On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) proposed new legislation that would allow parents to sue school districts if critical race theory or other lessons involving racial equity are taught in Florida classrooms.
In doing so, DeSantis absurdly suggested that his proposal would have been supported by the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
DeSantis’s bill is called the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act. In a press release announcing the legislation, DeSantis said that it would be “the strongest legislation of its kind in the nation and will take on both corporate wokeness and Critical Race Theory.”
In a press briefing on the bill, DeSantis parroted the erroneous claim that educators who teach about the history of racism in the U.S. are trying to indoctrinate children with hate, and implied that such lessons teach white children to hate themselves.
“We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” DeSantis said.
The Florida governor promoted his legislation by utilizing the words of Martin Luther King Jr.
“You think about what MLK stood for. He said he didn’t want people judged on the color of their skin but on the content of their character,” DeSantis said. “You listen to some of these people nowadays, they don’t talk about that.”
As The Washington Post has noted, King’s children have rejected similar claims made by other conservative lawmakers, who have wrongly asserted that King would be in favor of banning lessons on racism and racial justice in K-12 classrooms.
The legislation would essentially codify a policy enacted by the state’s education department earlier this year, which has made it more difficult for educators to teach students an accurate depiction of U.S. history.
If passed, the bill wouldn’t stop at school districts. The legislation would also allow state residents to sue private companies that require workers to engage in racial sensitivity training.
Much like Texas’s recent abortion ban, the legislation proposed by DeSantis places the onus of enforcement on private individuals, rather than the state – a strategy intended to make it difficult for state and federal courts to deem the law unconstitutional or statutorily unsound.
State lawmakers and commentators have lambasted the proposed bill.
“Let’s be clear, Gov. DeSantis and his administration know full well that CRT is not taught in K-12 schools or workplaces,” said Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, the ranking Democratic member of the state Senate Education Committee. “It’s unfortunate that instead of running on forward-looking ideas to improve people’s daily lives, Republicans would rather manufacture a crisis out of a non-issue, all in the hopes of fanning the flames of a culture war for political gain.”
“FFS. Stop creating fake problems @GovRonDeSantis to divide us,” tweeted state Rep. Anna V. Eskami (D), “& start focusing on crises in front of us: exodus of educators, unaffordable housing, awful health disparities, FPL undermining democracy & trying to end net metering, corporations not paying their taxes to name a few.”
Daily Beast columnist Wajahat Ali also condemned the bill, pointing out that DeSantis was using the legislation as a strategy to attract political support from racists in his state.
“It’s a racist dog whistle but with a facially neutral cover,” Ali pointed out. “It’ll work in the long run because Democrats refuse to engage in the culture war.”