A federal judge temporarily blocked a Florida law aimed at restricting state colleges and universities from teaching students certain ideologies related to race or sex.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida blasted the “Individual Freedom Act” – originally pitched as the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act for censoring what professors are allowed to teach, granting a preliminary injunction against its enforcement while litigation continues.
“The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints,” Walker wrote in a Thursday order. “Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy “academic freedom” so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves. This is positively dystopian.”
In September, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody appealed a federal judge’s ruling that blocked part of a new state law that placed restrictions on how race-related issues can be addressed in workplace training.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in September, issued a preliminary injunction, agreeing with three businesses and a consultant that the workplace-training restrictions violate the First Amendment.
At least three other pending federal lawsuits challenge part of the law placing restrictions on how race-related issues can be addressed in public schools and higher education. Walker’s preliminary injunction did not address the education issues.
The appeal did not detail arguments that the state will make at the appeals court. In addition to DeSantis and Moody, defendants in the case included members of the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
The law (HB 7), which DeSantis signed on April 22, spurred fierce debates before passing during this year’s legislative session. DeSantis called it the “Stop Wrongs To Our Kids and Employees Act,” or Stop WOKE Act.
The employment-related part of the law lists eight race-related concepts and says that a required training program or other activity that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual (an employee) to believe any of the following concepts constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin.”
As an example of the concepts, the law targets compelling employees to believe that an “individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed June 22, are Primo Tampa, LLC, a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream franchisee; Honeyfund.com, Inc., a Clearwater-based technology company that provides wedding registries; and Chevara Orrin and her company, Collective Concepts, LLC. Orrin and her company provide consulting and training to employers about issues such as diversity, equity and inclusion.
They contend the law violates their ability to discuss issues such as racism and implicit bias with employees. They have pointed to the need for such things as diversity training for employees.
In his Aug. 18 decision on the preliminary injunction, Walker wrote that the law “targets speech.”
“If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case,” Walker wrote. “But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents. Because, without justification, the (law) attacks ideas, not conduct, Plaintiffs are substantially likely to succeed on the merits of this lawsuit.”
In district-court filings, attorneys for the state disputed that the law violates First Amendment rights, saying it only bars businesses from requiring employees to take part in training programs that use the targeted concepts.
“They (the law’s restrictions) leave employers 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.”
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