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FIRE warns Florida Department of Management Services against child-proofing speech

Florida Capitol Complex in Tallahassee

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The Florida Capitol Complex in Tallahassee.

Last week, FIRE submitted a written comment to Florida’s Department of Management Services in response to a hearing on a proposed rule seeking to regulate speech in the Florida Capitol Complex. If enacted, the proposed rule will violate the First Amendment rights of citizens by limiting expression to only what is deemed appropriate for children.

Among other provisions, the proposed rule states:

Because the Capitol Complex is often a destination for children learning about their State government, visual displays, sounds, and other actions that are indecent, including gratuitious [sic] violence, gore, and material that arouses prurient interests, are not permitted in any portion of the Capitol Complex that is not a traditional public forum.

The government may regulate speech in a content- and viewpoint-neutral manner, but since the proposed rule would restrict the political speech of adults by only permitting speech that is fit for children, the government risks restricting protected speech. As we wrote in our comment:

FIRE reminds the Department that it is a “bedrock principle” underlying freedom of expression that an idea may not be limited “simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable[.]” This counter-majoritarian principle protects “insulting, and even outrageous, speech in order to provide adequate breathing space” for public debate, recognizing those with authority “cannot make principled distinctions” in determining what speech is sufficiently “gratuitous” or “indecent” to suppress. It is not up to the State of Florida to dictate what viewpoints are acceptable to express in the halls of democracy.

FIRE hopes the Department of Management Services heeds our warning and amends the proposed rule to preserve its citizens’ First Amendment rights.

FIRE’s full analysis of the proposed rule can be read in its entirety here.

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