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Federal judge temporarily blocks DeSantis’ ‘Stop WOKE’ law

“Recently, Florida has seemed like a First Amendment upside down," the judge wrote, referring to the parallel dimension from the popular Netflix series "Stranger Things."

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) — A federal judge blocked government officials from enforcing Florida's Individual Freedom Act Thursday, ruling that it violates employers' freedom of speech.

The bill, also known as the "Stop WOKE" act, was signed into law by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in April, and amends the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 by forbidding eight concepts based on race, color, sex or national origin from being promoted through workplace training and educational instructional materials.

"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.'" wrote Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, a Barack Obama appointee.

"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."

Judge Walker granted the motion for preliminary injunction to temporarily block these provisions of the law, pending the outcome of the lawsuit which was filed in June by two small businesses and a consultant who provides workplace training.

The business owners claimed that they will have to hire lawyers to review the scope of their regularly conducted diversity, equity and inclusion trainings to avoid facing a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation by the Florida attorney general.

Collective Concepts, the consulting company that works with employers to provide these types of trainings, argued that the act has left a "chilling effect" on Florida employers, causing them to experience a significant loss in clients.

Passing the injunction will "give Plaintiffs the freedom to endorse those eight concepts without fear of government enforcement," the judge ruled.

The eight unlawful concepts range from prohibiting employers and educators to suggest that "Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another race, color, sex, or national origin," to "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."

Most of these concepts Judge Walker found to be unconstitutionally vague and overall impose a "viewpoint-based restriction" on the First Amendment, according to his order.

"Further, imagine an employer, during a mandatory seminar on dispute resolution, cites the civil disobedience exemplified by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as a peaceful, preferred approach. Has that employer 'inculcated' employees with the belief that Black and Asian people are morally superior to White people?" wrote Judge Walker.

A group of university professors also challenged the law on Thursday in the Tallahassee court, arguing the act is "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."

In their complaint, the instructors write that under the act, state colleges and universities could face severe penalties such as withholding of funding from state officials.

As a result of these restrictions on speech, "students are either denied access to knowledge altogether or receive incomplete or inaccurate information from instructors that is steered toward the legislature’s own views."

A similar suit was filed in the same court in April by several teachers and a consultant who argued that the act not only censors classroom instruction, but that conservative politicians have purported the term "critical race theory," which comes from the legal studies of a law professor at the University of California in 1989.

They wrote that "Governor DeSantis failed to identify any actual examples of what he calls 'Critical Race Theory' being taught in Florida public school classrooms."

Georgia, Mississippi, South Dakota and Kentucky have also passed similar legislation, while this is the second law Florida has passed this year that places limitations on classroom instruction, following the Parental Rights in Education act, or also called the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

“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," said Governor DeSantis in a statement after signing the Individual Freedom Act in April.

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