ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A Florida judge on Thursday declared a Florida law championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that restricts race-based conversation and evaluation in business and education unconstitutional.
Tallahassee U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said in a 44-page ruling that the “Stop WOKE” act violates the First Amendment and is impermissibly vague. Walker also refused to issue a stay that might keep the law in effect during any appeal by the state.
The law targets what DeSantis has called a “pernicious” ideology exemplified by critical race theory — the concept racism is systemic in U.S. institutions that serve to perpetuate white dominance in society.
Walker said the law, as applied to diversity, inclusion and bias training in businesses, turns the First Amendment “the wrong way up” since the state is barring speech by prohibiting discussion of certain concepts in training programs.
“If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case,” the judge wrote. “However it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents.”
The governor’s office didn’t immediately reply to an email in search of comment. DeSantis has repeatedly said any losses on the lower court level on his priorities are more likely to be reversed by appeals courts which are generally more conservative.
The law prohibits teaching or business practices that contend members of 1 ethnic group are inherently racist and will feel guilt for past actions committed by others. It also bars the notion that an individual’s status as privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by their race or gender, or that discrimination is suitable to realize diversity.
The ruling Thursday got here in certainly one of three lawsuits difficult the Stop Woke act. It was filed by private entities, Clearwater-based Honeyfund.com and others, claiming their free speech rights are curtailed since the law infringes on company training programs stressing diversity, inclusion, elimination of bias and prevention of workplace harassment. Corporations with 15 or more employees could face civil lawsuits over such practices.
That lawsuit says Honeyfund seeks to guard the rights of personal employers to “engage in open and free exchange of data with employees to discover and start to deal with discrimination and harm” of their organizations.
One other lawsuit, which was filed Thursday by college professors and students, claims the law amounts to “racially motivated censorship” that can act to “stifle widespread demands to debate, study and address systemic inequalities” underscored by the national discussion of race after the killing of George Floyd, who was Black, by Minneapolis police in May 2020.
“Rather than free and open academic inquiry and debate, instructors fear discussing topics of oppression, privilege, and race and gender inequalities with which the Legislature disagrees,” the lawsuit says. “Because of this, students are either denied access to knowledge altogether or instructors are forced to present incomplete or inaccurate information that’s steered toward the Legislature’s own views.”
Conservatives see critical race theory less as academic inquiry into truth and history and more because the imposition of a divisive ideology stemming from Marxism that assigns people into the categories of oppressor and oppressed based on their race.
Just like the professors, a gaggle of K-12 teachers and a student claim in a 3rd pending lawsuit that the law violates the Structure’s protections of free expression, academic freedom and access to information in public schools.
“The Stop WOKE Act goals to forward the federal government’s preferred narrative of history and society and to render illegal speech that challenges that narrative,” the lawsuit says.
DeSantis is running for reelection as governor this 12 months and is widely viewed as a contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. He has made cultural issues a cornerstone of his administration, particularly snuffing out what he calls “woke” entities and philosophies centered on problems with discrimination involving race, gender and sexual orientation.
“What you see now with the rise of this woke ideology is an attempt to actually delegitimize our history and to delegitimize our institutions, and I view the wokeness as a type of cultural Marxism,” DeSantis said in a December 2021 speech. “They actually need to tear at the material of our society.”
One other example of that is DeSantis’ effort to punish Walt Disney World for the corporate’s opposition to the Parental Rights in Education law, labeled by critics because the “Don’t Say Gay” law since it limits gender orientation instruction in early grades and chills discussion of the problem overall in schools.
The governor pushed the Legislature to finish Disney World’s special independent district that essentially enabled it to run its own private government. That law doesn’t take full effect until June 2023 but has already been challenged in court.
Other lawsuits have challenged DeSantis priorities reminiscent of a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, a measure to tremendous tech corporations in the event that they “de-platform” political candidates over their viewpoints, an “anti-riot” law enacting latest felonies after Black Lives Matter protests and a law placing latest restrictions on elections.