Disney Sues Florida Governor Over Free Speech, Alleges Retaliation for Stance on State Law

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Disney is seeking to narrow the range of its federal lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis to a single free speech claim, alleging that the Florida governor retaliated against the company for its public stance against a state law prohibiting lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early education grades.

The entertainment powerhouse presented a request to a federal judge on Friday for permission to edit their complaint, focusing solely on the First Amendment claim. The revision would exclude queries concerning the legality of agreements they made with Disney World’s governing district, which at that time was largely supported by Disney. The disputed agreements were signed prior to DeSantis and the GOP-dominated Florida legislature taking charge of the governing body in spring.

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These agreements shifted the control of design and construction at the theme park from DeSantis’ newly appointed board members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) to Disney. Currently, these appointees are contesting the legality of these agreements in state court, in which DeSantis is not involved.

Disney’s federal court motion states that the company “faces concrete, imminent, and ongoing injury as a result of CFTOD’s new powers and composition.” They claim these are being utilized to penalize Disney for expressing a political viewpoint.

In its redrafted complaint, Disney aims to contest “this unconstitutional weaponization of government by seeking a declaratory judgment.” This, according to Disney, would allow the company to envision its future in Florida, without the continuous retaliatory actions from the CFTOD Board.

However, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor turned down Disney’s bid to streamline its lawsuit on Friday due to a procedural rule. This stipulates that Disney’s legal team must consult with DeSantis’ attorneys prior to filing such a plea. Disney, as per the judge’s instructions, can resubmit its plea after following the court’s procedural rule.

The dispute between DeSantis and Disney arose last year, after the company, met with significant internal and external pressure, publicly opposed a state law restricting the inclusion of lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early education, a policy detractors label as “Don’t Say Gay.”

In retaliation, DeSantis, backed by Florida lawmakers, overtook the district and named a fresh board of supervisors to oversee municipal services for the extensive theme parks and hotels. However, the new board’s authority was curbed by the company’s past agreements.

In response to Disney’s prior dealings, DeSantis and the Florida lawmakers enacted legislation to repeal these agreements.