Judge blocks Florida ‘Stop WOKE Act’ pushed by Governor DeSantis

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A Florida judge on Thursday declared a Florida law championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that restricts race-based conversation and analysis in business and education unconstitutional.

Tallahassee U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said in a 44-page ruling that the “Stop WOKE” law violates the First Amendment and is impermissibly vague. Walker also declined to issue a stay that would keep the law in effect on any state appeals.

The right targets what DeSantis called a “pernicious” ideology exemplified by critical race theory — the idea that racism is systemic in American institutions that serve to perpetuate white dominance in society.

Walker said the law, as applied to corporate diversity, inclusion and bias training, overturns the First Amendment because the state is prohibiting speech by prohibiting the discussion of certain concepts in workplaces. training programs.

“If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let her make her case,” Judge wrote. “But he can’t win the argument by muzzling his opponents.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. DeSantis has repeatedly said that any lower court losses on his priorities would likely be undone by appeals courts which are generally more conservative.

The right prohibits teaching or commercial practices that claim that members of an ethnic group are inherently racist and should feel guilty for past actions committed by others. It also prohibits the idea that a person’s status as privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by their race or gender, or that discrimination is acceptable to achieve diversity.

Thursday’s ruling came in one of three lawsuits challenging the Stop Woke Act. It was filed by private entities, Clearwater-based Honeyfund.com, and others, claiming their free speech rights are curtailed because the law violates the company’s training programs putting the focus on diversity, inclusion, eliminating bias and preventing workplace harassment. Companies with 15 or more employees could be subject to civil lawsuits for such practices.

This lawsuit says Honeyfund – which provides marriage records – seeks to protect the rights of private employers to “engage in an open and free exchange of information with employees to identify and begin to address discrimination and prejudice.” in their organizations.

“Diversity in the workplace is good for business,” Honeyfund CEO Sara Margulis tweeted after the decision. “Diversity training often addresses concepts like systemic racism, unconscious bias and privilege. That’s why @Honeyfund challenged this illegal restriction on free speech.

Another one court casewhich was filed Thursday by college professors and students, says the law amounts to “racially motivated censorship” that will act to “stifle widespread demands to discuss, study and address systemic inequalities” highlighted by the national debate on race after the murder of George Floydwho was black, by Minneapolis police in May 2020.

“Instead of free and open scholarly inquiry and debate, instructors fear discussing topics of racial and gender oppression, privilege, and inequality with which the legislature disagrees” , says the lawsuit. “As a result, students are either denied access to knowledge altogether, or instructors are forced to present incomplete or inaccurate information geared to the Legislative Assembly’s own views.”

Conservatives see critical race theory less as an academic inquiry into truth and history and more as the imposition of a divisive ideology stemming from Marxism that categorizes people as oppressors and oppressed depending on their race.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB7, called the “Stop WOKE Act,” into law at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Florida on April 22.Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Like the teachers, a group of K-12 teachers and a student claim in an ongoing third lawsuit that the law violates constitutional protections for free speech, academic freedom and access to information in public schools.

“The Stop WOKE Act is intended to convey the government’s preferred narrative about history and society and to make speech illegal that challenges that narrative,” the lawsuit states.

DeSantis is up for re-election as governor this year and is widely seen as a contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. He has made cultural issues a cornerstone of his administration, particularly by stifling what he calls “woke” entities and philosophies centered on issues of discrimination involving race, gender, and sexual orientation.

“What you’re seeing now with the rise of this woke ideology is an attempt to really delegitimize our history and delegitimize our institutions, and I view the awakening as a form of cultural Marxism,” DeSantis said in a December 2021 speech. “They really want to tear at the fabric of our society.”

Another example of this is DeSantis’ effort to punish Walt Disney World for the company’s opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” Act because it limits teaching about sexual orientation in the early years and cools the discussion on the issue in general in schools.

The governor pushed the legislature to end Disney World’s special independent district that essentially allowed him to run his own private government. This law will only come into full effect in June 2023 but has already been challenged in court.

Other lawsuits have challenged DeSantis’ priorities such as a 15-week abortion ban, a measure for tech companies if they “misrepresent” political candidates about their views, a law ” anti-riot” enacting new crimes after Black Lives Matter protests and a law imposing new restrictions on elections.

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