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What’s next for Florida’s anti-‘woke’ law?

Federal judge blocked part of law restricting conversations around race in schools and the workplace

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Kids hold signs against critical race theory near Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis before he signed HB7.

Kids holding signs against critical race theory stand on stage near Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he addresses the crowd before publicly signing HB7, “individual freedom,” also dubbed the “stop woke” bill during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on Friday, April 22, 2022.

Daniel A. Varela, Miami Herald via Associated Press

A federal judge has blocked part of Florida’s Stop WOKE Act aimed at private businesses, calling it something that might be found in an alternate universe.

Using the acronym WOKE for Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees, the law was designed to combat “woke indoctrination” in Florida businesses and schools by prohibiting instruction that could make some people feel they bear “personal responsibility” for historic wrongdoings because of their race, sex or national origin, according to The New York Times.

The law, championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, prohibits employers in Florida from forcing workers to attend diversity training that would make them feel uncomfortable or guilty about their race because of historical events. It also bans any talk of advantages or disadvantages based on 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,” DeSantis said when signed the bill, officially known as the Individual Freedom Act, into law in April.

What the judge ruled: U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued a temporary injunction blocking key provisions in the law, calling it unconstitutional. He said it violates the First Amendment and is impermissibly vague.

“In the popular television series ‘Stranger Things,’ the ‘upside down’ describes a parallel dimension containing a distorted version of our world,” Walker wrote. “Now, like the heroine in ‘Stranger Things,’ this court is once again asked to pull Florida back from the upside down.”

Who is suing: A group of businesses — honeymoon registry technology company Honeyfund.com and Florida-based Ben & Jerry’s franchisee Primo Tampa, along with workplace diversity consultancy Collective Concepts and its co-founder Chevara Orrin — combined to challenge the law in federal court. They argued that the new law violates their freedom of speech, per Politico. They argue that the law infringes on company training programs stressing diversity, inclusion, elimination of bias and prevention of workplace harassment.

The ACLU, ACLU of Florida and Legal Defense Fund last week filed another lawsuit in federal court challenging the “anti-woke” legislation on behalf of students and educators.

What a constitutional scholar says: “Constitutional scholars like myself warned Florida that this had so many constitutional problems, even in drafting,” Stetson University law professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy told ABC Action News in Florida. “Under the First Amendment, the government doesn’t get to tell us what to think and this was couched in language that sounds as if it was about individual choice but it actually stops people from saying and learning certain concepts.

Torres-Spelliscy said she hopes the ruling discourages the governor and future governors from enacting “thought-control laws” the way DeSantis has.

What happens next? DeSantis’ office has said it plans to appeal Walker’s decision.

“Judge Walker has effectively ruled that companies have a First Amendment right to instruct their employees in white supremacy,” Taryn Feske, DeSantis’ communications director, told The Hill.