Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper has ruled Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order related to a mask mandate ban is unlawful and cannot be enforced, saying it does not “pass constitutional muster.”
Cooper sided with the parents challenging the legality of DeSantis’ order, and cited two previous Florida Supreme Court cases which indicated rights can be limited in the event others’ rights could be impacted. He specifically noted the prohibition of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.
“We don’t have that right because exercising the right in that way is harmful or potentially harmful to other people,” Cooper said. He continued by saying the law “is full of examples of rights that are limited (when) the good of others … would be adversely affected by those rights.”
DeSantis and the Florida Legislature, which passed the Parental Bill of Rights legislation, have regularly mentioned the parents’ rights to determine masking for their children in Florida’s public schools as the legal backing for the order.
“Currently, parental rights are spread throughout the Florida statute, which is literally tens of thousands of pages,” said Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27) about the legislation during the Spring’s legislative session. “If you’re not an expert and know how to navigate that it can be difficult to find exactly all of the rights that are enumerated to parents. We fixed that now. We have one section where they’re easily found.”
However, Cooper also said school districts imposing a policy which affects a parents’ rights over their child required to bear the burden of “reasonableness.”
“Schools can adopt policy dealing with health and education,” Cooper said. “And to the extent they may affect a parent’s right to control their children’s education or health, then it’s incumbent on the school board, if challenged in that policy, to demonstrate its reasonableness.”
DeSantis’ fight over masks in schools has been a weeks-long fight where numerous school boards opted to defy the ban and impose mask mandates regardless. DeSantis and the State Board of Education threatened to withhold funding from the rogue districts, but President Joe Biden and the federal government stepped in and offered to cover the difference if they lost funds.
In response to the ruling, a spokesperson for DeSantis released a statement indicating their frustrations:
“It’s not surprising that Judge Cooper would rule against parent’s rights and their ability to make the best educational and medical decisions for their family, but instead rule in favor of elected politicians. This ruling was made with incoherent justifications, not based in science and facts – frankly not even remotely focused on the merits of the case presented. We are used to the Leon County Circuit Court not following the law and getting reversed on appeal, which is exactly what happened last year in the school reopening case. We will continue to defend the law and parent’s rights in Florida, and will immediately appeal the ruling to the First District Court of Appeals, where we are confident we will prevail on the merits of the case.”
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