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Hate Crime Legislation Flies Through Florida Senate, Leaves Question of Free Speech

Despite full support from the Florida legislative body, a First Amendment attorney says the law is unconstitutional – and everyday citizens blast freedom of speech infringement on social media.

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA —- A bill expanding the definition of hate crimes passed the Florida legislature unanimously Wednesday morning, though Floridians have reservations about the legislation’s impact on freedom of speech.

Sponsored by Sen. Alexis Calatayud (R-Miami), SB 994 imposes third-degree felonies for actions such as threatening another based on religious or ethnic insignia, defacing a memorial or school associated with religious or ethnic heritage, or littering private property with materials demonstrating “religious or ethnic animus.”

“There has been an increase in ethnic and religiously motivated crimes, threats, and intimidation – that is unacceptable,” Calatayud said. “This legislation signals that Florida will punish to the fullest extent of the law any intimidation on the free practice of religion.”


Though supported by all members of the House and Senate, everyday Floridians are anxious that instead of protecting the freedom of religion, the bill will be attacking the freedom of speech.

“These laws can’t really fly. People seem to have no idea what the First Amendment means – they think it includes a right not to be offended,” Barak Lurie, a lawyer who specializes in First Amendment cases, told the Florida Standard when the bill passed committee.

He added: “You can’t specifically single out certain groups, religious or not, based on symbols and clothing and say they have a right not to be offended. The exception is ‘fighting words’ – that is, if someone is directly inciting violent acts against another person.”

Social media users echoed Lurie’s words, with one Instagram user writing: “Free speech. You either allow it all, or you don’t really have it.”


In her closing, Sen. Calatayud highlighted the importance of her bill’s protections against hate and harassment.

“This is an incredibly important piece of policy to indicate that Florida will not tolerate harassment, threat, or intent to harm our robust religious and ethnic communities.”

The bill passed the legislature in a unanimous vote from both chambers. It will now head to the governor’s desk, and it is expected that DeSantis will sign the bill into law – though free speech activists hope he will veto it.