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Judge blocks Florida's 'Stop W.O.K.E. Act' at colleges and universities

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Posted at 2:24 PM, Nov 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-17 16:41:20-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida federal judge granted a preliminary injunction preventing the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" from being enforced in higher education, siding with the plaintiffs on issues surrounding speech and the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has previously blocked other parts of the law in separate cases and held nothing back in his ruling, preventing one of Governor Ron DeSantis' signature pieces of legislation from taking effect.

"In this case, the State of Florida lays the cornerstone of its own Ministry of Truth under the guise of the Individual Freedom Act, declaring which viewpoints shall be orthodox and which shall be verboten in its university classrooms," Judge Walker wrote.

Walker said the First Amendment protects professors' in-class speech and that provisions of the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" were too vague to be enforced.

"Striking at the heart of “open-mindedness and critical inquiry,” the State of Florida has taken over the “marketplace of ideas” to suppress disfavored viewpoints and limit where professors may shine their light on eight specific ideas," Walker wrote. "And Defendants’ argument permits zero restraint on the State of Florida’s power to expand its limitation on viewpoints to any idea it chooses."

Walker summed up his decision granting the preliminary injunction thusly:

One thing is crystal clear—both robust intellectual inquiry and democracy require light to thrive. 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. If our “priests of democracy” are not allowed to shed light on challenging ideas, then democracy will die in darkness.71 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.

The American Civil Liberties Union celebrated the decision, calling it "an important victory for educators' and students' rights to teach and learn free from censorship and discrimination."

“This is a huge victory for everyone who values academic freedom and recognizes the value of inclusive education,” Emerson Sykes, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a release. “The First Amendment broadly protects our right to share information and ideas, and this includes educators’ and students’ right to learn, discuss, and debate systemic racism and sexism.”

The Florida Board of Governors of the State University System declined to comment on the ruling saying, "It is our policy not to comment on pending litigation."

Governor DeSantis' office issued a statement saying

We strongly disagree with Judge Walker’s preliminary injunction orders on the enforcement of the Stop W.O.K.E. Act and will continue to fight to prevent Florida’s students and employees from being subjected to discriminatory classroom instruction or mandated discriminatory workplace training. 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. An ‘open-minded and critical’ environment necessitates that one is free from discrimination. We intend to appeal.

Read the full decision below: