Federal judge temporarily blocks law banning 'woke' workplace training, compares Florida to 'Stranger Things'
A federal judge has blocked provisions in a Florida law that forbid promoting concepts based on race, color, sex or national origin in workplace training and educational materials.
In his Aug. 18 decision, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker of the Northern District of Florida ruled that the Individual Freedom Act, also known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” violates employers’ freedom of speech. The Florida legislature passed the law in April to amend the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, as well as to overhaul the state’s education laws.
“In the popular television series Stranger Things, the ‘upside down’ describes a parallel dimension containing a distorted version of our world,” wrote Walker in his order granting a preliminary injunction in the case. “Recently, Florida has seemed like a First Amendment upside down. 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.”
“Now, like the heroine in Stranger Things, this court is once again asked to pull Florida back from the upside down,” Walker added.
Two small businesses and a consultant who provides workplace training brought the lawsuit in June, according to Courthouse News Service. The business owners claimed that they will need to hire lawyers to review their diversity, equity and inclusion trainings to avoid steep penalties under the new law, while the consultant argued the law will leave a “chilling effect” on employers in Florida.
The Individual Freedom Act prohibits employers and educators from advancing eight concepts, including that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” and “such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex or national origin to oppress members of another race, color, sex or national origin.”
According to Reuters, which also has coverage of the case, Florida officials argue that the law does not regulate speech but rather bars mandatory attendance at anti-bias trainings. They have also said the state has a prevailing interest in ensuring that employees are not subjected to controversial views in the workplace.
After Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation, he said in a statement “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.”
In his decision, Walker contends that even if legislators find the plaintiffs’ speech “repugnant,” the “remedy” for this under the constitution “is more speech, not enforced silence.”
“If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case,” Walker said. “But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents. Because, without justification, the IFA attacks ideas, not conduct.”
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