The Stop WOKE law is difficult to enforce. That’s the point.

Last week, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis struck at his state’s freedom of speech defenses with a new culture war salvo: a new anti-awake education law.

DeSantis stood on a stage filled with kids holding signs against critical race theory to sign Stop action WOKEwhich passed the state legislature last month.

The new law, officially called the Stop the Evil Against Our Children and Employees Act, restricts school teachers, university professors and employers who provide education or training that may make people feel “discomfort” or “guilt” about their race, gender or sexual orientation. .

The law is deliberately vague and confusing. But it is clearly aimed at educators teaching students about race and history and employers implementing teaching on diversity, equality and inclusion.

Check forbids learning this suggests that people should feel “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress due to actions … committed in the past by others of the same race.”

Check also prohibits schools and workplaces from teaching that someone is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously,” or “privileged or oppressed… based on his or her race, color, gender, or national origin.”

There is an obvious target audience here: white people. DeSantis spent a lot of time speaking out against critical race theory, an academic theory that Republicans have misinterpreted as teaching about race and history. This wording implies that white people can sue or punish others for teaching American racial history simply because it makes them feel guilty about being of the same race as the oppressors.

But how does Florida or individuals plan to enforce a law based on vague language about race and gender?

“I think we’re all as confused as you are,” Jerry Edwards, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told HuffPost. “That is the essence of the law.

DeSantis, who is considered the Republican president’s favorite for 2024, has gone on scorched earth in his fight against marginalized people. Along with fear-mongering critical racial theory, he recently signed legislation to ban talk about gender or sexuality in public schools — dubbed by his critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law — and another bill targeting Disney World for speaking out against the measure. against LGBTQ.

“What the governor, what the legislature is trying to do is win the culture war,” said Jesse Wilkison, an attorney for the law firm that helped the plaintiffs. sue Florida over Stop WOKE law.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the crowd ahead of the public signing of the Stop the Awakening Act on April 22, 2022.

Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP

As with Don’t Say You’re Gay, lawsuits related to Stop WOKE are not necessary for the legislation to have the desired silence effect.

The way the law is worded has left Florida teachers and employers wondering if students or staff can sue them for saying something they disagree with. It is almost comical how brazenly the law attacks freedom of speech.

As much as Republicans, especially DeSantis, rant about free speech and a “cancellation” culture, the law will have a chilling effect on people across the state.

“It discourages teachers and professors from exploring these controversial topics,” Edwards said.

In theory, a student could sue his teacher for talking about the impact of the transatlantic slave trade if the discussion made him feel psychologically uncomfortable. But will anyone take such a claim seriously?

“You can sue because you are offended, but the question is… will it be successful?” Edwards says.

It is easy to see which topics, such as affirmative action or the civil rights movement, may cause teachers to self-censor and which workplace learning programs may also be criticized. But it’s still hard to predict who will file such lawsuits or how the government plans to punish those who go against the new laws.

TueWhat is clear is that for cultural activists to claim a victory over free speech in Florida, it doesn’t have to be a real successful trial. Now teachers and employers will think twice before teaching courses on racism or training on diversity and inclusion.

“The Stop WOKE Act is designed to further exclude marginalized groups from the necessary conversations in our schools, communities and workplaces, and to further restrict people who deserve a free, proud existence and having their stories shared.” , — Katherine M. Oakley. , head of the state legislature and senior adviser to the Human Rights Campaign, the statement said.

Even if no one is ever directly prosecuted for causing psychological distress to a student or staff member, the end result is still the same: some groups will be forced to silence. The culture war is still aimed at anyone and everything that does not adhere to a strict conservative ideology.


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