A federal judge on Thursday blocked Florida’s law that banned college and university professors from teaching elements of critical race theory, such as that one race is more privileged, superior or oppressive than another.
The law was originally coined the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act but was renamed the “Individual Freedom Act” when it was passed by state lawmakers earlier this year.
But U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, said it is not freedom to “muzzle” professors.
“The State of Florida lays the cornerstone of its own Ministry of Truth under the guise of the Individual Freedom Act, declaring which viewpoints shall be orthodox and which shall be verboten in its university classrooms,” he wrote. “The State of Florida has taken over the ‘marketplace of ideas’ to suppress disfavored viewpoints.
The legal challenge had been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and allied groups representing college students and professors.
“This is a huge victory for everyone who values academic freedom and recognizes the value of inclusive education,” said Emerson Sykes, a senior attorney with the ACLU. “The First Amendment broadly protects our right to share information and ideas, and this includes educators’ and students’ right to learn, discuss, and debate systemic racism and sexism.”
Judge Walker said the state was effectively banning discussion of one viewpoint while allowing a separate opinion on the same topic to be freely expressed.
“The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints,” he wrote. “This is positively dystopian.”
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the same judge blocked the law from being enforced in workplace training sessions.
A spokesperson from the board of governors of the State University System of Florida, one of the defendants in the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the order.
A spokesperson from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said the state plans to appeal.
“The Stop WOKE 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,” spokesman Bryan Griffin said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Florida is one of more than a dozen states that have enacted laws aimed at preventing teachers from discussing and/or pushing critical race theory and gender-identity issues.