For Immediate Release, September 9, 2021

Contact:

Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org

Federal Judge Blocks New Florida Law That Would Strip First Amendment Rights of Protesters

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— A federal judge blocked a new Florida law today that sought to dramatically curtail free speech and the right to assembly and slash legal protections for protesters.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that the measure is unconstitutional. “Its vagueness permits those in power to weaponize its enforcement against any group who wishes to express any message that the government disapproves of,” he wrote.

“This decision lifts a massive weight off the shoulders of Floridians who stand united against government oppression,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a relief to see this law shut down so decisively thanks to the quick work of amazing advocates representing the Dream Defenders and the other plaintiffs.”

Florida Senate Bill 484, filed by newly elected Sen. Danny Burgess (R-Tampa), and its companion bill, House Bill 1, filed by Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin (R-Miami), were proposed in January in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call for lawmakers to limit protesters’ First Amendment rights to speech and assembly in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.

The law, which was enjoined by Walker today, would:

  • Authorize a resident of a municipality to file an appeal challenging any reduction to the operating budget of that municipality’s law enforcement agency;
  • Deny the First Amendment right to assemble by making it unlawful to stand or walk in a public street, regardless of whether one has a permit to lawfully do so;
  • Waive sovereign immunity for any municipality that “intentionally obstructs or interferes” with its law enforcement agency’s efforts to provide law enforcement protection during a riot or “unlawful assembly”;
  • Prohibit two or more people from compelling or inducing another person by force or “threat of force” to assume or abandon a particular viewpoint;
  • Increase the penalties for an assault or battery if it is committed in furtherance of any gathering declared to be a riot;
  • Require anyone arrested during a protest to be held in jail until their first court appearance;
  • Make it a felony to damage a “memorial”;
  • Create an affirmative defense to a civil action where the victim of an injury, death or property damage is accused of participating in a riot or “unlawful assembly.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.