Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Files Lawsuit Against Governor DeSantis for Violating First Amendment Rights

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Florida’s largest employer, has filed a lawsuit alleging that Governor Ron DeSantis is violating its First Amendment right to freedom of speech.[0] The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court, claims that DeSantis orchestrated a targeted campaign of government retaliation against Disney as punishment for publicly opposing Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.[1] The bill banned the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation topics in elementary schools in the state.[2] Disney initially filed its lawsuit against the Florida governor last month after the board that DeSantis appointed to oversee Disney voted to void development contracts that Disney made.[3] After months of sparring with Disney, DeSantis was hit with a lawsuit alleging that his actions are detrimental to the company’s business operations.[2]

DeSantis’s battle with Disney began after the Florida Republicans passed a bill to limit discussion of sexual orientation and gender in schools. The ongoing battle between DeSantis and Disney emerged after the company publicly opposed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which banned the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation topics in elementary schools in the state. Taking action, DeSantis removed Disney’s special status that had been granted since the 1960s, which allowed the company to have autonomous control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District.[4] DeSantis later signed legislation that replaced the Reedy Creek Improvement District with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, an DeSantis-appointed board created to oversee Disney.[5] Prior to the formation of the new board, Disney had already entered into an agreement granting them developmental control over their district. However, this agreement was subsequently invalidated by the new board, resulting in legal action.[2]

Disney has expanded its federal lawsuit against DeSantis after the Republican-controlled state legislature voided its 30-year agreement on developing its theme park land around Orlando.[6] On Friday, a bill was signed with the aim of reversing the agreements made by the previous board.[7] Development agreements executed within three months prior to the implementation of new laws that change how district board members are selected cannot be complied with by special districts.[8] New boards would be granted a four-month period to review all development agreements and determine whether they require re-adoption, according to the proposed legislation.[7] The board overseeing tourism in Central Florida has filed a lawsuit at the state level with the aim of reversing the agreements related to development.[9]

Disney has claimed it was “left with no choice but to bring this Complaint asking the Court to stop the State of Florida from weaponizing the power of government to punish private business.”[10] The company added that it was “fortunate to have the resources to take a stand against the State’s retaliation.” Former Representative Justin Amash, who was also a member of the Freedom Caucus, said on Twitter that “the facts and law in this case are not good for Governor DeSantis.”[0] “He and his allies took action not to make all companies live by the same rules but instead to target Disney with harsh conditions that apply to Disney alone—all as punishment for constitutionally protected speech,” Amash added.[0]

0. “Ron DeSantis’s Vision of Freedom Is Unconstitutional” The Atlantic, 30 Apr. 2023, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/04/desantis-disney-lawsuit-free-speech-florida/673903/

1. “Mark Lane: Disney vs. DeSantis, Round 2 now in the courts” Daytona Beach News-Journal, 6 May. 2023, https://www.news-journalonline.com/story/opinion/columns/2023/05/06/mark-lane-disney-vs-desantis-round-2-now-in-the-courts/70186814007

2. “Disney adds new Florida regulations to suit against DeSantis” The Hill, 9 May. 2023, https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/3995602-disney-adds-new-florida-regulations-to-suit-against-desantis/

3. “Ron DeSantis-aligned oversight board votes to countersue Disney” BBC, 1 May. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-65418707

4. “Disney amends federal lawsuit to include recent legislative actions” News 13 Orlando, 8 May. 2023, https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2023/05/08/disney-amends-federal-lawsuit-to-include-recent-legislative-actions

5. “DeSantis signs bill voiding Disney development deal” Florida Phoenix, 5 May. 2023, https://floridaphoenix.com/2023/05/05/desantis-signs-bill-voiding-disney-development-deal/

6. “Disney tries to derail DeSantis’ war with expanded lawsuit” Daily Mail, 8 May. 2023, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12060753/Disney-tries-derail-DeSantis-war-expanded-lawsuit.html

7. “Disney updates federal lawsuit against Governor DeSantis following his decision to cancel agreements” Yahoo Life, 8 May. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/disney-updates-federal-lawsuit-against-201600454.html

8. “Bill to Cancel Disney’s Development Agreements Passes FL Senate” The DIS, 5 May. 2023, https://www.wdwinfo.com/news-stories/bill-to-cancel-disneys-development-agreements-passes-fl-senate

9. “Disney revises DeSantis lawsuit – Tampa Bay Business Journal” Tampa Bay Business Journal , 9 May. 2023, https://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/news/2023/05/09/disney-revises-desantis-lawsuit.html

10. “Disney: DeSantis and his allies kept retaliating against company during 2023 Session” Florida Politics, 8 May. 2023, https://floridapolitics.com/archives/610714-disney-desantis-and-his-allies-kept-retaliating-against-company-during-2023-session/

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