TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A federal judge has once again blocked a law that would ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in Florida’s public education institutions, from kindergarten through college.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the state of Florida’s education leaders and the governor regarding the implementation of the Stop WOKE Act, or the “Individual Freedom Act,” which was passed in 2021.
Last year, Dr. Adriana Novoa, a professor at the University of South Florida, and a student representing a campus free speech group, sued education officials over the law, citing free speech and academic freedom concerns, and received an injunction that blocked the state from enforcing the law on campus.
Novoa, who teaches history, and student Sam Rechek filed suit in federal court contesting the law on grounds that it is government censorship. The two are represented by free speech organization FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.
According to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, state officials tried to appeal the block, but Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker rejected their challenge. For now, that means the law cannot be enforced for Florida’s public colleges and universities.
The ACLU filed a supplemental brief in support of one of the challenges. The nonprofit said allowing the Stop WOKE Act to remain in effect while the court battle continues would impact the quality of education at Florida colleges and universities.
“The Stop W.O.K.E. Act chills Instructors’ ability to share their expertise with students without fear of reprisal, because the Act prohibits instruction that ‘espouses’ certain viewpoints the State dislikes,” the ACLU wrote to the court.
In response to the court’s decision, Florida’s legal team said the state’s interest in preserving the law was to avoid discrimination.
“The balance of the equities and the public interest weigh decisively in favor of staying the district court’s order preliminarily enjoining the Act. As shown above, the State has a compelling interest in ending discrimination based on race and other immutable characteristics,” attorneys for the defendants wrote previously. “Enjoining the Act will sanction curricular speech that Florida has determined, in the exercise of its sovereign judgment, is invidiously discriminatory and contrary to the State’s most cherished ideals.”
Following the injunction, Florida officials lobbied the court for a stay on the injunction. That move has now been denied.
In his November ruling, Judge Walker described Florida’s legislation as something turned into a “First Amendment upside down,” referencing popular Netflix show “Stranger Things'” dark, twisted dimension where the show’s villains reside.
“This Court is once again asked to pull Florida back from the upside down,” Walker wrote in his preliminary injunction. “Before this Court is a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking this Court to enjoin a host of Government officials from enforcing portions of the Individual Freedom Act.”
After the latest court decision, FIRE asserted that any law which blocks open discussions of ideas in class should be removed.
“Professors must be able to discuss subjects like race and gender without hesitation or fear of state reprisal,” a FIRE spokeswoman said. “Any law that limits the free exchange of ideas in university classrooms should lose in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.”