like, and to punish institutions that criticize him. DeSantis, in other words, does not seem content to simply enact policies that hew to a right-wing economic or social vision. He wishes to use the sovereign powers of government to shape public discourse itself — punishing some ideas, rewarding others, and conscripting public schools and universities into his culture war.
To be fair, DeSantis is hardly unique among Republican state governors in this regard — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), for example, signed legislation targeting social media companies that is even more aggressive than Florida’s. But DeSantis is also widely viewed as a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, so he is uniquely positioned to take his speech war national if elected president.”