Challenging Censorship of Speech on Race and Gender


Protect Democracy represents Florida honeymoon registry company and Primo Tampa, a subsidiary of the largest Ben & Jerry’s franchisee in the country, along with corporate diversity consultancy Collective Concepts and its co-founder Chevara Orrin, in litigation challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s HB 7, the Stop WOKE Act. The bill purports to “fight back against woke indoctrination” by, among other things, barring employers from engaging in speech that “advances” certain “concepts” regarding race, sex, religion, or national origin. Defendants in the case are Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and other Florida officials. Protect Democracy filed the lawsuit in partnership with Ropes & Gray, LLP.

Speech codes like this one, which seek to censor ideas contrary to government officials’ preferred narrative, muzzle independent institutions, and direct outrage toward disfavored groups, take a page from the authoritarian playbook. Prohibiting viewpoints disfavored by government officials violates well-established free speech rights and threatens to chill a wide range of speech in the workplace related to race, gender, and sexual orientation. 

On August 18, 2022, the Honorable Judge Mark E. Walker, Chief U.S. District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, issued a preliminary injunction suspending enforcement of the law because it likely violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The state has said it will appeal this decision. Plaintiffs ultimately seek a declaration that the law is unconstitutional and a permanent injunction barring its enforcement.

The Stop WOKE Act has been criticized by legal experts across the political spectrum, who have said the law flouts well-established Supreme Court precedent and, if upheld by the courts, sets a dangerous precedent for further erosion of freedom of speech.

Marcos Daniel Jiménez, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida during the George W. Bush administration, said:

“Targeting the speech of private employers based on the beliefs and preferences of current lawmakers is not something I’d expect to see here in the United States. As a Cuban refugee whose family fled a repressive regime, I can tell you that this law erodes fundamental American liberty and our system of free enterprise. Sadly, it moves us one step closer to authoritarian government.” 

Shalini Agarwal, counsel at Protect Democracy, said:

“Our First Amendment right to speak and receive facts is what makes our system of self-government work. In a diverse democracy like ours, it’s particularly damaging for the government to chill conversations about how to create workplaces and businesses that are welcoming to all.”

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