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PEN America report spotlights Florida’s influence on free speech, lawmaking nationwide

A man speaks in front of an American flag.
Artie Walker Jr.
FILE - Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaks during a campaign event, June 2, 2023, in Lexington, S.C.

Free expression group PEN America analyzed Florida’s culture war laws over the years. They released a report arguing that legislation in Florida under Governor Ron DeSantis is driving a conservative view of free speech across the country.

The report cites Florida’s culture war laws and how they’ve influenced the country on issues such as LGBTQ rights and anti-protest bills. Katie Blankenship, Florida Director of PEN America, says these issues have effects beyond Florida.

“While we’ve known that Florida is something that we absolutely have to focus on and understand the harm that’s happening to Floridians, we’ve also long understood that the strategy that’s being implemented in Florida is specifically, to not only shore up DeSantis’ presidential campaign but to be a blueprint for the rest of the country.”

The report cites book bans, finding, during the last school year, a record 1,406 book ban cases in Florida—over 40 percent of the book bans they have documented across the country.

In March, Governor DeSantis hosted a press conference refuting the book ban allegations.

“This idea of a book ban in Florida, that somehow they don’t want books in the library, that’s a hoax.”

However, Blankenship calls his argument tired.

“This idea of trying to weasel your way out of ‘banning books’ when they are clearly being removed from the shelves, these beloved authors, these texts that are so vital, is atrocious.”

The organization defines a school book ban as any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of challenges that lead to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.

“Just in Florida, Toni Morrison is banned in Broward County, Clay County, Collier County, Duval County, Escambia County. This list just goes on and on.”

However, Blankenship is hopeful for the future.

“We’re seeing a huge amount of grassroots movement and organization. There’s a ton of amazing statewide organizations, Florida Freedom to read, Equality Florida, there’s all these groups that are highly active, and PEN America is here to stand with them, support them, and help amplify and push towards a real statewide movement.”

You can read the full report on pen.org.

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