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Federal Judge Stops DeSantis's 'Stop WOKE' Law, Because ARE YOU F*CKING KIDDING HIM
Jude blocks 'positively dystopian' restrictions on higher education.
A federal judge yesterday blocked a big chunk of Ron DeSantis's cherished law intended to drive "wokeness" out of higher education (and business!) in Florida, issuing an injunction against enforcing restrictions on how public colleges and universities can teach about race and gender.
In his 138-page order — which is actually a pretty good read, too! — Chief US District Judge Mark Walker said the restrictions on classroom speech violated the First Amendment by restricting free speech, as well as the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process, because the law is unconstitutionally vague. (Restrictions on businesses are already on hold in a separate case.)
Walker particularly objected to the state's claim that since university professors are state employees, they have no free speech rights of their own, but must conform only to what the state prescribes can be said in class. Walker called the policy "positively dystopian," and even started his order by quoting from George Orwell's 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." To confront certain viewpoints that offend the powers that be, the State of Florida passed the so-called “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act in 2022—redubbed (in line with the State’s doublespeak) the “Individual Freedom Act.”
Let's just take a moment to say it's awfully refreshing to read an invocation of Orwell by someone who has actually read and understood the dear old lifelong socialist who thought basic human decency might yet have a chance against totalizing ideologies.
DeSantis's dumb law, Florida HB 7 (22R) , started out with the catchy title "Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act" so it could get "WOKE" in there; as Judge Walker noted, it eventually morphed into the "Individual Freedom Act" (IFA) which sounds great unless you're an individual faculty member, student, or business owner who thinks systemic racism is bad and people should know something about it, which makes you a commie America hater. The law is yet another version ofthose copy-pasted bills against teaching "divisive concepts" in public schools, but tweaked to apply to higher education and to businesses that offer training on implicit bias and the like.
READ MOAR, YOU!
The law has been the target of multiple lawsuits; its restrictions on business trainings were suspended in a separate case in August, which was also heard by Judge Walker. As Politico 'splainers, the Free Dumb Individual act
expands Florida’s anti-discrimination laws to prohibit schools and companies from leveling guilt or blame to students and employees based on race or sex, takes aim at lessons over issues like “white privilege” by creating new protections for students and workers, including that a person should not be instructed to “feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin.
The statute lays out eight verboten viewpoints that facially seem like well of course nobody would want to teachthat, such as
1. Members of one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex.
Well, almost no one.
It's easy not to teach ideas so obviously evil — OF COURSE I'd never teach that one race is superior to another, or that women are better than men, even though that's so obviously true. Or at least you might think that until you get sued for, say, using a memoir in which a Black writer recalls how their parents taught them to always be careful around white people, and isn't that saying right there that white people are morally inferior and never to be trusted?
Walker's order helpfully makes clear that the prohibited concepts are aimed at prohibiting professors from expressing political opinions of which the state of Florida disapproves. In oral arguments, he explains, the state's attorneys
conceded that concept six—as mentioned above, that “[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”—is another way to describe affirmative action. [...] Thus, Defendants assert the idea of affirmative action is so “repugnant” that instructors can no longer express approval of affirmative action as an idea worthy of merit during class instruction.
And that, Walker explains, is a truly repugnant take on the First Amendment. He goes on to cite a section from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's memoir, which argues that affirmative action in college "[creates] the conditions whereby students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be brought to the starting line of a race many were unaware was even being run," but that everything students achieve once they gain access via such a "special door" is the result of their own efforts, not special advantages, and that these "were achievements as real as those of anyone" in a university.
Invite Justice Sotomayor to discuss that with your class at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, though, and "Under the IFA, her words would be per se discrimination if she were to utter them as a guest speaker in a law school classroom."
Walker notes that sure, the state has the authority to set curricular standards, and even to fire a professor who deviates entirely from them, as in a real SCOTUS case of an instructor in a class that was supposed to be about "how teachers can effectively use various classroom tools, such as projection equipment, chalkboards, photographs, and films," but then ignored most of the practical lessons and instead taught a syllabus focused on "issues of bias, censorship, religion, and humanism."
But that's a far cry from what the Florida law does, says Walker. In the name of "individual freedom" — presumably the freedom of students never having to encounter ideas Florida's government disagrees with — the IFA
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.
Quoting Orwell again — this time from a proposed but rejected preface to Animal Farm — Walker adds that "It should go without saying that '[i]f liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.'" Crom love him.
Walker's order puts the kibosh, temporarily, on enforcement of the law, including university regulations that require reviews of faculty members to see if they've violated the stupid law. A spokesperson for DeSantis said the state will appeal the injunction, so this mess won't be over any time soon. But for the moment, at least, Florida colleges and universities won't be forced to send academic freedom down the Memory Hole.
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