Inside DeSantis 'Anti-Woke' Law Partially Blocked by Judge

A federal judge in Florida has temporarily blocked enforcement of part of a law that restricts conversation about race in schools and workplaces that was passed by the state's Republicans and supported by Governor Ron DeSantis.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker blocked parts of the Individual Freedom Act (IFA) that deal with corporate training after two companies and a consultancy that provides such training applied for an injunction.

The IFA is also known as the "Stop WOKE Act" and expands the state's anti-discrimination laws to prevent schools and companies from engaging in training that would place blame on students or employees based on their race, sex or national origin.

The law says that people should not be instructed to "feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress" because of their race, color, sex or national origin and has been seen as aimed at lessons on "white privilege" and related matters.

Three companies, including a consultancy that provides workplace diversity training, argued in court that the law violated their First Amendment rights, among other issues. Judge Walker agreed.

Walker's ruling does not apply to the law's provisions affecting public schools and colleges. The ACLU, ACLU of Florida and Legal Defense Fund have filed a separate lawsuit challenging the IFA on behalf of students and educators.

That case is due for trial in April and Judge Walker denied the applicants an injunction against the IFA on Thursday.

The law states that restricted concepts can be taught as "part of a course of training or instruction, provided such training or instruction is given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts."

Organizations face fines of up to $10,000 per IFA violation, while people who believe their rights were violated can also seek legal remedies and may be rewarded damages up to $100,000.

Online wedding registry argued that the law would prevent them holding training that included "advancing women in business, understanding gender expansiveness," while Ben & Jerry's franchise Primo said they wanted to teach employees about "systemic racism, oppression and intersectionality."

In a 44-page ruling, Walker compared the situation on Florida to the popular Netflix show Stranger Things.

"In the popular television series Stranger Things, the 'upside down' describes a parallel dimension containing a distorted version of our world," Walker wrote.

"Recently, Florida has seemed like a First Amendment upside down," he said.

"If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case. But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents. Because, without justification, the IFA attacks ideas, not conduct," the judge went on.

He also added that the businesses "are substantially likely to succeed on the merits of this lawsuit."

His ruling does not strike down the law itself but merely temporarily prevents Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and the commissioners of the Florida Commission on Human Relations from enforcing the sections on corporate training.

Judge Walker has issued an injunction for parts of the law dealing with corporate training and has not stayed that injunction pending an appeal. The state is almost certain to appeal his ruling and the injunction could be quickly overturned.

Newsweek has asked DeSantis' office for comment.

Ron DeSantis Speaks at a Press Conference
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference at the University of Miami Health System Don Soffer Clinical Research Center on May 17, 2022 in Miami, Florida. A Florida judge has temporarily blocked part of the "Stope WOKE Act" supported by DeSantis. Joe Raedle/Getty Images