Nov 17, 2022 - News

Judge blocks Florida "Stop WOKE Act" from being enforced in higher ed

Illustration of a gavel on a book instead of a block.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The courts have again blocked a law dubbed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the "Stop WOKE Act" after a group of professors and students from the University of South Florida filed a lawsuit against it.

Driving the news: A federal judge issued an order Thursday temporarily blocking the law from being enforced in higher education, calling it "positively dystopian."

  • HB7 ​​bans classroom discussion and corporate training that make students or employees feel discomfort over their race.
  • U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in his ruling that the First Amendment doesn't allow the state "to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark."

Why it matters: Under the law, Florida colleges and universities, like USF, could lose millions in state funding for failing to take action against faculty who violate "Stop WOKE," a lawyer for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the USF group in September, told Axios.

Details: The order granted a preliminary injunction to two USF professors, a student and a student group, who make up the group of plaintiffs claiming the law severely restricts them from learning and talking about issues related to race and gender.

Catch up quick: In August, a federal judge suspended enforcement of the law's employer provisions as part of a lawsuit filed by Florida honeymoon registry company Honeyfund and workplace diversity consultancy Collective Concepts.

What they're saying: USF professor Dana Thompson Dorsey, a plaintiff in the suit who teaches about education law and policy issues, told Axios she was prepared to face backlash from students and the university for what she plans to teach in her Critical Race Study class this spring.

  • "I am talking about racism, white supremacy and critical race theory itself," Dorsey said. "Not being able to say the United States was founded on these issues would be problematic. … I'm really thankful that the decision came down as it did, that our First Amendment rights and academic freedom as professors still stand."

Renee Fargason, a spokesperson for the Florida Board of Governors of the State University System, and USF declined to comment to Axios on the pending litigation.

  • The Florida State Board of Education didn't immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

What to watch: The decision could be appealed by the DeSantis administration, Politico reports.


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