A federal judge on Thursday blocked a Florida law restricting how workplaces and schools can discuss race during required training or instruction defended by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R).
United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida Chief Judge Mark Walker issued a preliminary injunction block the law, known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” saying it violates free speech protections under the First Amendment and violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for being too vague .
“Recently, Florida appeared to be an upside-down First Amendment,” Walker wrote in the ruling, comparing the law to the “upside-down” fiction of the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
“Normally, the First Amendment prohibits the state from weighing down the floor, while private actors can weigh down the floor freely,” the Obama-appointed judge continued. “But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently prohibits private actors from dumbing down speech, while the state can dub speech freely.”
The law prohibits workplaces to require employees to witness any activity that violates any of the eight concepts, such as instilling that someone bears “personal responsibility” for historical wrongdoing because of their race, color, gender or national origin.
DeSantis and other Republicans promoted the new legislation as a pushback against liberals seeking to blame white people in diversity and inclusion efforts.
“In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces,” DeSantis said at a signing ceremony in April. “There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.”
In the decision, Walker argued that the law implements speech-based regulation, noting that a nonprofit cannot hold a required meeting at which it approves the concept. of white privilege while another non-profit organization was free to hold required meetings criticizing the concept.
“If Florida really believes we live in a post-racial society, then let them make their case,” Walker said. “But he can’t win the argument by muzzling his opponents.”
Protecting Nonprofit Democracy filed the lawsuit challenging the law in June on behalf of honeymoon registry technology company Honeyfund and franchisee Ben & Jerry’s Primo Tampa, both of which wanted to demand employee training prohibited by law.
The group also challenged the law on behalf of workplace diversity and inclusion consultancy Collective Concepts and its co-founder Chevara Orrin.
“This vague law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments by prohibiting the expression of disadvantaged views by government officials and chilling a wide range of workplace speech,” said Shalini Goel Agarwal, an attorney at Protect Democracy, in a press release.
“We look forward to going to trial, winning and seeing this law struck down for good,” she said. “This is a direct attack on American values of free speech as well as free enterprise in Florida.”
The Hill reached out to DeSantis’ office for comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Florida and other groups filed a separate complaint challenging the law Thursday on behalf of a group of students and educators in the state.