Court blocks DeSantis’ ‘Stop Woke Act,’ calls it a ‘First Amendment sin’

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By Giselle Balido

March 5, 2024

The group representing the companies suing the state called the ruling “a major victory for free speech.”

In a unanimous ruling on Monday, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that part of Florida’s anti-“woke” law infringes on the free speech rights of employers.

The ruling came in response to a 2022 law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that restricts how private companies can teach diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The Individual Freedom Act, also known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” was one of several bills DeSantis signed in 2022 prohibiting teachings or mandatory workplace activities that suggest a person is oppressed based on their sex, race, color or national origin. The law was part of a trend in red states to ban the teaching of critical race theory and LGBTQ-related issues in schools and workplaces.

In August of 2022, a federal judge blocked enforcement of portions of the law dealing with corporate training on the grounds that it “discriminates on the basis of viewpoint in violation of the First Amendment.”

RELATED: Senate Passes Bill Banning State Investments in Anything Republicans Consider ‘Woke’

The court’s decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed by several Florida businesses challenging the act, including Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream franchise, Primo, and workplace diversity consultancy Collective Concepts.

‘The greatest First Amendment sin’

In upholding the earlier ruling, the three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit said the legislation “exceeds the bounds of the First Amendment,” calling it an attempt to target speech based on its content and penalize differing viewpoints.

This, the judges said, constitutes “the greatest First Amendment sin.”

“Even if we presumed that the Act served the interest of combating discrimination in some way, its breadth and scope would doom it. Banning speech on a wide variety of political topics is bad; banning speech on a wide variety of political viewpoints is worse,” the appeals court ruled.

RELATED: Sen. Geraldine Thompson: Florida Is ‘Free Only if You Agree’ With Gov. DeSantis

The organization representing the companies suing the state issued a statement calling the ruling a major victory for free speech in the workplace.

“Speech codes have no place in American society, and elected officials have no business censoring the speech of business owners simply because they don’t agree with what’s being expressed,” said Shalini Goel Agarwal, counsel for Protect Democracy.

Following the ruling, DeSantis administration officials said in a statement to the media that they may appeal to the US Supreme Court to challenge the decision.

Author

  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.

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