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Florida judge temporarily blocks DeSantis' 'Stop WOKE' law 

Tallahassee U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said the “Stop Woke” act violated the free speech protections under First Amendment

August 19, 2022 4:34am

Updated: August 19, 2022 10:52am

A Florida judge on Thursday temporarily blocked the “Stop WOKE” law pushed by Governor Ron DeSantis, claiming that it was unconstitutional. 

In a 44-page ruling, Tallahassee U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote that the “Stop Woke” act violated the free speech protections under First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause for being too vague. 

“Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely,” the judge wrote. “But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.”

The “anti-woke” legislation, passed earlier this year by Florida’s legislature and backed by DeSantis, expands the state’s anti-discrimination laws by prohibiting teachings or practices that contend that members of one ethnic group are inherently racist and should feel guilty for the actions their ancestors committed.

Additionally, it claims that a person’s status as “privileged” or “oppressed” is not determined by race, gender, or national origin.

“We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” DeSantis wrote in December of last year announcing the law. “We also have a responsibility to ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights when it comes to enforcing state standards. Finally, we must protect Florida workers against the hostile work environment that is created when large corporations force their employees to endure Critical Race Theory-inspired ‘training’ and indoctrination.”

Walker, however, said that the law bars free speech by prohibiting businesses to discuss certain topics in training programs. 

“If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case,” judge walker wrote. “But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents.”

This week’s ruling came as part of one of the three lawsuits challenging the Stop Woke act. The lawsuit was filed by private entities claiming that their free speech rights are violated because the law infringes on company training programs that focus on diversity and inclusion. 

“Diversity in the workplace is good for business,” said Sara Margulis, CEO of Honeyfund, a honeymoon registry technology company that filed the lawsuit. “Diversity training often addresses concepts like systemic racism, unconscious bias, and privilege. This is why Honeyfund challenged this illegal restriction on free speech.”

One of the other lawsuits, filed by college professors and students, claims that the law equals “racially motivated censorship” that will “stifle widespread demands to discuss, study and address systemic inequalities.”

“In place of 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. 

“As a result, students are either denied access to knowledge altogether or instructors are forced to present incomplete or inaccurate information that is steered toward the Legislature’s own views.”