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A federal judge blocks part of 'Stop WOKE' Act on the grounds it violates business free speech

Hands together - set of different races raised up hands. The concept of education, business training, volunteering charity, party.
Наталья Кириллов
/
Adobe Stock
Hands together - set of different races raised up hands. The concept of education, business training, volunteering charity, party.

The ruling comes the same day a third lawsuit —this one by a group of university professors and a student—was filed. DeSantis has championed the law as an effort to prevent teaching "our kids to hate our country or hate each other."

The “STOP WOKE ACT” says schools and employers cannot compel a person to feel guilt, or responsibility due to actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, sex, or nationality, and that businesses cannot mandate their employees to take trainings on those topics as a condition of their employment. Gov. Ron DeSantis has called that “scapegoating someone because of their race.”

The ruling blocked part of the law targeting businesses on the basis that the law’s language “attacks ideas, not conduct.”

The state has defended the law by saying it doesn’t prevent businesses from conducting such training which often falls under the banner of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Employers [are] free to engage in, promote and pay for any speech they wish, including the invidiously biased speech targeted by the act, and they leave willing employees free to hear and to join in it,” the state’s lawyers wrote last month. “All they prevent is the use of the employer’s coercive economic leverage over its employees to make them an offer they can’t refuse: Listen to the company’s speech or clear out your desk.”

DeSantis unveiled the measure, formally named the “Stop Wrongs To Our Kids and Employees Act,” last December. He liked a so-called “woke ideology” to “cultural Marxism” meant to “delegitimize American history and institutions.”

“They really want to tear the fabric of our society and our culture and the ability of parents to direct the upbringing of their kids. So, this is really, significant.”

The ruling came the same day a group of university professors and a university student filed a federal lawsuit challenging another part of the law restricting how race-related concepts are addressed in education. Another education-related challenge also is pending in federal court.

Plaintiffs in the newest lawsuit claim the law constitutes “racially motivated” censorship that the Florida Legislature enacted, in significant part, to stifle widespread demands to discuss, study, and address systemic inequalities, following the nationwide protests that provoked discussions about race and racism in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.”

Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, was killed by a police officer in 2020. His death sparked nationwide and international protests.

During his December 2021 press conference, DeSantis blasted ideas such as Critical Race Theory—an academic framework that examines the impact of racism on government policy--and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“No taxpayer dollars should be used to teach our kids to hate our country or hate each other,” he said. The Florida Department of Education banned CRT instruction in public schools earlier that year.

Former President Donald Trump, in 2020, banned DEI training in government agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations with federal contracts. President Joe Biden reversed that directive upon taking office.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.