Appeals Court Rules Against Florida’s ‘Stop WOKE Act’ on First Amendment Grounds – RedState

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A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a ruling that blocks the state of Florida from enforcing a law known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” a controversial piece of legislation passed in March 2022 that was aimed at combating the rise of ideas related to critical race theory being pushed in government-run schools and also private organizations.

The law also restricted how public and private entities could conduct diversity and inclusion training. The legislation was a centerpiece of the agenda Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature were pursuing. It came about as nationwide debate on indoctrination and education gained more prominence on America’s political landscape.

The Stop WOKE Act was intended to stop public and private organizations from employing teachings and training that might make individuals feel guilty about their race or sex. However, the appeals court, which includes judges appointed by former President Donald Trump, saw things differently.

A federal appeals court upheld a ruling Monday that blocked Florida from enforcing a law, backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that restricts how private companies teach diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled Monday that the “Stop Woke Act” “exceeds the bounds” of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression in its attempts to regulate workplace trainings on race, color, sex and national origin. The appeals court upheld a federal judge’s August 2022 ruling that said the same.

“By limiting its restrictions to a list of ideas designated as offensive, the Act targets speech based on its content. And by barring only speech that endorses any of those ideas, it penalizes certain viewpoints — the greatest First Amendment sin,” Judge Britt C. Grant wrote in Monday’s opinion.

Julia Friedland, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, said in a statement Tuesday that the governor’s office is “reviewing all options on appeal going forward.”

“We disagree with the Court’s opinion that employers can require employees to be taught — as a condition of employment — that one race is morally superior to another race,” Friedland said. “The First Amendment protects no such thing, and the State of Florida should have every right to protect Floridians from racially hostile workplaces.”

In the 22-page opinion, the panel acknowledged that Americans hold “widely divergent views on important areas of morality, ethics, law, and public policy” but that “the First Amendment keeps the government from putting its thumb on the scale.

The Stop WOKE Act’s journey through the court system has been fraught with various challenges. In August 2022, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker imposed a preliminary injunction against the provisions that targeted private businesses, which prompted the state to appeal the ruling. Now, the three-judge panel has unanimously ruled against the law on First Amendment grounds.

Those criticizing the law argued that it was an effort to whitewash America’s historical and current issues with race. They believe it was intended to water down discussions on systemic racism and gender inequality in the classroom.

Supporters of the law argued that the curriculum being presented to children in schools was designed to indoctrinate them into far-leftist ideology on topics like race, sexuality, and gender identity. When it comes to race, in particular, the legislation was seen as a way to stop progressives from conditioning kids to believe that whites are inherently racist while nonwhites are helpless victims.

However, the provision related to private companies and how they conduct diversity training was always going to be a problem. It is one thing to prevent indoctrination in schools; it is quite another to tell a private organization that it cannot employ diversity training. While proponents claimed that it was intended to prevent these entities from treating people differently based on their ethnicity, there are already laws against this, which means it was not necessary to pass another law addressing the issue.

It is also worth stressing that the court did not do away with the entire law – only the provisions that applied to private entities. It is not yet clear how Florida’s government plans to proceed at this point, but it would not be surprising to see this fall into the Supreme Court’s hands.

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