A federal judge in Florida granted a preliminary injunction against parts of Florida’s so-called Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which limits how professors can discuss race and gender in the classroom.
“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,’” Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker wrote in the order published Thursday. “The law 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.”
Walker is the same judge who wrote a scathing injunction order against the University of Florida in January in relation to a high-profile free speech case brought by professors there. Walker’s Stop W.O.K.E. Act injunction calls out U.S. senator Ben Sasse, UF’s controversial president-elect, saying that Sasse’s reported support for academic freedom “comports with this court’s construction—namely, that academic freedom includes the freedom to engage in civil and full discussion of differing viewpoints. But the jury is out as to whether President-Elect Sasse’s words can be put into practice given the legal challenge at issue in these cases.”
The UF has so far supported the Stop W.O.K.E Act, telling faculty members in a presentation earlier this year that violating the law risks large financial penalties for the university, and that “At its core, the bill’s message is: ‘No one likes to be told what to think. And that includes students.’ The theme of the bill is that instructors should not present personal beliefs about a topic as the ‘right’ point of view or compel or encourage students to adopt a specific belief.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which was one of several groups and individual faculty members to sue over the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, said in a statement Thursday that “the law is not only unpopular—it’s also unconstitutional, as today’s ruling makes clear.”