Home » News » Court rules Fla.’s ‘Stop WOKE’ law restricting business diversity training is unconstitutional

By Curt Anderson, The Associated Press, published on March 6, 2024

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis chairs a cabinet meeting at the capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., Aug. 23, 2022. AP Photo/Gary McCullough

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A Florida law pushed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that limits diversity and race-based discussions in private workplaces is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 4 upheld a Florida federal judge’s August 2022 ruling that the “Stop WOKE” act violates the First Amendment as it applies to businesses and is impermissibly vague.

“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,” Circuit Judge Britt C. Grant wrote for the court.

The governor’s office yesterday was considering options for a further appeal.

“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,” the governor’s office said in an email. “The First Amendment protects no such thing, and the State of Florida should have every right to protect Floridians from racially hostile workplaces.”

The law prohibits teaching or business practices that contend members of one ethnic group are inherently racist and should feel guilt for past actions committed by others. It also bars the notion that a person’s status as privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his race or gender, or that discrimination is acceptable to achieve diversity.

DeSantis frequently referred to the law during his unsuccessful run for president, with the slogan that Florida was where “woke goes to die.” Other parts of the law involving education have also been challenged but have not been blocked.

Florida attorneys had argued that the law banned conduct, such as requiring employees to attend diversity meetings, rather than speech. The court disagreed.

“Banning speech on a wide variety of political topics is bad; banning speech on a wide variety of political viewpoints is worse,” Grant said in the opinion.

The lawsuit was filed by private entities, Clearwater-based Honeyfund.com and others, claiming their free-speech rights were curtailed because the law infringes on company training programs stressing diversity, inclusion, elimination of bias and prevention of workplace harassment. Companies with 15 or more employees could face civil lawsuits over such practices. Honeyfund is in the wedding-registry business.

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