Written by Dr. Joe Wolverton
A bill filed in the Florida state Senate would force bloggers who publish articles critical of Governor Ron DeSantis (and other top state officials) to register with a state committee.
Anyone failing to receive the committee’s permission to publish could be fined up to $2,500 per unapproved article.
This egregious affront to the right of a free press and free speech — Senate Bill 1316 —requires:
Bloggers to register with the Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics, as applicable, within a specified timeframe; requiring such bloggers to file monthly reports with the appropriate office by a certain date.
That is a prior restrain on free speech that is tyrannical and would have a chilling effect on the ability of anyone who isn’t an “official” reporter to expose corruption by politicians in the Sunshine State.
In case it isn’t clear, here is the proposal’s precise language regarding the regulations placed on bloggers writing about government officials in Florida:
If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register with the appropriate office, as identified in paragraph (1)(f), within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer.
Just who is being protected from criticism by this bill? The specific officers placed outside the scope of the First Amendment are: “the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature.”
This bill is antithetical to the principles upon which this union is founded and is contrary to the U.S. Constitution, which all state legislators are bound by oath to support.
Even a quick glance through the pages of the history of the founding of the United States reveals that there is no way this bill would get a green light from our Founding Fathers.
Regarding the role played by the freedom of speech in the protection of liberty, the Anti-Federalist “Cincinnatus” wrote in his second letter:
All great and honest politicians, like yourself, have reprobated it. Lord Mansfield is a great authority against it, and has often treated it as the worst of libels. But such men as Milton, Sidney, Locke, Montesquieu, and Trenchard, have thought it essential to the preservation of liberty against the artful and persevering encroachments of those withwhom power is trusted.
John Milton, the English poet and friend of freedom, expressed a desire that surely all friends of liberty would echo: “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
Regarding this proposal’s necessity of receiving the approval of the Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics before a blogger can publish any post critical of one of the state political office holders, Milton had something to say about that, as well:
What should ye do then, should ye suppress all this flowery crop of knowledge and new light sprung up and yet springing daily in this city? Should ye set an oligarchy of twenty engrossers over it, to bring a famine upon our minds again, when we shall know nothing but what is measured to us by their bushel?
Should SB 1316 be enacted into law then the oligarchs will indeed be possessed of the power to “suppress all the flowery crop of knowledge and new light” that sheds any unfavorable light on them and their official acts.
This bill is so very close to establishing a permanent committee that would be authorized (tyrannically) to grant or withhold licenses to publish within the state of Florida. That should arouse the constitutional ire of all friends of liberty residing within the state whose current governor is rumored to be running for president in 2024.
Does this not smack of the Orwellian Ministry of Truth? Of course Florida’s legislators who support this bill would never admit that and they made sure to call the censors the Office of Legislative Services, but nevertheless, a rose by any other name, no?
I am reminded of a statement written by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon (writing as “Cato”), two of the men most often quoted by the Founding Fathers. Here’s a germane little snippet from their 13th letter:
There must certainly be a vast fund of stupidity in human nature, else men would not be caught as they are, a thousand times over, by the same snare; and while they yet remember their past misfortunes, go on to court and encourage the causes to which they were owing, and which will again produce them.
Yet even in countries where the highest liberty is allowed, and the greatest light shines, you generally find certain men, and bodies of men, set apart to mislead the multitude; who are ever abused with words, ever fond of the worst of things recommended by good names, and ever abhor the best things, and the most virtuous actions, disfigured by ill names. One of the great arts, therefore, of cheating men, is, to study the application and misapplication of sounds—a few loud words rule the majority, I had almost said, the whole world.
Tyrants, whether occupying federal, state, or local office, have a habit of doing bad things, but calling them good names, such as renaming the Ministry of Truth the Office of Legislative Services.
Senate Bill 1316 currently awaits assignment to a committee for further consideration.