03 March 2023

Outrageous attacks on free expression in Florida

Two new initiatives in Florida, one of them originating with governor DeSantis, constitute such fundamental attacks on free expression that they should be ringing loud alarm bells all over the country.

The first of these is SB 1316, a proposal by Republican state senator Jason Brodeur.  If enacted, this law would require all bloggers who write about top Florida government officials, and are paid for their work, to register with the state or face fines.  It also creates an onerous system of mandatory reporting of blog posts and payments received.  While it would not penalize specific content, the intent is plainly to discourage bloggers from writing about state political figures at all, especially negatively, by warning them that the government knows who they are, and by imposing burdensome requirements.

Aside from being a clear attack on free speech, this would egregiously violate the First Amendment, since it places restrictions on political writing (those who have not registered are forbidden to write about top officials) and imposes penalties (the fines).  The plain language of the First Amendment -- "Congress shall make no law..... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press" -- forbids any such restriction.  To echo a point often made about the Second Amendment, the First Amendment does not grant or define any right of free speech; it prohibits the government from imposing any limits or constraints whatsoever upon that freedom.  Which is exactly what SB 1316 is intended to do.

SB 1316 applies only to bloggers who are paid for their writing, which most of us are not.  However, the First Amendment recognizes no such distinction.  If the state can get away with imposing such rules on paid bloggers, it can go after unpaid ones as well.

Any halfway-honest judge would strike down this law (if it passes at all) at first challenge, but that's no absolute guarantee.  Most judges do apply the Constitution honestly, whatever their own personal leanings (recall that all of Trump's sixty or so lawsuits challenging the 2020 election were thrown out, even though some of them came up before judges appointed by Trump himself), but there are some who put their own ideology first.  We can't even trust the Supreme Court these days, now that it has become just as ideologically polarized as the rest of the political system -- the Dobbs ruling, for example, abandoned stare decisis on a fundamental right which had stood for half a century.

The second attack comes from governor DeSantis himself, and is already under way, not merely proposed.  Earlier this week DeSantis appointed a board to oversee the "Central Florida Tourism Oversight District", the autonomous area covering Disney World.  The board is "stacked with DeSantis cronies", including a Christian minister and a leader of the Federalist Society.  While the board officially just handles infrastructure and maintenance in the district, DeSantis openly intends that it should use its power as leverage to influence the content of Disney's movies and other entertainment.

This follows an ongoing campaign by DeSantis to penalize Disney in various ways for its opposition to certain state laws he supports.  That is, he has already established a pattern of using state power to punish private entities for speaking out against his policies.  But trying to use state power to control the content of entertainment media takes it to an even more alarming level.

It does not matter that Disney has been generally in the wrong in opposing laws which, for example, bar schools from exposing children to discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation at grade levels where they are too young for such concepts.  It does not matter that lately Disney has been churning out an endless stream of godawful preachy "woke" trash including vandalized remakes of its own classic movies.  Disney, like anyone else, has an absolute right to speak out on political controversies without penalty, and to express itself artistically as it chooses without government interference.

(Anyway, if you want better movies, ideological government meddling is the very last thing you should support.  Consider the clunky, dreary, forced quality of official Soviet or Nazi art, or that of any authoritarian state.  There are reasons why virtually all popular film, TV, humor, etc originates in free democracies like the US, Japan, and the UK, from creators wholly unconstrained by government.  Ideology and politics are deadly to artistic expression.)

If DeSantis's board actually starts trying to interfere in Disney's film productions, there will almost certainly be a legal battle -- Disney can certainly afford lawyers.  The outcome will bear close watching.

It can no longer be said that DeSantis would be less bad than Trump.  Whatever else he might do if he becomes president, he has shown that he would mount a far more focused and competent attack on free expression than Trump was ever capable of.

Thanks to Progressive Eruptions blog for sounding the alarm on these issues, specifically via this post and this post.


Blogger NickM said...

OK, there's a lot going on in your post.

First it is so blatently unconstitutional it is worrying on a level that it verges on setting a precedent that the constitution is not really that important. I mean it is such an obvious dismisl of the first ammendment that if that were to go through then why not let the whole of the constitution be subject to arbitary alteration on the whim of whoever holds power. I really don't think that was the intent of the Founding Fathers. An odd idea coming from a side that flirts with Christian Nationalism with its Commandments writ in Stone and all.

Second. So... Disneyland is sort of a microstate. I've never really wanted to go there. I have spent a fair ammount of time in Florida. I really liked the Art Deco Miami South Beach and the Keys are sublime and very interesting. Hemmingway's house was brilliant as was Truman's Little White House. Of course I've also been to the Kennedy Space Centre. Obviously. I mean you ask anyone who has just done an MSc in astrophysics and is going to Florida what they really wanna see...

The Disney remakes.. Along with the Dahl rewrites... The more I've looked into these things the more complicated it gets. I'm sure there is something going on wrt IP law. I was particularly interested in the absurdly complicated ownership of the Tolkien estate. It would appear Universal have more stuff in the pipeline with Jackson involved at some level. So what exactly did Amazon buy? I'll be doing some more digging there.

03 March, 2023 03:33  
Blogger Darrell Michaels said...

Infidel, I find myself in complete agreement with you on the first point. If that state bill were to become law, the sheer unconstitutionality of it will surely trigger judicial reviews and be overturned. We are in far greater trouble as a nation if it was not. I cannot fathom a twisting of the constitution's clear text on the matter to allow such a contrary law to pass judicial muster.

As for Disney World, I think any corporation expecting to have control of their "own city-like district" is potentially dangerous. They should be expected to abide by state and county laws just like every other town. They should not be exempt from taxation either. I understand your point of Desantis' board's oversight of this and I think that they should only be overseeing the administering of municipal issues of Disney World and not the content of their products.

Disney's last movies have been abysmal failures, so the market place will take care of that. Disney will either adjust or keep making woke trash until they bankrupt themselves. I can't imagine ol' Walt would be very happy with what they have done with his legacy.

03 March, 2023 09:07  
Anonymous spirilis said...

I like assholes telling what I can and cannot do. Let's me make a choice. As long as there is spray paint I'll have free speech.

03 March, 2023 10:12  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

Oh wow, I hadn't heard about these but that sounds crazy to me. Sounds like a way to make bloggers not write what they want to.

04 March, 2023 14:30  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: All this stuff is flagrantly unconstitutional, but given the packing of the courts with ideologists these days, it's hard to be sure that even they will really uphold rigorous freedom of speech. Pretty much everyone defends it for viewpoints they agree with, but for opposing viewpoints, they're quick to some up with claims that "that's not really free speech" for whatever reason.

Christian nationalists venerate the Bible, not the Constitution. Or, they think the two are similar in content, being ignorant of the latter and often of most of the former.

I have heard that there are plans to make new versions of the Lord of the Rings movies "updated for a modern audience", but I haven't read much further; there is only so much nausea one can take. It might be even worse than The Rings of Power. Oh, well, we'll still have Peter Jackson's original films.

Darrell: We have far too much of this practice of giving giant corporations special privileges. Disney World should just operate within the system like any other business and be taxed on the same basis as any other business. My only concern here is a government attempt to manipulate the system to exert influence over artistic content.

I have been very glad to see that pretty much all these preachy woke-ified bastardizations of classic movies, literature, and TV have been flops, with audiences staying away in droves. People clearly have better sense than the propagandists give them credit for.

Spirilis: Even if the blogger registration proposal were to become law, I'm sure many bloggers would defy it. For that matter, it's fairly easy to hide one's location. Florida law can't apply to blogs they can't tell are in Florida.

Mary K: Exactly. It's intimidation, trying to discourage criticism by fear.

04 March, 2023 18:26  
Blogger Daal said...

tx for this great post. what a sad world it is, when money = might -- but I suppose that's always been the case. tx for letting us know about this, Infidel - the antidote, to paraphrase Elinore Roosevelt, is one-by-one, people courageously speaking up

05 March, 2023 13:56  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Daal: It is scary. In this case, Disney's money is a positive -- it gives them the power to present a serious legal challenge to DeSantis. Bloggers won't have such resources, unless some major organization backs them up. It's still possible that the blogger-registration law won't pass, though.

06 March, 2023 02:19  

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