DeSantis Signs Law Cracking Down on Hate Speech

May 5, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

During his visit to the Museum of Tolerance in Israel, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law to prohibit the concerning rise of antisemitism in Florida. HB 269 is titled “Public Nuisances,” and creates both a misdemeanor and felony charge for those who attempt to harass individuals based on their ethnicity or religion.

While HB 269 passed unanimously throughout Florida Legislature, it has also received some backlash, as those in opposition claim it violates the First Amendment. This page will provide information on the newly passed bill, its responses, and Florida’s worrying rise of hate crimes.

HB 269

Florida’s proposed public nuances bill (HB 269) aims to prohibit any person from distributing onto private property any material for the purpose of intimidating, threatening, or harassing another person based on their wearing of any religious indicia or ethnic heritage. It also aims to prevent any littering or displaying of signs on buildings without written permission.

Section 2(a) of the new bill states that if a person intentionally dumps litter onto someone’s private property for the purpose of intimidating or threatening the owner, resident, or invitee of such property, they can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor.

If the defendant is accused of intentionally dumping litter for the purpose of intimidating the owner, resident, or invitee of such property and such litter contains a credible threat, they can be charged with a third-degree felony.

In addition, if the violation is reclassified under Florida Statute Section 775.085, then the offense is considered a hate crime for the purpose of the reporting requirements under Florida Statute Section 877.19.

Florida Statute Section 784.0493 is also created under HB 269, titled “Harassment or intimidation based on religious or ethnic heritage.” Any person who willfully and maliciously harasses or intimidates another person based on the person wearing or displaying any indicia relating to any religious or ethnic heritage can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor.

If the defendant is accused of violating the above section, and in doing so, makes a credible threat to the person who is the subject of the harassment or intimidation, they can be charged with a third-degree felony.

Under Florida’s law on criminal mischief, HB 269 now makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally display or project an image onto a building, structure, or other property without the written consent of the owner of the building. Violating this section by displaying any image, or using any medium, can result in a first-degree misdemeanor.

If the accused person violates the above section by displaying or projecting an image that depicts a credible threat, they can be charged with a third-degree felony. If the penalty is reclassified under Florida Statute Section 775.085, then the offense shall be considered a hate crime for the purpose of reporting requirements.

The penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida include up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

The penalties for a third-degree felony include up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

Opposition to the Bill

HB 269 has garnered opposition due to the claim that it hampers citizens’ First Amendment rights. One petition against HB 269 claims that it “egregiously attacks our First Amendment Right to Free Speech, by introducing “hate speech” laws, which would set a precedent against ALL speech.”

In addition, those against HB 269 have claimed that “hate” speech should not be regulated by the government. Despite the push against the bill, it passed through both chambers of the Legislature with unanimous support.

Responses to HB 269 Signing

When HB 269 was originally introduced to legislation in January, Rep. Mike Caruso gave the following statement:

“I will not stand here and do nothing. I will not be complacent, and I will not sit around. With that attitude, are we just going to wait for these haters to start breaking the glass windows and storefronts of the Jewish store owners again, like they did in the past, before we wake up? I hope I speak for all legislators, my fellow legislators, that enough is enough.”

Rabbi Moshe Matz, who leads Florida’s group for Agudath Israel of America, applauded Florida’s Governor after HB 269 was signed into law:

“Gov. DeSantis once again has shown that he is committed to fighting antisemitism not just with words and condemnations but with concrete action. The state of Florida was facing a very specific and targeted campaign from antisemites and came together in a bipartisan manner [to] pass a bill…that will hopefully put a stop to these displays of hate.”

However, not all responses were in favor of DeSantis’ signing. The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) criticized the Governor’s slow response to several incidents of antisemitism across Florida over the last year, in addition to the limiting of LGBTQ+ teaching in schools.

The following is a statement by the JDCA:

“DeSantis has no business speaking at the Museum of Tolerance unless he was aiming to serve as an example of intolerance that has been normalized by the Republican Party in recent years. [DeSantis saying] that, in Florida ‘we treat antisemitism the way we treat racism’…is only true in the sense that [his] policies have emboldened both antisemites and racists in Florida and beyond.”

Recent Instances of Antisemitism in Florida

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 269 reported incidents of antisemitism in Florida during 2022. This was a 42% increase from the previous year, and more than doubles the number from 2020.

Florida’s most recent incidents of antisemitism include harmful messages and depictions of swastikas in West Palm Beach and Jacksonville. There were also antisemitic flyers hung outside of homes in a Boca Raton neighborhood. There have been flyers spotted with hateful, antisemitic messages displayed on them in Fort Pierce, Jacksonville, Miami, Naples, Orlando, Punta Gorda, Sarasota, and Vero Beach. There was even a Nazi flag hung outside of Disney World.

To read our blog posts related to recent cases of antisemitism in Florida, click here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges in Florida, it is in your best interest to speak with a legal representative in your area. With the newly passed HB 269, those who are accused of participating in alleged hate crimes against Jewish or other religious groups can face misdemeanor or felony charges. In some instances, the charges can be reclassified as a hate crime. These charges can force you to pay expensive fines, face imprisonment, or both.

Don Pumphrey and his team understand how stressful dealing with a criminal offense can be. Our team wants to assist by building your case with a strong defense and ensuring that your rights are protected for the duration of the legal proceedings. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message to receive a free consultation regarding your case.

Written by Karissa Key

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