IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Judge cites 'Stranger Things' while blocking parts of 'Stop WOKE Act'

A federal judge said Florida is becoming a "First Amendment upside down," alluding to the perverse alternate reality of the hit Netflix show.


On Thursday, a federal judge halted portions of Florida’s Republican-backed law designed to coddle white students and professionals faced with lesson plans about social inequality. 

GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed for the so-called "Stop WOKE Act" as part of the Republican Party’s contrived backlash to anti-racist teaching (which explains why Florida Republicans appropriated Black slang to nickname it). The law significantly curbed schools’ and employers’ ability to require lessons and trainings discussing racism, sexism and gender identity.

But the judge blocked the employer requirements.

Two Florida-based companies named Honeyfund and Primo, along with a diversity training consulting firm and an individual person, argued the bill’s employer provisions violated the Constitution and harmed their businesses.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, flexing his pop culture muscles, referenced the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” while suggesting the bill’s restrictions on employer trainings would only be plausible in an alternate (and deeply perverse) parallel universe. 

Here’s an excerpt from the ruling

In the popular television series Stranger Things, the “upside down” describes a parallel dimension containing a distorted version of our world. Recently, Florida has seemed like a First Amendment upside down. Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely. But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.

“Now, like the heroine in Stranger Things, this Court is once again asked to pull Florida back from the upside down,” Walker wrote.

It was a colorful denunciation of the bill’s mandates. Basically, Walker argued that Florida has measures in place that prevent private companies from curbing free speech. But the new law itself curbs business leaders’ speech through its diversity training restrictions.

The plaintiffs would be forced to “alter their trainings in ways that either change the language used, message conveyed, or transition from mandatory to voluntary trainings” just to meet those oppressive restrictions, Walker said.

Those restrictions are outlined in the eight concepts the bill bans, including lessons and trainings that make people feel “guilt” because of actions and lessons that argue some people are “morally superior” because of their race, sex or national origin. Walker argued the provisions are too vague and constitute a “naked viewpoint-based regulation on speech that does not pass strict scrutiny.”

The judge noted that an employer who touts civil protest techniques used by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi could be accused of deeming Black and Asian people morally superior.

To highlight this, the judge noted that an employer who touts civil protest techniques used by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi could be accused of deeming Black and Asian people morally superior. He said a similar accusation could be lobbed at trainings that noted the fact women are the most common victims of workplace sexual harassment, and only provided examples of men sexually harassing women.

The ruling leaves in place the act’s provisions restricting classroom discussions on social inequality — but those came under fire Thursday. A coalition of civil rights organizations filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of educators arguing the bill amounts to racially motivated censorship.

The "Stop WOKE Act" is a crown jewel of the DeSantis administration — a perfect encapsulation of the conservative movement’s bigotry and self-proclaimed victimhood. Now it’s starting to receive the legal scrutiny it deserves.