Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Lawsuit challenges Florida ‘Stop WOKE Act’

The law, which takes effect Friday, bans workplaces and schools from addressing concepts like race, sex and national origin in ways that make some people feel “guilt” or “anguish.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Feb. 24, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, file)

Story at a glance

  • A new lawsuit filed this month argues Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act” violates the First and 14th Amendment rights of state residents.

  • Under the measure, workplaces and schools are prohibited from requiring training or instruction that may make some people feel they bear “personal responsibility” for historic wrongdoings because of their race, sex or national origin.

  • On Monday, a federal judge ruled against plaintiffs in another case, paving the way for the law to take effect Friday.

A lawsuit filed this month in federal court alleges that a new Florida law designed to “fight back against woke indoctrination” by barring employers and educators from addressing concepts like race, sex and religion violates free speech rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

In a lawsuit filed June 22, the nonprofit organization Protect Democracy challenges the legality of Florida’s Individual Freedom Act, otherwise known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” where woke is used as an acronym for “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees.”

The measure, signed into law in April by the state’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis, prevents Florida workplaces and schools from requiring training or instruction that may make some people feel they bear “personal responsibility” for historic wrongdoings because of their race, sex or national origin.

Proponents of the law, which is set to take effect Friday, have argued that the measure will make classrooms and businesses more inclusive by removing from the equation concepts like race and gender, which they claim have been used by liberals to make white people feel guilty.

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“In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces,” DeSantis said during a signing ceremony in April. “There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.”

In the Protect Democracy complaint, filed on behalf of Florida companies Honeyfund, Whitespace Consulting and Collective Concepts, as well as diversity trainer Chevara Orrin, plaintiffs allege that the law violates their Constitutional rights.

“This lawsuit challenges Florida’s use of state authority to stifle speech with which those in power  disagree — a clear violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit reads.

“Our First Amendment right to speak and receive facts is what makes our system of self-government work,” Shalini Agarwal, counsel at Protect Democracy, said in a statement. “In a diverse democracy like ours, it’s particularly damaging for the government to chill conversations about how to create workplaces and businesses that are welcoming to all.”

The lawsuit also argues that the “Stop WOKE Act” violates the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment and is overbroad and void for vagueness because its exact prohibitions are not clearly defined.

“It is unclear what training language would rise to the level of intending to cause employees to ‘feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress,’ leaving enforcement ripe for arbitrary application,” the complaint reads.

On Monday, a federal judge rejected another lawsuit filed in April that sought to temporarily block the law’s enforcement. The complaint had also challenged the Florida Department of Education’s ban on critical race theory, which DeSantis and his allies have called “state-sanctioned racism.”

The department last year said critical race theory, which addresses systemic racism in the U.S., belongs in the same category as Holocaust denial and other “theories that distort historical events.”