LAKE MARY, Fla. - "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.’"
That’s what a judge wrote Thursday when he struck down the "Stop Wrongs To Our Kids and Employees Act," or "Stop WOKE Act," a law championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. That law, also known as the "Individual Freedom Act," would keep teachers at public universities from expressing support for eight different ideas having to do with race, gender, and discrimination.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, challenged the law in court. Greg Greubel, an attorney with FIRE, says Gov. DeSantis’ law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
With the Stop WOKE Act, Greubel explained, "You’re allowed to criticize these eight different concepts, but you aren’t allowed to advance or promote the eight concepts." He continued, "In the context of higher education, we here at FIRE believe that was obviously the viewpoint – discriminatory and unconstitutional – because it was forcing professors to choose a side."
FIRE’s case had five of the eight concepts thrown out as unconstitutional. An ACLU case resulted in the other three being thrown out, ultimately invalidating the entire law.
"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," Judge Mark Walker wrote in his injunction order.
The judge explained that schools can place limits on the curriculum, but cannot limit the opinions teachers express about the curriculum.
A cultural historian at the University of South Florida, Adriana Novoa, is one of the plaintiffs. She teaches about the history of sports. Greubel says under the Stop WOKE Act, Novoa would have been allowed to teach about the history of racism in baseball, but wouldn’t be allowed to say it’s still relevant today or that it's shaping the current landscape.
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"She’s not trying to force a belief upon anyone," said Greubel. "She’s just trying to engage in good, honest debate in the college classroom, which is exactly where we should be having these kind of debates."
Greubel says FIRE’s lawsuit was not about politics.
"This is about a good, honest belief in the First Amendment and the benefit of free debate in society," he explained. "That will eventually help everyone in society to be able to debate things without fear of repercussion. That’s why we filed the lawsuit – because we care about people having the right to engage in debate about difficult subjects, and we think there’s no place better for that than the college classroom."
The Stop WOKE or Individual Freedom Act aimed to prohibit instruction in support of the following concepts:
- Members of one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex.
- A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
- A person’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex.
- Members of one race, color, national origin, or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, national origin, or sex.
- A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.
- A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.
- A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.
- Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, national origin, or sex to oppress members of another race, color, national origin, or sex.
FIRE is expecting the State of Florida to appeal the judge’s decision. FOX 35 News reached out to the Florida Department of Education for comment but has not yet heard back.