The Walt Disney Co. wasted no time in appealing a federal trial judge’s dismissal of its free-speech lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis over his destruction of its special taxing powers over the company’s Central Florida properties.
Disney filed a notice of appeal on Thursday, one day after U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor ruled against the company’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the governor’s replacement of the old Reedy Creek Improvement District with another governing entity that DeSantis personally controls.
“I’m shocked that they’re saying they’re going to appeal it. I think that’s a mistake. I think that they should just kind of move on,” DeSantis responded during a news conference in Jacksonville.
Disney issued a statement after the ruling came down complaining that the outcome would “give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with. We are determined to press forward with our case.”
DeSantis retorted: “This is not a matter of high principle for them; this is a matter of them trying to claw back special privileges that they were never entitled to in the first place.”
The case arose from DeSantis’ 2022 Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as “Don’t Say Gay” because it restricted discussion of sexual preference and gender identity in public schools and required school personnel to keep parents abreast of children’s “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.”
Disney criticized the law, saying it was “standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
The state had created Reedy Creek in 1967 to facilitate Disney’s construction of its theme parks outside Orlando. The district allowed Disney to tax property owners (chiefly itself) and control services including public safety, roads, and utilities.
The arrangement drew criticism over the years, but that didn’t get serious until the company criticized the Parental Rights law; that’s when DeSantis pressed the Legislature to take away the company’s power.
Legislation DeSantis signed in February 2023 created the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which retains Reedy Creek’s taxing authority and bond liabilities but under political rather than corporate oversight.
DeSantis and his supporters argue the law protects kids from premature sexualization; as originally written it applied to students in the first through third grades but that’s been expanded since through legislation and Florida Department of Education rules.
DeSantis repeated that critique Thursday, saying, “We stood up for the innocence and wellbeing of the children of the state of Florida, and that’s the right thing to do.”
“You go to school, you’re not having an agenda thrust down your throat, you’re not being told that you can switch genders, you’re focusing on the basics. That was ultimately the initial fight was about that,” he added.
But Disney’s complaint in the lawsuit claimed that “DeSantis has reaffirmed, again and again, that the state campaign to punish Disney for its speech about House Bill 1557 [the Parental Rights law] has been a coordinated and deliberate one from the start. Disney’s commentary on House Bill 1557 was, he claimed, a ‘declaration of war’ and ‘a textbook example of when a corporation should stay out of politics.’”
A report released in August 2022, following the law’s passage that May, found a 406% increase in anti-LGBTQ slurs on the platform then called Twitter during that period.
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix