Eleventh Circuit Upholds Physicians’ Free Speech Rights, Strikes Down Florida Law Prohibiting Doctors From Discussing Firearm Ownership

Published on February 16, 2017

The United States Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision today in Wollschlaeger v. Governor, State of Florida. The case was brought by several physicians challenging Florida’s Firearm Owner’s Protection Act. The law prohibited doctors from speaking with their patients about firearm ownership and firearm safety, despite recommendations from medical associations advising that doctors discuss these issues to protect public health and safety, particularly when there are children living in homes where firearms are stored. The Court of Appeals ruled that these content based restrictions on doctors’ speech were unconstitutional abridgments of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The Court rejected almost the entirety of the State’s arguments. Several Judge’s wrote opinions for the Court, most of which are quite technical in their analysis. However, Judge Pryor’s concurrence eloquently confirms the bedrock principals that govern First Amendment protection and the principals on which the United States was founded. He wrote:

The First Amendment is a counter-majoritarian bulwark against tyranny. “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” U.S. Const. Amend. I, cannot mean “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech a majority likes.” No person is always in the majority, and our Constitution places out of reach of the tyranny of the majority the protections of the First Amendment. The promise of free speech is that even when one holds an unpopular point of view, the state cannot stifle it. The price Americans pay for this freedom is that the rule remains unchanged regardless of who is in the majority. “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” Thomas Paine, Dissertation on First-Principles of Government 37 (1795). 

A link to the full opinions issued by the Court is here.