Stop WOKE lawsuits fighting DeSantis' straw persons | Bill Cotterell – Tallahassee Democrat

George Orwell is best remembered for his novel 1984, envisioning a dreary society of Big Brother mind control, but he was a bit more accurate with a pithy little epigram about presumably great minds thinking alike.
“Some ideas are so stupid,” Orwell observed, “that only intellectuals believe them.”
You must be educated within an inch of your life — or just easily intimidated — to give credence to the cultural silliness being rigidly enforced on many college campuses and seeping into the business world, including much of today’s news media. 
But the antidote to political correctness is what Orwell suggested: Laugh at it, ridicule its excesses or, when necessary, counter goofy ideas with good ones. We shouldn’t pass laws against it. We don’t need the civil authority of the state to protect us from cultural fads, on campus or in the workplace.
Unfortunately, this being an election year and Gov. Ron DeSantis being up for re-election, Florida law is being used — misused — to knock down handy straw men. (To be non-sexist, perhaps we should make that last term straw person). Anyway, the governor’s “Stop WOKE Act” has now drawn at least four lawsuits contending that its strictures violate the First Amendment — not to mention individual rights and freedom.
Stopping ‘wokeness’: DeSantis’ ‘Stop WOKE Act’ faces court test as universities become targets. At issue: free speech
Stopping ‘Stop WOKE’: Trio of lawsuits target Florida’s anti-wokeness law pushed by DeSantis
Evolving wokeness: What does it mean to be ‘woke,’ and why does Florida Governor Ron DeSantis want to stop it?
“Woke” is shorthand for what used to be called political correctness, a hypersensitivity to all matters concerning race, sex, disability and an ever-growing list of other stuff. Essentially, to be “woke” is to assume that we have a right to go through life perpetually un-offended, and that anyone who offends us may be summarily “cancelled.” 
Naturally, this prompted reaction ranging from mild amusement to stark terror among most people. The highly educated, however, didn’t get the joke and corporate America — perhaps figuring it was cheaper than fighting lawsuits — went along with it.
DeSantis tapped into public resentment as he cranked up his re-election campaign. In perhaps the most strained acronym ever, he got the Legislature to enact the “Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees” Act, which sort of spells out “WOKE.” It’s aimed at things like Critical Race Theory — which isn’t being taught in public schools, but denouncing it is always a crowd-pleaser at Republican rallies — and “diversity, equity and inclusion” training in businesses, another GOP scarecrow.
The law forbids teaching students they have “responsibility for or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin or sex.” Also, teaching must not imply that kids should “feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin or sex.”
The governor called it “freedom from indoctrination.” But one person’s education is another’s indoctrination.
More from Bill Cotterell:
An organization called FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, last week filed a federal lawsuit along with a University of South Florida student and professor. They argue that the law unconstitutionally curtails free discussion of history, law, current events, and many other ideas.
“Each of the concepts prohibited by the Stop WOKE Act addresses matters of public concern, regardless of whether some find those concepts uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive,” says their 91-page complaint.
The same goes for businesses. If a company thinks it needs to require diversity training, it’s none of the government’s business.
And if some instructors take virtue-signaling too far, when they go from teaching to preaching, they should be argued with. We don’t need a law to protect us from hurt feelings about history.
Fortunately, a lot of the culture wars — the WOKE act, the “Don’t Say Gay” law, maybe even the 15-week abortion edict — will go away after Nov. 8. Either we’ll get another governor (not likely), judges will throw laws out, or the statutes will have served the governor’s re-election purpose.
Bill Cotterell is a retired Tallahassee Democrat capitol reporter who writes a twice-weekly column. He can be reached at
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