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Disney: DeSantis administration engaged in an ongoing 'constitutional mutiny'

The dispute between the entertainment giant and the DeSantis administration began when Disney opposed the "Parental Rights in Education Act."

Published: October 31, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) — The Walt Disney Company responded Monday to the state of Florida's motion to get its lawsuit dismissed over what the company says is a violation of its free speech rights.

The court filing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida says that Gov. Ron DeSantis "and his allies are engaged in an ongoing constitutional mutiny," adding that the state openly rejects the First Amendment rule that a state cannot use official powers to punish opposing political views.

Disney’s lawyers say that not only is that "legally unsupported" but also un-American. The document then claims that Florida is committed to prescribing which political views are acceptable while punishing citizens who "cross the line."

The dispute between the entertainment giant and the DeSantis administration began when Disney opposed the "Parental Rights in Education Act," a bill that banned teachers in kindergarten through fourth grade from teaching students about gay and transgender issues.

Opponents dubbed it the "Don’t Say Gay" bill, and Disney publicly supported the opposition. Once that happened, Florida lawmakers began to undo Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, established in 1967 to bring more tourism to the Sunshine State.

The district allowed Disney to exercise almost complete autonomy, allowing the company to self-govern. This included having power over development projects, roads, and taxes, with the district providing fire and emergency medical services and contracting with the Orange County Sheriff's Office for police protection.

The district was renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and DeSantis gained control of the district’s board and more than 25,000 acres of land.

Disney attorneys claim that "the Governor declared that the board would use its powers to antagonize Disney and undermine its interests," stating that Florida would give preferential treatment to rival theme parks such as Universal or build a prison.

According to Disney, DeSantis and lawmakers are now seeking immunity for the retaliatory actions taken against the company. Attorneys also claimed that because the Legislature moved to dissolve the district so swiftly, problems arose, including shifting the liability of $1 billion in outstanding bond obligations belonging to Disney and Reedy Creek to the state.

Disney’s attorneys maintain that the company had engaged in free speech when commenting on HB 1557 and was punished for speaking out by eliminating its voting rights. A state receivership board was implemented to frustrate Disney’s development plans to "coerce" Disney and others into complying with the state’s "political orthodoxy."

The state's response to Disney's filing is due on Nov. 9.

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