Federal Judge Blocks DeSantis Censorship Law

Chief U.S District Judge Mark Walker halted a portion of the “Stop-WOKE” law endorsed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis meant to restrict how lessons on race and gender can be taught in colleges and universities.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request from the DeSantis administration with the university system to overturn a ruling that determined the “Stop-WOKE” law was unconstitutional. 

The law is a continuation of DeSantis’ battle against the “woke agenda,” including the governor’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and banning teachers from talking about critical race theory in K-12 classrooms. The law is intended to prevent teaching or mandatory workplace activities that suggest a person is privileged or oppressed based necessarily on their race, color, sex, or national origin.

The “Stop-WOKE” law (Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act), also known as the Individual Freedom Act, was signed into law last April by DeSantis but has faced several legal challenges since taking effect on July 1. 

Critics have said the law violates the First Amendment and has the potential to harm race relations. In November, Judge Walker cited George Orwell’s novel, 1984, calling the law “positively dystopian.”

“‘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,’” he said.

Leah Watson, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, said the court’s decision addressed the serious injury posed to educators and students by the Stop WOKE Act. “All students and educators deserve to have a free and open exchange about issues related to race in our classrooms – not censored discussions that erase the history of discrimination and lived experiences of Black and Brown people, women and girls, and LGBTQ+ individuals.”

The Stop WOKE Act has harsh penalties, including possible termination or loss of state funding for educators who have been found to violate the law. As a result, Florida universities have canceled or decreased diversity and inclusion training and taken down public-facing statements denouncing racism. 

DeSantis’ education policies have resulted in similar legislation in other states, such as Oklahoma and New Hampshire. The ACLU has challenged the censorship laws in both states and awaits rulings in both cases.

Despite the pushback from the court, Bryan Griffin, press secretary for DeSantis, expects the policies to be lawful.“The Court did not rule on the merits of our appeal,” he said. “The appeal is ongoing, and we remain confident that the law is constitutional.”


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