Following the recent passage of the Orwellian-sounding Individual Freedom Act — aka the “Stop Woke Act” — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ anti-free speech agenda is going to court . . . again!
Last week, three private companies filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, alleging that the “Stop WOKE Act” violates the First Amendment rights of corporations to discuss certain concepts in workplace trainings (via Reason.com):
The plaintiffs—Honeyfund, Whitespace Consulting, Collective Concepts, and diversity trainer Chevara Orrin—say that workplace trainings with a “diversity, equity, and inclusion” focus are invaluable to their businesses and that a law banning them as illegal harassment violates their First and 14th Amendment rights.
The Individual Freedom Act, more commonly known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” was signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in April. It prohibits companies from making someone’s employment conditional on attending any training that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe” certain divisive concepts about race and gender. For example, the law prevents employers from requiring trainings that say an individual’s race or sex makes them “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
The law was hailed by DeSantis as a victory against “woke” indoctrination: “In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces. There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.” State Senate President Wilton Simpson (R–Spring Hill), offered similar praise, claiming in an April press release that “this bill protects our individual freedoms and prevents discrimination in public schools and the workplace.”
Opponents of the bill, however, say it restricts speech and unnecessarily broadens the definition of illegal harassment to infringe upon protected speech concerning race and gender.
Legally, the complaint’s objection to the law appears to hold water. “The law functionally picks a side in the ongoing cultural debate over the existence or prevalence of racism and then prohibits companies from taking the opposite side,” says Paul Matzko, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. It essentially forces private companies to adopt—or at least not object to—the state government’s views on racism and sexism. While the government has some role in setting public school curricula, it is far more constrained in determining what private companies tell their employees. (Emphasis mine)
This isn’t the first time the Donald Trump wannabe has attacked free speech; it’s been a part of Ron DeSantis’ agenda ever since so-called conservatives started whispering his name as a possible 2024 presidential candidate.
In February 2021, DeSantis essentially pledged to save free speech by destroying it when he proposed new state legislation designed to crack down on Big Tech for their alleged bias against conservatives.
“What began as a group of upstart technology companies from the west coast, has since transformed into an industry of monopoly communications platforms that monitor, influence, and control the flow of information in our country and among our citizens,” DeSantis said from the Cabinet Meeting Room. He also ranted about how ‘Big Tech’ is becoming more like ‘Big Brother’ with “each passing day.”
Somehow, I don’t think DeSantis is familiar with the George Orwell’s 1984 since “Big Brother” was the name given to describe a tyrannical big government, not a free market business.
In May 2021, DeSantis made good on his pledge when he signed the Transparency in Technology Act into law in order to “[protect] the speech of Floridians who face being removed from social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook” while conveniently leaving out the part about the massive fines he would levy against social media companies if they removed political candidates from their platforms.
DeSantis’ unconstitutional law went down in defeat in July 2021 when a federal judge blocked it because it violated free speech rights.
Earlier this year, Ron DeSantis launched a blatant attack on Disney’s constitutionally protected right to free speech when he signed a bill revoking the company’s tax status after Disney expressed its displeasure with Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, legislation commonly referred to by LGBT radicals as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Instead of standing as a defender of conservative values like free market capitalism and free speech, Governor Ron DeSantis decided that liberty is secondary to his presidential ambitions.
Going after Disney is a violation of the company’s free speech rights because DeSantis is doing so purely due to Disney expressing their support for the LGBT agenda and their opposition to his parental rights legislation. As Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini said in a tweet, “It’s time to drop the hammer on woke @WaltDisneyWorld.”
I’m no fan of Big Tech’s arbitrary treatment of users they don’t agree with even though I’ve experienced some of this myself. I’m no fan of Disney’s pro-LGBT assault on traditional family values. I’m no fan of corporate “wokeness.” But Big Tech, Disney, and “woke” corporations aren’t assaulting my free speech rights; Governor Ron DeSantis is.
The First Amendment protects private individuals and entities from people like Ron DeSantis, a man literally engaged in an anti-free speech assault on liberty.
Governor Ron DeSantis’ anti-free speech assault couldn’t be more obvious, as Judge Andrew Napolitano pointed out last year during the Florida governor’s assault on Big Tech:
The speech we love needs no protection. The speech we hate does. The government has no authority to evaluate speech. As the framers understood, all people have a natural right to think as we wish and to say and publish whatever we think. Even hateful, hurtful and harmful speech is protected speech.
Yet, in perilous times, such as the present, we have seen efforts to use the courts to block the publication of unflattering books. We have seen state governors use the police to protect gatherings of protestors with whose message they agreed and to disburse critical protestors. We have seen mobs silence speakers while the police did nothing.
And in perilous times, such as the present, we have seen Big Tech companies silencing their opponents. I hate when they do that, but they have every right to do so. They own the bulletin board. Twitter and Facebook can ban any speech they want because they are not the government. And the First Amendment only restrains the government. In the constitutional sense, free speech means only one thing — free from government interference.
Punishing speech is the most dangerous business because there will be no end. The remedy for hateful or threatening speech is not silence or punishments; it is more speech — speech that challenges the speaker.
Why do government officials want to silence their opponents? They fear an undermining of their power. The dissenters might make more appealing arguments than they do. St. Augustine taught that nearly all in government want to tell others how to live.
How about we all say whatever we want, and the government leaves us alone? (Emphasis mine)
Governor Ron DeSantis’ anti-free speech agenda is going to court again, and it should serve as a reminder for conservatives to never put their confidence in spineless cowards like the Florida Republican in 2024.
David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative. He holds people of every political stripe accountable for their failure to uphold conservative values, and he promotes those values instead of political parties.