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The ruling halts officials from restricting how gender and race are taught at universities and colleges.
The ruling halts officials from restricting how gender and race are taught at universities and colleges. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Judge strikes down part of DeSantis’ Anti-Woke Act, calling it ‘positively dystopian’

The ruling halts officials from restricting how gender and race are taught at universities and colleges.

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Florida Governor and 2024 Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis has a long history of introducing unpopular, dangerous, and backwards policies aimed at terminating a number of people’s freedom and expressions in a number of areas including gender, sexuality, and race. 

One of them was signed into law this past April — the ‘Individual Freedom Act and the Stop-Woke (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act — that forbids schools, universities, colleges, and businesses from teaching anything that because of their race, and sex for instance, would make individuals “feel guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress.” 

Specifically, it bans any type of teachings that push, and adduce guilt and or senses of privilege for “actions committed in the past by other members” of a certain group.

“No one should be instructed to feel as if they are not equal or shamed because of their race,” DeSantis said in April, after signing the bill. “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.”

However, DeSantis’ attack on the far left, the LGBTQ+ community, and educational institutions will not be fully realized, at least for now. 

Tallahassee U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker — appointed to the bench by the former President Barack Obama — on Thursday, Nov. 17, issued a temporary injunction, striking down a key piece of DeSantis’ legislation in which he called it “positively dystopian.” Judge Walker found it to be in violation of the first amendment rights to free speech, and 14th amendment rights to due process on campuses.

“The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints,” wrote Walker. “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.”

The over 138-page ruling from Walker also cites 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,’” Walker wrote. 

The temporary injunction will affect many of the measures of DeSantis’ law, including a university tenure review rule that requires professors to follow the policy. Additionally the ruling halts the law’s implementation in colleges and universities in the state. This past August, Walker also blocked DeSantis' law from affecting businesses, and the law is currently being challenged in relation to the impact on k-12 education.

Walker’s ruling stems from multiple legal challenges directed at the state from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Legal Defense Fund as well as from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a college free speech group, on behalf of a University of South Florida professor, and student. 

In the latter suit, they argue that the DeSantis’ legislation violates their freedom of speech, and added how it could restrict lessons on race topics such as Jackie Robinson, who broke professional baseball’s color barrier. In the ACLU suit that was filed on behalf of all students and educators in Florida, they described it as a “discriminatory classroom censorship law.” 

A spokesperson for DeSantis has responded to Walker’s decision saying that the office will appeal it where it will likely be reversed due to the state’s appeal courts generally leaning more conservative. 

“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,” said DeSantis’ press secretary, Bryan Griffin.

“Our professors are critical to a healthy democracy, 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. 

“If our ‘priests of democracy’ are not allowed to shed light on challenging ideas, then democracy will die in darkness,” he concludes. 

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