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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A federal judge on Thursday blocked Florida from enforcing a new state law that limits how private companies teach diversity and inclusion in the workplace, saying the measure violates right to free speech and expression of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

In a ruling that targeted one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top priorities, U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Walker said Florida upended “the First Amendment” by trying to regulate how employers train workers. employees on topics such as racial inclusion and gender equality.

“Normally, the First Amendment prohibits the state from dulling speech, while private actors may dub speech freely,” Walker wrote, comparing the state to the TV series “Stranger Things.” “But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently prohibits private actors from dumbing down speech, while the state can dub speech freely.”

Walker’s decision prevents Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) and state regulators from enforcing a key provision of the “Stop Woke Act,” which the Republican-controlled Legislature approved in March. DeSantis, a possible 2024 presidential candidate, frequently touts the measure during political speeches to conservative audiences.

Spokespersons for DeSantis and Moody did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The ‘Stop Woke Act’, also referred to in court documents as the ‘Personal Liberty Measure’, prohibits training in public schools, colleges and universities, and workplaces that may cause someone to feel guilty or to be ashamed of the past collective actions of his race. or sex. A violation of the law is an offense under state anti-discrimination laws.

As students return to classrooms, the law is already having far-reaching consequences, with teachers shelving some lesson plans amid considerable confusion over how it will be enforced. In July, the University of Central Florida even removed statements condemning racism from certain websites, which faculty members said was a response to the law.

The injunction, issued by Walker in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee, only blocks enforcement of provisions of the law that deal with training offered by private employers.

But several other legal challenges have been filed against other provisions of the law, including a lawsuit Thursday that the American Civil Liberties Union filed on behalf of 10 college professors. The lawsuit, also filed in federal court, seeks to prevent Florida from limiting how colleges and universities offer courses on race, gender and heritage discrimination.

The lawsuit Walker ruled on Thursday was brought by two Florida-based companies, Honeyfund.com and Primo, as well as an individual and a consulting firm that conducts diversity training for businesses in the state.

Honeyfund.com, based in Clearwater, Florida, is an online marriage registry. Primo is a franchise of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, with stores in Clearwater and Tampa.

Honeyfund.com had argued in court that it feared the new law would prevent them from holding a seminar for employees that included “advancing women in business, understanding gender expansion” and “understanding institutional racism”. Primo planned to teach its employees “about systemic racism, oppression and intersectionality.”

In an unusually pointed opinion, Walker trashed many of Florida’s “Stop Woke Act” defenses. In addition to ruling that the law was a clear violation of the First Amendment, Walker also said it violated the plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

“It was a very strong decision and very clearly states that this is a very flagrant violation of the Constitution,” said the defendants’ lead attorney, Shalini Agarwal, who also works with the nonpartisan civic group. Protect Democracy.

At the root of the 44-page decision is Walker’s skepticism that the state of Florida should decide what employees might find objectionable. He said the state has vague interpretations of the eight provisions of the law, including those that address what could cause someone to feel discomfort or anxiety at work.

“Even the slightest endorsement of any of the eight concepts to any required employment activity violates the law,” Walker noted. “The [Individual Freedom Measure] requires no proof that the statement is even subjectively offensive. Nor does the IFA require the statement to create a severely or pervasively hostile work environment.

“So the IFA, by design,” Walker added, “provides no shelter for basic protected speech.”

At one point, Walker suggested the law appeared to be an attempt by Florida lawmakers to silence the voices of those who might challenge lawmakers’ own views on the nation’s diversity.

“If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let them make their case,” Walker wrote. “But he can’t win the argument by muzzling his opponents.”

The first section of the law limits lessons and training to the notion that “members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another race , colour, sex or national origin”. Walker said the layout was “mired in obscurity”.

“Imagine that an employer, during a mandatory dispute resolution seminar, cites civil disobedience exemplified by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as a peaceful and preferred approach,” Walker wrote. “Has this employer ‘inculcated’ employed with the belief that blacks and Asians are morally superior to whites? »

Walker denounced another provision of the law, saying it was “bordering on unintelligible”. The provision states “[m]Members of one race, color, sex or national origin cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect for their race, color, sex or national origin.

“It is unclear what is prohibited, let alone what is permitted,” Walker wrote.

Agarwal said the state must now decide whether to seek a trial in district court to try to overturn Walker’s injunction. The state could also appeal its decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Florida could also drop its legal defense of the case.

Although Walker’s decision does not apply to the law’s implementation in public schools or colleges, Agarwal and other lawyers said they believe all sections of the measure have a legal basis. brittle.

In its lawsuit seeking to block the law from taking effect in colleges and universities, ACLU lawyers argued that the law “Vague terms and a private enforcement mechanism chill speech and expression, including the narrowing of campus discourse and the gutting of academic freedom.”

“The Stop WOKE Act attempts to censor discussion and erase the history and life experiences of Black people, LGBTQ people, women and other people of color who struggle every day to achieve racial justice and bring a positive change,” said Leroy Pernell. , a plaintiff in the lawsuit who teaches law at Florida A&M University College of Law “We deserve to have free and open discussions about racism in the classroom.”