A federal judge in Florida partially blocked a law that forbids schools from telling students that certain people are "privileged or oppressed" due to their race or sex, calling it "positively dystopian."
The Individual Freedom Act, previously called the Stop W.O.K.E. (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act and signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis this spring, also prohibits schools and workplaces from suggesting that any individual, by virtue of their race, color, sex or national origin, "bears responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress" over historical acts of racism taught as part of Critical Race Theory.
In a 139-page order issued Thursday, Tallahassee U.S. District Judge Mark Walker slammed Republicans, and blocked it from taking effect in the state's public universities.
"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," wrote Walker. "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."
Walker called the bill "positively dystopian," writing: "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."
"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 also quoted Orwell, writing "‘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,'"
In August, eight Florida professors sued representatives of the state higher education system over the bill, according to NPR. In their suit, they called the legislation "racially motivated censorship" aimed at stifling "widespread demands to discuss, study and address systemic inequalities."
Professor Adriana Novoa and student Sam Rechek, both from USF, argued the law was unconstitutional. The state countered that it has not harmed the plaintiffs and does not prohibit some of the discussions of the race-related topics mentioned in the lawsuit.
In Pernell’s lawsuit also challenging the act, the same defense lawyers wrote that because faculty members are employees of the state, “the First Amendment simply has no application in this context” because their employer “has simply chosen to regulate its own speech.” -Miami Herald
The state is expected to appeal Walker's ruling.