A potentially precedent-setting bill has been proposed in the Florida Senate that could redefine defamation language surrounding terms such as “transphobic,” “homophobic,” “racist,” or “sexist.” The bill, labeled SB 1780, suggests these terms could be deemed defamatory, eliminating the need to satisfy the standard of “actual malice,” which has been a significant threshold in defamation lawsuits since the 1964 Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Sullivan.
Designated as the “Defamation, False Light, and Unauthorized Publication of Name or Likeness” bill, SB 1780 would ease the path to launch defamation lawsuits and make it easier to suppress speech.
We obtained a copy of the bill for you here.
It distinctly makes the claim that any insinuation of the plaintiff being discriminatory against any person or group due to their race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity inherently constitutes defamation.
The bill, introduced by Senator Jason Brodeur, goes a step further, stating that a person facing liability for allegedly defaming someone through accusations of homophobia or transphobia would not be allowed to reference the plaintiff’s religious or scientific beliefs in their defense, potentially leading to a mandatory penalty of no less than $35,000 upon conviction. This bill is part of a twinned legislation with a sister bill – HB 757 – being simultaneously introduced in the Florida House.
In terms of how the bill affects the free press, the bill also aims to undermine the dependability of anonymous sources for journalists by categorizing their testimony as “presumptively false,” thereby making those in the profession more susceptible to accusations of defamation.
The proposed law sets out specific conditions under which a well-known individual can claim actual malice, clarifying that judges can infer that statements are malicious under several specific contexts such as an unnamed and anonymous source, inherently improbable allegations, reasons to doubt the truth of the report, and deliberate failure to validate or corroborate the claim, among others.
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