A federal judge temporarily blocked a Florida law aimed at restricting state colleges and universities from teaching students certain ideologies related to race or sex.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida blasted the “Individual Freedom Act” – originally pitched as the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act for censoring what professors are allowed to teach, granting a preliminary injunction against its enforcement while litigation continues.
“The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints,” Walker wrote in a Thursday order. “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.”
Fox News reached out to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office for comment on the order, but they did not immediately respond.
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The law prohibits imposing “a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination” on anything that promotes any of a list of eight specified principles, which include the idea that members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to any other; are inherently racist because of their race, color, sex, or national origin; that one’s status as privileged or being an oppressor is dictated by such characteristics, and that “virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist[.]”
Professors and students sued Florida, arguing that the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments by restricting the expression of particular viewpoints. The Florida government argued that because professors at public schools represent the government, they do not have First Amendment protection in this case.
“No one should be instructed to feel as if they are not equal or shamed because of their race,” DeSantis said in a statement upon signing the bill in April. “In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces. There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.”
Judge Walker said that “both sides go too far in conflating legal concepts,” but ultimately sided with the plaintiffs, stating that Florida’s logic would give the state unlimited “power to expand its limitation on viewpoints to any idea it chooses.”
“Our professors are critical to a healthy democracy,70 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,” Walker wrote, concluding that “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.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression celebrated the decision.
“Today’s ruling is an important step to protecting the First Amendment right of faculty inside the classroom — not lawmakers, administrators, and angry members of the public outside of it — to guide discussion,” they tweeted.