Disney files federal lawsuit against Florida Governor for violating free speech rights and retaliation over anti-LGBTQ policies

Disney has filed a federal lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, accusing him of violating the company’s free speech rights and retaliating against it for opposing the state’s anti-LGBTQ policies. The lawsuit comes days after Disney sued DeSantis in federal court for what it described as retaliation for opposing the state’s Parents Rights in Education law. Members of Disney World’s governing board, made up of DeSantis appointees, have also authorized a lawsuit against the entertainment giant.[0] The lawsuit would try to uphold the new board’s move to invalidate Disney’s development agreement with the Reedy Creek board, which largely transferred much of the district’s control over Disney property decisions to the company.[1] However, the complaint doesn’t dispute allegations of retaliation and instead focuses on deals Disney struck with the previous board before DeSantis took control.[2] Under the 30-year agreement, Disney has been granted developmental authority over the district. The company has approval to construct another theme park and the new board is restricted from making any changes to the vast property without obtaining approval from Disney.[3]

The feud between Disney and DeSantis began last year when the company opposed Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, which restricts discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom.[4] DeSantis has sought to strip away Disney World’s special self-governing powers since the company criticized his “Don’t Say Gay” law last year.[3] The recent bill passed by the Florida legislature allows a tourism board appointed by DeSantis to oversee Disney World and cancel any agreements made in the three months before the board’s creation, effectively ignoring the previous agreements Disney had with the Reedy Creek board.[5]

Disney’s case is strong and raises serious First Amendment questions, as it is a core First Amendment value that the government does not use its position to punish people or companies for their political views.[6] The extensive public record created by DeSantis and his allies, in which they explained that they were punishing Disney for speaking out last year, is Disney’s greatest litigation asset.[7] The lawsuit alleges that DeSantis launched a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against Disney after Disney officials spoke out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education legislation.

Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis is a significant development in the ongoing feud between the company and the governor. It remains to be seen whether Disney will be able to win against DeSantis, but the case raises important questions about free speech and government retaliation.[8]

0. “Florida lawmakers back scrapping controversial Disney agreements” FOX 35 Orlando, 4 May. 2023, https://www.fox35orlando.com/news/florida-lawmakers-back-scrapping-controversial-disney-agreements

1. “DeSantis’ board files counter lawsuit against Disney” WESH 2 Orlando, 2 May. 2023, https://www.wesh.com/article/desantis-board-disney-lawsuit/43753413

2. ““We Have No Choice”: Disney and Florida Are Now Locked in a High-Stakes Legal Fight” Hollywood Reporter, 2 May. 2023, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/disney-florida-lawsuits-legal-fight-1235478238/

3. “Florida legislature approves bill allowing DeSantis-appointed board to cancel Disney agreements” The Hill, 5 May. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/3990125-florida-legislature-approves-bill-allowing-desantis-appointed-board-to-cancel-disney-agreements/

4. “Ron DeSantis Is Losing Popularity Contest With Disney” Newsweek, 4 May. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/ron-desantis-losing-popularity-contest-disney-1798329

5. “DeSantis Signs Bill to Officially Void Disney’s Self-Government” Disney Dining, 5 May. 2023, https://www.disneydining.com/desantis-signs-bill-to-officially-void-disneys-reedy-creek-deal-bb1

6. “Disney v. DeSantis | WORLD” WORLD News Group, 4 May. 2023, https://wng.org/opinions/disney-v-desantis-1683158966

7. “Disney Should Thank DeSantis for His Big Dumb Mouth” New York Magazine, 3 May. 2023, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2023/05/disney-should-thank-ron-desantis-for-his-big-dumb-mouth.html

8. “Disney v. Ron DeSantis: The Florida Lawsuit Explained” IndieWire, 2 May. 2023, https://www.indiewire.com/news/analysis/disney-ron-desantis-florida-lawsuit-explained-1234833597

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