TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Federal Judge Mark Walker said Florida must be pulled out of “the upside down” from popular Netflix show Stranger Things in his ruling on a lawsuit to block the state’s “Stop WOKE Act.” He granted an injunction against the state, in part, preventing the law from being enforced.
Walker, in his order, said Florida had become something similar to a “First Amendment upside down.” He went further, describing Florida’s recent applications of the protections of free speech in the U.S. Constitution as being used to stopping “private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.”
“This Court is once again asked to pull Florida back from the upside down,” Walker wrote in his preliminary injunction. “Before this Court is a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking this Court to enjoin a host of Government officials from enforcing portions of the Individual Freedom Act.”
In the opinion, focused on a lawsuit contesting enactment of House Bill 7, the state legislation banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12 public schools and state colleges and universities, Walker says that instead of protecting free speech, Florida’s government is instead adding burdens to free speech for residents and businesses.
The law, as defined by Walker, “prohibits employers from endorsing any of eight concepts during any mandatory employment activity.”
The federal judge describes the challenged portions of HB 7 as “naked viewpoint-based regulation on speech that does not pass strict scrutiny.” As a result, Walker granted the motion by the plaintiffs, Honeyfund.com, Inc., et al, a preliminary injunction in part.
As previously reported, HB 7 states it constitutes discrimination to subject any student or employee — or any individual “as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination” —to any training or instruction that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe any of the following concepts”:
- Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another
- An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously
- An individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin
- People cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, sex, or national origin
- An individual bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin
- An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion
- An individual bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin
- Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex, or national origin to oppress members of another
Walker calls those regulations, which were challenged by the plaintiffs, “forbidden concepts.” Walker’s opinion also takes issue with how it affects diversity and inclusion trainings for private employers, in addition to its effect of “overhauling” Florida’s educational laws.
The judge said in his injunction that HB 7, “is a viewpoint-based restriction on speech that presumptively violates the First Amendment,” in addition to being “vague and overbroad.”
The defendants in the lawsuit, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and the Florida Commission on Human Relations, were all sued in their official capacities. DeSantis has defended the before and after its passage. The governor himself had introduced the law before the 2022 legislative session, calling it the “Stop WOKE Act.”
The officials named as defendants filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which Walker rejected. While Walker granted the preliminary injunction in part, applying a stay to the law, the state can appeal his decision, which could remove the automatic stay.