Judge Suspends Enforcement of Part of Florida’s Stop WOKE Act

By Mimi Nguyen Ly
Mimi Nguyen Ly
Mimi Nguyen Ly
Reporter
Mimi Nguyen Ly covers world news with a focus on U.S. news. Contact her at mimi.nl@epochtimes.com
August 19, 2022 Updated: August 19, 2022

A federal judge on Aug. 18 has temporarily blocked part of Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act,” also known as the state’s Individual Freedom Act.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in April signed the measure, FL HB 7, which he called the “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids Act,” to prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools, and require corporations to keep it out of the workplace, including in employee training sessions. It went into effect July 1.

DeSantis at the time said that the bill was designed to protect individual freedoms in the workplace and would prohibit employers from subjecting employees to any type of certification process, examination, or any other “required activity” that is centered on any number of race-related concepts.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines CRT as a “framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is … a socially constructed … category that is used to oppress and exploit people of color.”

Suspending Enforcement

Mark Walker, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, on Aug. 18 (pdf) granted a preliminary injunction to suspend enforcement of part of the law that relates to barring CRT training in workplaces.

Walker, was appointed by former President Barack Obama, said in his 44-page decision on Aug. 18: “Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely. But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.”

“Florida’s legislators may well find plaintiffs’ speech repugnant. But under our constitutional scheme, the remedy for repugnant speech is more speech, not enforced silence,” he also wrote.

“If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case. But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents,” the judge added. “Because, without justification, [the Stop WOKE Act] attacks ideas, not conduct, Plaintiffs are substantially likely to succeed on the merits of this lawsuit.”

Sued to Block Law

Taryn Fenske, the communications director for DeSantis’s office, said in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times: “Judge Walker has effectively ruled that companies have a first amendment right to instruct their employees in white supremacy. We disagree and will be appealing his decision.”

Walker’s decision comes after honeymoon registry company Honeyfund, workplace diversity consultancy Collective Concepts, its co-founder Chevara Orrin, and Florida-based Ben & Jerry’s franchisee Primo Tampa, sued to block the law in June. Defendants in the case are DeSantis, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Commissioners of the Florida Commission on Human Relations, all of whom are sued in their official capacities.

In suing to block the law (pdf), the companies argued that the Stop WOKE Act infringes on freedom of speech and “chills protected First Amendment activity by threatening legal action and associated costs against any employers who require training that ‘espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels’ employees to believe certain views.” They added: “Government penalization of protected First Amendment activity is unlawful.”

They also argued that the law is vague, which violates the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, and is overbroad, which violates the First Amendment.

“Overbroad laws, like the Stop WOKE Act, infringe on free speech by regulating a substantial amount of constitutionally protected expression,” lawyers for the plaintiffs argued, adding, “The Stop WOKE Act makes it difficult for Plaintiffs to distinguish between permissible and impermissible speech because of the difficulty in assigning meaning to the Stop WOKE Act’s prohibited concepts.”

The lawsuit states that plaintiffs subscribe to the view that “discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation is ‘systemically’ embedded in American society, both formally and informally, as a result of centuries of legal and socially reinforced discrimination.”

Per the complaint: “According to this view, the structures and dynamics of power are so integrated throughout society that, whether consciously or unconsciously, those who are privileged by those rules, norms, and habits can fail to recognize how they have benefited from historical and present-day discrimination; only by acknowledging such unconscious bias and privilege on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation can we begin the process of counteracting those forces.”

Epoch Times Photo
Parents concerned about Critical Race Theory took home these buttons from a school board activist training in Sarasota, Fla. Jan. 19, 2022.  (Alexis Spiegelman)

DeSantis had previously said in a statement in April upon signing FL HB7: “No one should be instructed to feel as if they are not equal or shamed because of their race. In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces. There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.”

According to DeSantis’s office, the Stop WOKE Act “protects civil rights in employment and K-20 education by specifying that subjecting an employee or student to a required activity that promotes, advances, or compels individuals to believe discriminatory concepts, constitutes unlawful discrimination.”

The governor’s office noted that concepts constituting unlawful discrimination include:

  • That members of one race, color, national origin or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin or sex.
  • A person by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.
  • A person’s moral character or status as privileged or oppressed is determined by race, color, national origin or sex.
  • A person, by virtue of their race, color, national origin or sex should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity or inclusion.

Walker’s ruling does not address the part of the law that applies to Florida schools.

A separate federal lawsuit was filed on Aug. 18 on behalf of a number of parents and professors, over the education provisions in the Stop WOKE Act. The Florida and national branches of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are backing the lawsuit.

Jannis Falkenstern contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a statement from the Florida governor’s office.

Mimi Nguyen Ly
Mimi Nguyen Ly covers world news with a focus on U.S. news. Contact her at mimi.nl@epochtimes.com