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Federal judge hears arguments in 2nd legal challenge to 'Stop WOKE Act'

'The First Amendment doesn't allow the government to come in and say you can speak in this way about these important topics, but not that way,' plaintiff's attorney Doug Hallward-Driemeier says
Posted at 4:01 AM, Aug 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-09 04:01:00-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal judge is again mulling whether to block some parts of the governor's "Stop WOKE Act," which places new rules on race education in schools and employee training.

Under threat of legal action, HB 7 prohibits teaching concepts like inherent racism, white privilege or discussion that makes a person feel guilt over their race or gender.

Plaintiffs include the Florida honeymoon registry tech company Honeyfund.com, Florida-based Ben & Jerry's franchisee Primo Tampa and diversity consultancy Collective Concepts.

Their attorneys on Monday told Northern District Judge Mark Walker the new law is too vague and violates the First and 14th Amendments.

They argue HB 7 prohibits the expression of views disfavored by the government and chills free speech in the workplace.

"The First Amendment doesn't allow the government to come in and say you can speak in this way about these important topics, but not that way," the plaintiff's attorney, Doug Hallward-Driemeier, said. "That's what this statute has done."

Plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction. It would block enforcement of the employee training aspects of the law, which took effect in July. Attorney Shalini Agarwal said it was already having an impact on their clients.

"These companies who, as a standard, do these types of training are now feeling like we don't know if we can do them anymore," Agarwal said. "We don't know if we can say anything about it because we're concerned about a culture of retribution."

State attorneys argued that HB 7 regulates conduct, not speech, a key distinction for First Amendment cases. They declined further comment after the hearing concluded.

The governor and GOP lawmakers have defended HB 7 as fighting indoctrination and concepts like Critical Race Theory.

"No one should be instructed to feel as if they are not equal or shamed because of their race," Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement following his signing of HB 7 in April. "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."

"We don’t have anything to add in terms of commentary beyond what the governor has already said publicly about HB 7," Christina Pushaw, press secretary for DeSantis, said in a brief statement. "We expect this common sense law to ultimately be upheld."

It’s unclear when Walker will rule. He warned a busy week was ahead but vowed an order would come "as quickly as possible."

This is the second time Walker has presided over a legal challenge to HB 7. A group of Florida educators brought a separate lawsuit earlier this year.

In June, Walker denied their request for a preliminary injunction, but last month allowed the broader legal dispute to move forward. It's set for a bench trial in April.