(TALLAHASSEE) – The Florida Legislature on Friday wrapped up a session that saw several “culture war” bills die, especially those infringing upon Floridians’ free speech and free expression. This session proved that Floridians have had enough of censorship and the war against education, press freedom and basic rights.

There were certainly harmful bills that made it through the Legislature, most troubling being House Bill 1291, the discriminatory censorship of educator preparation programs and House Bill 1, banning youth from social media. These bills are very likely to be challenged in the courts, as similar bills before them, and with Florida taxpayers footing the litigation bills.

But unlike the last few years, there is more good news than bad from this legislative session. Floridians are taking back their fundamental freedoms and courts are drawing lines in the sand for laws that so clearly cross the First Amendment threshold.

Part of this movement included the organizations of a large anti-censorship collective delivering letters to members of the legislature, including letters against HB 3 and its Senate Amendment, against HB 757, HB 901, HB 470, and SB 1372 and its companion bill in the House.

A number of censorious bills targeting speech at schools and colleges and LGBTQ+ individuals, along with social media and press freedom—bills that would infringe upon Floridians basic Constitutional freedoms— died on the floor.

Katie Blankenship, director of PEN America, Florida, said: “Floridians fought hard for these victories. This is the product of parents, students, teachers, grassroots organizations, and legislators deciding that Florida has had enough state censorship. The voices of the majority rose higher and louder than in years’ past, when Florida seemed overwhelmed with a loud,  minority faction intent on undermining our basic liberties. Finally those tides seem to be turning.”

This collaborative effort among numerous groups from across the political spectrum, along with outcry from both conservative and progressive media, contributed to the failure of House Bill 757, which would have significantly lowered the bar for public figures to bring lawsuits against journalists who criticize them, undermining freedom of the press.

Two other major free expression bills failed this year.

House Bill 901 attempted to ban gay pride flags and other forms of protected speech, restricting “governmental entities” from displaying flags that have “a political viewpoint, including  . . . racial, sexual orientation and gender.”

Senate Bill 470 also failed to make any headway. This bill sought to deprive any student who “promoted” a federally recognized foreign terrorist organization of in-state tuition and state financial aid, without defining the term ‘promotion’ or what sort of expression might run afoul of such a statute. An outcry from students and grassroots organizations helped propel a victory to protect free speech on campus.

Blankenship said: “This year’s legislative session was set up to be yet another disaster for free speech. But advocates across Florida spoke up and fought back against these authoritarian-like efforts to trample on Floridians’ fundamental rights under the Constitution. It’s a new day in the Sunshine State, and PEN America is proud to stand with the state-wide movement to protect Floridians’ core liberties.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057