John Kennedy, USA Today, April 22, 2022
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed into law what he has branded the “Stop WOKE Act,” which restricts how race is discussed in schools, colleges and workplaces, and sparked a nationwide debate over censorship, critical race theory and diversity training.
The Legislature approved the measure in March along mostly party-line votes. The bill (HB 7) prohibits any teaching that could make students feel they bear personal responsibility for historic wrongs because of their race, color, sex or national origin.
It also blocks businesses from using diversity practices or training that could make employees feel guilty for similar reasons.
“We believe an important component of freedom in the state of Florida is the freedom from having oppressive ideologies imposed upon you without your consent,” DeSantis said. “Whether it be in the classroom or in the workplace. And we decided to do something about it.”
Speaking at a charter school in Hialeah Gardens, DeSantis railed against “pernicious ideologies” like critical race theory, which examines the role discrimination has played in shaping American history and modern society.
He also blistered the media, “elites,” “leftists,” Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia, and finally, Walt Disney Co.
The “Stop Woke Act” signed by the governor takes a different approach to civil rights protections, which are commonly seen as protecting minorities and women. Instead, Florida’s new law, called an “act related to individual freedom,” is seen by opponents as shielding whites and men in discussions from being blamed for historic wrongs.
The measure – the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act – responds to a drumbeat from conservative media that has condemned critical race theory.
Opponents worry the law is vague, will chill race education in the state, and open a door to frivolous litigation targeting businesses and school boards.
While acknowledging Friday that critical race theory is not taught in Florida schools, DeSantis claimed its “principles” are entering into class instruction, especially in how history and social science is taught. He got the Florida Board of Education last year to specifically ban its use in schools.
Almost simultaneous with the governor signing the measure, a lawsuit was filed in Tallahassee federal court challenging the constitutionality of the new race discussion limits.
During legislative debate earlier Democrats, particularly Black lawmakers, said the legislation is intended to diminish the inequities faced by minorities in this country, largely because it could make white students feel uncomfortable.
DeSantis, though, views the race discussions he’s outlawing in Florida as a threat.
“We are not going to use your tax dollars to teach our kids to hate this country or to hate each other,” he told the crowd in Hialeah Gardens.
Friday’s bill signings were a punctuation mark to a week where a proposed congressional redistricting map endorsed by DeSantis was called racist by a Black minister speaking at a rally on the steps of the historic Old Capitol.
The plan likely increases the number of Republican seats in Congress from Florida while possibly cutting in half the seats now held by Black Democrats.