Respect Diversity + Inclusion

What is DeSantis’s ‘Stop WOKE Act’?

Enforcement of the law, which took effect in July, was partially blocked by a federal judge on Thursday.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during the inaugural Moms For Liberty Summit at the Tampa Marriott Water Street on July 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

A federal judge on Thursday issued a temporary injunction that partially blocks officials in Florida from enforcing the state’s law against mandatory workplace trainings about race or sex that could make some people feel “guilt” or “anguish.”

The law, known as the “Stop Woke Act,” where woke is used as an acronym for “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees,” was designed to combat “woke indoctrination” in Florida businesses and schools by prohibiting instruction that could make some parties feel they bear “personal responsibility” for historic wrongdoings because of their race, sex or national origin.

Only the private employer provision of the law is blocked by Thursday’s ruling.

“Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely,” District Court Judge Mark Walker wrote Thursday. “But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.”

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The measure, which lists eight concepts that would constitute “unlawful employment practices” should their instruction be required by employers, had been backed by the DeSantis administration even before the official start of the state’s legislative session in January.

DeSantis in a December statement said the proposal would build on prior efforts to ban from Florida classrooms the New York Times’ 1619 project and critical race theory, which he called “state-sanctioned racism.”

“We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” he said. “We also have a responsibility to ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights when it comes to enforcing state standards.”

Florida’s Board of Education last year banned critical race theory, which addresses systemic racism in the U.S., from being taught in schools, grouping it in the same category as Holocaust denial and other “theories that distort historical events.”

DeSantis in December said workers in the state should also be protected against “hostile” environments that are created when employers mandate implicit bias or sexual harassment training.

Florida business owners with more than 15 employees under the law could face legal challenges from workers who feel they have been targeted by mandatory trainings or discriminated against.

Companies also have an expectation under federal law to create inclusive workplace environments, meaning they could face legal woes whether they conduct diversity or inclusion training or not.

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. “We disagree and will be appealing his decision.”

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