Judge compares Florida to ‘Stranger Things’ as he blocks provision in anti-’woke’ law

Judge blocks workplace bias training provisions in the Individual Freedom Act

Gavel. (Generic) (Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida is like a First Amendment “Upside Down,” a federal judge said in his ruling blocking Florida’s Individual Freedom Act — nicknamed the “Stop W.O.K.E.” law —Thursday, referring to the parallel dimension in the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

“Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely. But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely,” said U.S. Judge Mark Walker, who has blocked numerous laws signed by Gov. DeSantis.

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Specifically, the ruling blocks parts of the law that stops companies from providing workplace bias training that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, 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,” according to the law.

According to the ruling, the IFA would expand unlawful employment practices to include training requirements by companies that teach any of eight “forbidden concepts,” including:

  • that individuals should be discriminated against based on race, color, sex or national origin
  • members of one race, color, sex or national origin are morally superior to members of another race, color, sex or national origin
  • an individual, due to his or her race, color, sex or national origin, should be discriminated against due to actions committed in the past by other members of that race, color, sex or national origin
  • the idea that virtues such as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist
  • a person is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive based on their race, color, sex or national origin

Walker is blocking the law, claiming the companies that sued the state would likely succeed, saying the law places a “presumptively unconstitutional viewpoint-based restriction on speech — in other words, they say the IFA targets their ‘speech because of its message.”

Walker said that because of the way the law is written, it does not stop a company or group from holding meetings that condemn or criticize any of the concepts covered in the act. That means it is targeting speech, which is forbidden for a government to do, according to the First Amendment.

“If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case,” Walker said. “But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents because without justification, the IFA attacks ideas, not conduct. Plaintiffs are substantially likely to succeed on the merits of this lawsuit.”

The state is likely to appeal the ruling to an appeals court that is more disposed to ruling on the governor’s side.

This is not the only lawsuit targeting the anti-”woke” law.

In fact, a group of college professors from across the state announced a lawsuit Thursday over the law’s education provisions.

About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.