ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wins a federal lawsuit in which Disney claims its free speech rights were violated by the Republican leader, the company won't be the last entity to be punished over supporting a “disfavored viewpoint,” Disney said in court papers on Monday.
The First Amendment protects the right of free speech even if it goes against government powers, Disney said in court documents asking a judge to reject DeSantis’ motion to dismiss the entertainment giant’s First Amendment lawsuit in Tallahassee.
The Disney lawsuit says DeSantis unconstitutionally revamped and took over Walt Disney World's governing district in retaliation after Disney publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. The law was championed by DeSantis, who currently is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
Before the takeover by DeSantis appointees earlier this year, the district had been controlled by Disney supporters during its five-decades existence running municipal services for Disney World's 25,000 acres (10,117 hectares), performing such functions as road repairs and waste collection.
“If the line is not drawn here, there is no line at all,” Disney said Monday. “The retaliation against Disney for crossing the Governor’s ‘line’ was swift and severe: for the explicitly-stated purpose of punishing Disney for its comments, the State immediately stripped Disney of its voting rights in the governing body that oversees Disney’s use of its own private property.”
DeSantis and other defendants, including a state agency and the DeSantis appointees on the board of the revamped district — now called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — say the First Amendment lawsuit is meritless and that they are immune from liability.
Disney is also battling the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in state court in Orlando.
Before control of the district changed hands from Disney allies to DeSantis appointees, the Disney supporters on its board signed agreements with Disney shifting control over design and construction at Disney World to the company and prohibiting the district from using the likeness of Disney characters or other intellectual property without Disney’s permission. The new DeSantis appointees claimed the “eleventh-hour deals” neutered their powers, and the district sued the company in state court to have the contracts voided.
Disney has filed counterclaims which include asking the state court to declare the agreements valid and enforceable.
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