A federal judge in Florida on Nov. 17 has temporarily blocked parts of the state’s “Stop WOKE Act,” also known as the state’s Individual Freedom Act, which is being championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The temporary injunction will stay in place as the court reviews the case.
DeSantis, a Republican, signed the measure, called the “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids Act” in April in an effort to provide businesses, employees, children, and families with the tools they need to “stand up against discrimination and woke indoctrination.” A large part of the legislation was designed to “take on both corporate wokeness and Critical Race Theory.”
However, in a 138-page order (pdf) on Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida issued a temporary injunction against parts of the legislation which limit how college and university professors can teach courses in relation to race.
The judge, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, began his lengthy order with a quote from George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”.
“‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,’ and the powers in charge of Florida’s public university system have declared the State has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom’,” he wrote.
Walker went on to state that the law “officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints.”
“Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves. This is positively dystopian,” he continued. “It should go without saying that ‘if liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Specifically, the Stop WOKE Act prohibits the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools and expands Florida’s anti-discrimination laws by requiring corporations to keep it out of the workplace. It states that subjecting an employee or student to an activity that “promotes, advances, or compels individuals to believe discriminatory concepts” is deemed unlawful discrimination.
As per the legislation, such concepts of discrimination include that an individual, by virtue of their race, sex, color, or national origin, should not be made to feel guilty for previous actions committed by others and their moral character or status as privileged or oppressed should also not be determined by the above.
The legislation also deems it unlawful discrimination if a person, by virtue of their race, color, national origin, or sex “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity or inclusion.”
The measure went into effect on July 1 following increased concerns among Republicans that CRT could be used to divide American society and portray white people as inherently racist.
However, it quickly faced a string of lawsuits, including from professors and students who argued that the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments by limiting them from being able to express “disfavored viewpoints.”
The state argued that because professors are public employees, they do not have First Amendment protection in this case.
Walker wrote in Thursday’s ruling: “One thing is crystal clear—both robust intellectual inquiry and democracy require light to thrive.
“Our professors are critical to a healthy democracy, and the State of Florida’s decision to choose which viewpoints are worthy of illumination and which must remain in the shadows has implications for us all.
“If our ‘priests of democracy’ are not allowed to shed light on challenging ideas, then democracy will die in darkness. But the First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark.”
DeSantis won in a landslide victory again his Democrat challenger on Nov. 8 to secure a second term as governor of Florida.
Bryan Griffin, a spokesperson for DeSantis, told CBS News in a statement that they would appeal the ruling.
“The Stop W.O.K.E. Act protects the open exchange of ideas by prohibiting teachers or employers who hold agency over others from forcing discriminatory concepts on students as part of classroom instruction or on employees as a condition of maintaining employment,” said Griffin.