Stories Chosen For You
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Stop WOKE Act suffered a two-punch blow Thursday as a federal judge blocked parts of the controversial law and a coalition of civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit against what they are calling "racially motivated censorship."
"Under our constitutional scheme, the remedy for repugnant speech is more speech, not enforced silence."
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a preliminary injunction against portions of the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act, also called the Individual Freedom Act, saying it violates First Amendment free speech protections and the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause.
The Stop WOKE Act—sometimes also referred to as the Individual Freedom Act and the "white discomfort law"—prohibits classroom discussions or corporate training that make students or workers feel uneasy about their race. The legislation is widely viewed by progressives as part of the GOP-led war on critical race theory, a graduate-level academic framework for understanding systemic racism in the United States.
"Florida's legislators may well find plaintiffs' speech repugnant. But under our constitutional scheme, the remedy for repugnant speech is more speech, not enforced silence," wrote Walker.
"If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case," the judge added. "But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents."
Walker's ruling forayed into pop culture Zeitgeist:
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."
Rights groups hailed the decision, with Protect Democracy tweeting that "the Stop WOKE Act is a speech code that takes a page from the authoritarian playbook" and "seeks to censor ideas that challenge government officials' preferred narrative, muzzle independent institutions, and direct outrage toward disfavored groups."
Also on Thursday, the ACLU, ACLU of Florida, Legal Defense Fund, and the law firm Ballard Spahr filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of Florida professors, alleging the Stop WOKE Act violates the First and 14th amendments.
The suit calls the law "racially motivated censorship that the Florida Legislature enacted, in significant part, to stifle widespread demands to discuss, study, and address systemic inequalities, following the nationwide protests that provoked discussions about race and racism in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd."
"Not only does the law prohibit instructors from teaching the Legislature's disfavored viewpoints in the manner dictated by their disciplines, but its vague terms generate uncertainty about when and how the law will apply, thus creating an even greater chilling effect on academic expression," the complaint states.
"The Stop WOKE Act is a speech code that takes a page from the authoritarian playbook."
The ACLU tweeted that "the First Amendment protects the right to learn for educators and students. The Stop WOKE Act deprives classrooms of important learning tools and conversations to challenge racism and sexism and discriminates against Black educators and students."
"We have a right to teach and learn free from state censorship and discrimination," the group added.
Thursday's ruling and lawsuit come two weeks after DeSantis suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren after he vowed not to prosecute people who violate Florida's 15-week abortion ban or restrictions on gender-affirming healthcare.
In announcing the suspension—which Warren challenged in federal court on Wednesday as a violation of his First Amendment rights—DeSantis referred to the state attorney as "woke."
In a Wednesday appearance on CNN, Warren explained that "we're fighting back to make sure that even though Ron DeSantis is governor, the First Amendment still has meaning. The Florida Constitution has meaning and elections still have meaning."
DeSantis has been called a hypocrite for touting Florida as a haven for freedom while signing laws that restrict reproductive, educational, and other liberties, including the right to protest.
Trump Org could be ‘extinguished’ and he could lose liability protections for his properties: tax expert
Donald Trump may lose his Trump Organization empire following the disposition of a legal case in Manhattan.
Longtime Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty on Thursday to 15 charges stemming from a tax avoidance scheme at the former president's company.
Weisselberg attorney Nicholas Gravante Jr. told The New York Times, "rather than risk the possibility of 15 years in prison, he has agreed to serve 100 days."
CNN's Erin Burnett interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston about Weisselberg agreeing to testify in the Trump Organization trial. Johnston, who has taught taxes at Syracuse Law, is one of the few journalists who has obtained parts of Trump's tax returns.
"What happens to the Trump Organization, to the real estate company here, when this is all said and done?" Burnett asked.
"Well, it's possible in this case or the Letitia James civil case, that the Trump Organization at the top will be extinguished," Johnston replied.
"Donald can still own his properties, but own them directly and the liability shield from having a corporation goes away," he explained. "So something horrible happens, his liability personally goes way up. This is bad news for him."
"Now that Weisselberg has confessed that he's a thief, a felon, a serial felon, there may be difficulty with banks and trying to get any new financing," Johnston noted.
David Cay Johnston www.youtube.com
A new law requiring Texas schools to display donated “In God We Trust” posters is the latest move by Republican lawmakers to bring Christianity into taxpayer-funded institutions.
Under the law, Senate Bill 797, which passed during last year’s legislative session, schools are required to display the posters if they are donated.
The law went into effect last year, but these posters weren’t popping up then as many school officials and parents were more concerned about new COVID-19 strains and whether their local public school would even open for in-person classes.
The “In God We Trust” law was authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, the East Texas Republican who crafted Texas’ Senate Bill 8, which restricted abortion to the first six weeks or so of pregnancy starting Sept. 1, 2021. The abortion law artfully skirted legal challenge by relying on the public instead of law enforcement to enforce it.
Hughes’ “In God We Trust” poster law is also precisely written. Texas public schools or colleges must display the national motto in a “conspicuous place” but only if the poster is “donated” or “purchased by private donations.”
After an appearance for a Northwest Austin Republican Women’s Club event on Tuesday, Hughes touted the new law and praised the groups stepping up to donate the posters.
“The national motto, In God We Trust, asserts our collective trust in a sovereign God,” Hughes wrote on Twitter. “I’m encouraged to see groups like the Northwest [Austin] Republican Women and many individuals coming forward to donate these framed prints to remind future generations of the national motto.”
Patriot Mobile, a Texas-based cellphone company that donates a portion of its customers’ phone bills to conservative, “Christian” causes, on Monday donated several “In God We Trust” signs to all Carroll Independent School District campuses, claiming it is their “mission is to passionately defend our God-given, Constitutional rights and freedoms, and to glorify God always.”
“Patriot Mobile has donated framed posters to many other school districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and we will continue to do so until all the schools in the area receive them,” the company said in a Facebook post. “We are honored to be part of bringing God back into our public schools!”
Carroll ISD includes Southlake, the mostly white, affluent Dallas-Fort Worth suburb. The community’s struggles with a school diversity and inclusion plan — as well as how parents opposed to the plan started a political movement there — were the subject of a seven-part NBC podcast released last year.
The Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition, or SARC, said in a statement that is not happy that the law mandates public schools put up these posters.
“SARC is disturbed by the precedent displaying these posters in every school will set and the chilling effect this blatant intrusion of religion in what should be a secular public institution will have on the student body, especially those who do not practice the dominant Christian faith,” the statement read.
Donations of the “In God We Trust” posters have also been made to the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, in the Houston area. The posters were a donation from The Yellow Rose of Texas Republican Women.
Moms for Liberty, a conservative nonprofit organization, donated posters for Round Rock Independent School District campuses, said Jenny Caputo, a spokesperson for the district. Most campuses have the signs up in a hallway near the front of each campus.
The Keller Independent School District in Tarrant County has received posters from a private citizen for all its facilities, and they are displayed mainly in front offices, said Bryce Nieman, a spokesperson for Keller ISD.
Erik Leist, a Keller resident and a father of a soon-to-be kindergartner, said the motto represents America’s founding and believes the law allows communities to do what they think is best.
“If it’s important to communities, the community will come behind it,” Leist said. “If it’s not something that the community values, it’s not gonna end up in the school.”
Leist also said he sees it as just the nation’s motto, not pushing any one religion.
The Yellow Rose of Texas Republican Women and the Northwest Austin Republican Women’s Club did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Texas Tribune reached out to Hughes as well as Aaron Rocha, Leigh Wambsganss and Scott Coburn with Patriot Mobile to discuss the poster law. None responded immediately to the Tribune’s request for comment.
“In God We Trust” origins
In 1956, Congress passed a joint resolution that made “In God We Trust” the nation’s motto, replacing “e pluribus unum (one from many).” Lawmakers did this partially to differentiate itself during the Cold War from the Soviet Union, which embraced atheism.
The “In God We Trust” national motto can be found on money and government buildings and has proven to be bulletproof when it comes to legal challenges that assert the reference to God could be seen as government-endorsed prayer, impinging on Americans’ First Amendment rights.
In a 1970 case, Aronow v. United States, a federal appeals court ruled “It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion.”
From motto to movement
In this century, there’s been a growing movement to place the motto in more visible government spaces.
Since 2015, efforts to place “In God We Trust” on police cars, for example, have spread. There’s even a website, ingodwetrust.com, that specifically states the movement is about protecting citizens’ “First Amendment right to religious liberty, a freedom that is being threatened through a well-organized and well-funded effort to remove all vestige of God from the public domain in America.”
For Patriot Mobile, this is the company’s latest effort in its plan to “put Christian conservative values into action” and it has been targeting Texas’ public schools through its political action committee, Patriot Mobile Action.
During the past spring and leading into the May school board elections, the Patriot Mobile Action PAC raised more than $500,000 for conservative school board candidates across North Texas, including Carroll ISD.