In Florida, accusing someone of racism could soon be seen as defamation

GOP lawmaker introduces measure that would make it easier for someone accused of homophobia, transphobia, sexism, or racism to bring a defamation action.

A bill introduced by a Florida lawmaker could make it easier for anyone who’s the target of a racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia allegation to bring a defamation claim.

On Friday, Republican lawmaker Jason Brodeur introduced a measure stating that “an allegation that the plaintiff has discriminated against another person or group because of their race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity constitutes defamation per se,” The New Republic reported.

Florida defamation bill
Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, has introduced a bill that would make it a crime to accuse someone of homophobia and racism in Florida. (Photo by Phil Sears, AP)

According to TNR, statements published in print, on television, or on social media are included in the bill, which also states that an individual recorded in a widely shared video allegedly participating in discriminatory acts is not a “public figure,” providing additional legal grounds for litigation.

Defendants facing defamation charges can’t cite the plaintiff’s scientific or religious convictions as a means of defense in circumstances involving allegations of homophobia or transphobia.  A defendant found liable could face a fine of $35,000 or more.

The measure also eliminates several journalistic rights, most notably the ability to keep sources confidential. Claims made by unidentified sources are “presumptively false,” leaving media covering discrimination open to legal action.

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A successful defamation action must, among other things, demonstrate “actual malice.” Brodeur’s measure would facilitate the process by establishing prerequisites that would lead a fact-finder to presume, upon receiving a discrimination complaint, that actual malice occurred.

The bill is nearly a replica of another filed last year, which ultimately failed in the Judiciary Committee despite passing the Civil Justice Subcommittee. However, the revised version may have a chance since Republicans control the governor’s mansion, the state legislature, and both chambers.

TNR noted the bill could run afoul of free speech and anti-discrimination laws.

Brodeur has repeatedly attacked the right to free expression, even though he claims he wants to defend it. In 2023, he proposed a measure mandating state registration for compensated bloggers who write about public figures. 

“More attempts to chill free speech in the ‘free’ State of Florida,” Democratic state Representative Anna Eskamani tweeted of Brodeur’s measure, TNR reported. 

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