Florida Stop WOKE Act Gets Pushback in Court, An important part of the state’s law that would have affected private enterprises was barred by a federal judge who said it was out of this world.
The challenge to a Florida diversity law
The primary section of Florida’s “Stop WOKE” Act that would have affected private enterprises was halted by a federal judge late yesterday. Two Florida businesses and a diversity consultant had filed suit, and the judge sided with them.
They claim the rule violates their right to free expression because it restricts discussion of “white man’s privilege” and other forms of racial bias in diversity training provided by private enterprises.
Signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis this year, the Individual Freedom Act has become one of the most recent sources of contention between corporations and government.
Because of this, Florida has become a flashpoint in the ongoing argument over how far companies and governments can go in taking stands on contentious social topics and enforcing specific regulations in the workplace.
Harvard Business School professor Bill George recently told DealBook, “It’s the No. 1 issue I hear about from C.E.Os these days.”
Florida’s new law aims to provide guidelines for how public and private institutions of all types must deal with issues of discrimination based on race, gender, and national origin. It forbids businesses in the state from making their employees undergo diversity training that could potentially make them feel bad about their own racial identity or history.
Any discussion of racial benefits or handicaps is also prohibited. According to Florida’s justification, the state is actually safeguarding free speech by clamping down on these kinds of debates.
However, in his preliminary injunction, Judge Mark Walker compared the statute to something from “an alternative reality.” Walker stated that the “upside down” in the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” refers to a parallel reality where a warped version of our world exists. Like Eleven in “Stranger Things,” “now this court is once again called to pull Florida back from the upside down.”
Specifically targeting views that DeSantis and other Florida lawmakers find objectionable, Judge Walker ruled that the bill’s prohibitions were too broad and amounted to “naked viewpoint-based regulation.” He explained that the law “does not target training because they are necessary,” but rather “because of the speech given in them.”
Washington University in St. Louis law professor Gregory Magarian said he agreed with the judge’s decision. According to him, “Judge Walker explains quite well” why Florida’s argument that the at-issue speech creates a hostile atmosphere and can be restricted under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act “doesn’t hold up.”
Magarian told DealBook that although it is one thing for a company to share ideas with workers that may make some of them uncomfortable, it is something else entirely when a company creates or enables widespread, identity-based harassment.
What happens now to the Stop WOKE Act? Actually, no. The decision made by Judge Walker is only an interim one. Joel Paul, a constitutional law professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, nevertheless, opined that it seemed to be well-argued.
Paul told DealBook that if legislation is said to be based on a person’s opinion, then the burden of proof shifts to the state of Florida to show why the government has a credible interest in prohibiting such speech. I have no idea what the government could possibly have an interest in.
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