TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A lawsuit filed by a professor and student at the University of South Florida, contesting the state’s “Stop WOKE Act,” officially titled the “Individual Freedom Act,” has temporarily blocked the law’s impact on public universities, thanks to an order from a federal judge.
House Bill 7, dubbed the “Stop WOKE Act” when first announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis before the 2022 legislative session, bans teaching of critical race theory in public schools and universities.
USF Professor Adriana 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.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has ordered a preliminary injunction, blocking defendants from enforcing provisions of the law on college campuses until otherwise ordered.
“It is a happy day not only for Sam and me, but for the institutions of this country,” Novoa said in a statement via FIRE. “I hope that the courts will defend the existence of a public education that cannot be manipulated by politicians to push any ideology, now and in the future.”
When writing the ruling, Walker said HB 7, and its enforcement by Florida officials, struck “at the heart of ‘open-mindedness and critical inquiry'” and that the State of Florida had “taken over the ‘marketplace of ideas’ to suppress disfavored viewpoints,” thereby limiting what professors could teach regarding eight specific topics.
The topics were enumerated in HB 7 as:
- Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another
- An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously
- An individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin
- People cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, sex, or national origin
- An individual bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin
- An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion
- An individual bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin
- Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex, or national origin to oppress members of another
Walker, through his order, said Florida was using its governmental power to limit viewpoints on any idea it chooses, and that in court, the state’s argument had “permit[ted] zero restraint” on their ability to do so.
“One thing is crystal clear—both robust intellectual inquiry and democracy require light to thrive. 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 in his order. “If our ‘priests of democracy’ are not allowed to shed light on challenging ideas, then democracy will die in darkness.”
The Governor’s office said the state intends to appeal the judge’s decision.
This recent ruling included several victories for our legal team. We expect many more and ultimately to prevail in this litigation. We strongly disagree with Judge Walker’s preliminary injunction orders on the enforcement of the Stop W.O.K.E. Act and will continue to fight to prevent Florida’s students and employees from being subjected to discriminatory classroom instruction or mandated discriminatory workplace training. 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. An ‘open-minded and critical’ environment necessitates that one is free from discrimination. We intend to appeal.Bryan Griffin, Press Secretary for the Office of Governor Ron DeSantis