Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday signed into law what he called the ‘Stop WOKE Act,’ which restricts how race is discussed in schools, colleges and workplaces, and sparked a national debate over censorship , critical race theory and diversity training.

The legislature approved the measure in March with mostly partisan votes. The bill (HB 7) prohibits any teaching that might make students feel personally responsible for historical wrongs because of their race, color, gender, or national origin.

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It also prevents companies from using diversity practices or training that could blaming employees for similar reasons.

“We believe an important element of freedom in the state of Florida is the freedom not to have oppressive ideologies imposed on you without your consent,” DeSantis said. “Whether in the classroom or in the workplace. And we decided to do something about it.

Speaking at a charter school in Hialeah Gardens, DeSantis spoke out against “pernicious ideologies” like critical race theory, which examines the role discrimination has played in shaping American history and modern society.

He also bluffed the media, the “elites”, the “leftists”, Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, and finally, Walt Disney Co.

DeSantis bolstered the attack on Disney

DeSantis bolstered the attack on Disney by also signing into law two measures approved by state lawmakers on Thursday aimed at punishing the company after it criticized a controversial new Florida law banning the teaching of orientation in the classroom. sexuality and gender identity for young school children.

“I think it’s interesting that you get involved in Florida, protecting kindergarten kids from going to school without having transgender ideology in their curriculum, but you don’t say anything about the Chinese Communist Party with all the atrocities they commit there, and you make a fortune out of them,” DeSantis said in an executive speech at Disney.

Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott, have said corporate America, especially Disney, is being hypocritical for criticizing DeSantis for opposing “wake-up” policies but continuing to do business with companies. countries like China, which is accused of committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims.

The Disney bills threaten the future of the company’s self-governing Florida authority and also subject it to social media regulations that DeSantis signed into law last year, but which were blocked by a federal judge as unconstitutional and is now under appeal.

The “Stop Woke Act” signed by the governor takes a different approach to civil rights protections, which are generally seen as protecting minorities and women. Instead, Florida’s new law, dubbed an “individual liberty act,” is seen by opponents as protecting white people 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 fear the law is vague, chills racial education in the state and opens the door to frivolous litigation aimed at businesses and school boards.

While acknowledging on Friday that critical race theory is not taught in Florida schools, DeSantis said its “principles” flow into classroom instruction, particularly in how history and science social are taught. Last year, it got the Florida Board of Education to specifically ban its use in schools.

Almost simultaneously with the governor signing the measure, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Tallahassee challenging the constitutionality of the new racial discussion limits.

Filed by a Jacksonville law firm, plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a substitute teacher from Tallahassee, a high school teacher from Manatee County, a professor at the University of Central Florida and a young girl enrolling in kindergarten at autumn.

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During the previous legislative debate, Democrats, particularly black lawmakers, said the legislation was intended to reduce the inequalities faced by minorities in this country, largely because it could put white students at odds. ‘easy.

“I’m tired of being thrown around and telling myself what to think about it,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, adding that the bill was a “classic example of a false equivalence.”

“We keep talking about not offending the feelings of the listener,” Driskell said. “What about the speaker’s feelings? And my rights, my story? Moving towards a more inclusive society is a good thing.

DeSantis, however, sees the racial discussions he bans in Florida as a threat.

“We’re not going to use your tax dollars to teach our children to hate this country or to hate themselves,” he told the crowd in Hialeah Gardens.

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During the legislative session, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, also said critics’ fears were misplaced.

“This bill makes it clear that in Florida people will be judged as individuals, by their words, character and actions, and not by their race, gender or national origin,” Avila said. “We need to focus on character building, not blame.”

During the legislative debate, Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, ridiculed racial restrictions: “Why is it bad to be awake, to be aware of things, aware of what is going on and aware of what that happened ?

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and State Senator Annette Taddeo, both candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, criticized DeSantis and Republicans.

Fried called the “Stop Woke Act” a “vile attempt to erase our nation’s history, censor businesses and schools, and whitewash history.” “It’s unconstitutional and racist,” she said in a statement. “It’s just more state-sanctioned hate and censorship coming from Governor DeSantis and Republicans in the Legislative Assembly.”

Taddeo said “DeSantis’ latest culture war attack will outright censor essential American history and impact how individuals, families and businesses are even allowed to discuss race.”

Friday’s bill signings were a punctuation mark for a week when a proposed redistricting map of Congress endorsed by DeSantis was branded racist by a black minister speaking at a rally on the steps of the old historic Capitol.

The plan likely increases the number of Republican seats in Florida’s Congress while halving the seats currently held by black Democrats.

Several members of the Black State House also staged a sit-in Thursday and attempted to stop a final vote on the plan, which resulted in a lawsuit from groups of voters Friday, the same day DeSantis signed the measure.

DeSantis fended off anonymous critics in Hialeah Gardens who he said claimed the new law would end teaching about events such as the Holocaust, slavery or the troubled post-Civil War reconstruction period.

“We’re going to teach all of this, because it’s the real story and it’s important,” DeSantis said. “But what we won’t do is let people twist history to serve their current ideological purposes.”

John Kennedy is a reporter for the Florida Capital Bureau of the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport