More than a half-century ago, the Supreme Court recognized that the First Amendment “does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom,” where “truth” is discovered not by “authoritative selection,” but “out of a multitude of tongues.”
Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act” imposes precisely the “pall of orthodoxy” that the Supreme Court warned about decades ago.
The Stop WOKE Act prohibits “instruction” on eight specific “concepts” related to “race, color, national origin, or sex.” For example, the Stop WOKE Act unlawfully restricts discussions of whether individuals are unconsciously biased based on their race or sex; whether certain virtues — including “merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness” — are racist; and whether particular races or sexes inherently have certain privileges or disadvantages. But in dictating to faculty and students what ideas may be considered in a college classroom, Florida’s political leaders have run headlong into the First Amendment.
On Aug. 6, 2022, a University of South Florida professor of history, an undergraduate student, and a student organization — represented by FIRE — sued in federal court to challenge the Stop WOKE Act for violating their constitutional rights.
To comply with the law, Professor Adriana Novoa had to refrain from advancing arguments from certain readings and lecture topics. Sam Rechek, an undergraduate student seeking to take Professor Novoa’s courses, could not engage in full and frank discussion of race in modern society with his professors if he feared that a professor’s response to his questions may be reported to administrators or government officials for formal action. Sam also leads USF’s First Amendment Forum, a student group committed to promoting the value of free speech on campus. Forum members no longer had access to information unfettered by ideologically-driven filters imposed by political officials.
On Nov. 17, 2022, the court halted enforcement of key parts of the “Stop WOKE Act” in the state’s public universities, declaring that the law violates the First Amendment rights of students and faculty. The court ruled that the “positively dystopian” act “officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints.” The court invoked George Orwell to drive home that if “liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” After filing a notice of appeal, Florida asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to stay the preliminary injunction and allow the state to enforce the Stop WOKE Act while the appeal proceeds. FIRE opposed that motion. On March 16, 2023, the Eleventh Circuit denied Florida’s motion, keeping the Stop WOKE Act on hold in Florida’s public universities while the appeal remains pending.
“Stop WOKE Act” Legislative Resources
“Stop WOKE Act” on FIRE’s Newsdesk
FIRE statement on Florida’s expansion of the Stop WOKE Act (May 15, 2023)
- Earlier today, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Florida Senate Bill 266, which doubles down on the “Stop WOKE Act.” FIRE opposes SB 266 because, like its predecessor, it is riddled with constitutional defects. The measure inappropriately limits what faculty may discuss in general education classes, no matter how pedagogically relevant it is to the subject matter of the course. It directs government regulators to review instruction for violation of the Stop WOKE Act, currently enjoined in Florida’s public universities by order of a federal court in litigation brought by FIRE, the ACLU, and other groups. . . .
- The Florida House of Representatives voted today to send Senate Bill 266, approved by the Florida Senate on Friday, to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. The legislation doubles down on the Stop WOKE Act, which unconstitutionally bans ideas a majority of Florida lawmakers disfavor from college classrooms, despite the fact that FIRE, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union secured a preliminary injunction from a federal court last November blocking Florida’s public universities from enforcing the law. . . .
- Last year, Gov. DeSantis signed the “Stop WOKE Act” into law, regulating how instruction and/or training can be conducted in schools and in the workplace. FIRE challenged the act on the grounds that it unconstitutionally restricted the freedom of college students and faculty to discuss issues pertaining to race and gender. A federal court agreed, halting enforcement of key elements of the act impacting higher education and calling it “positively dystopian.” . . .
Thought the ‘Stop WOKE Act’ was bad? A new Florida bill is worse (Feb. 24, 2023)
- Florida House Bill 999 would expand on the state’s “Stop WOKE Act” to further erode the rights of faculty and students at Florida’s public universities and colleges. House Bill 999 is laden with unconstitutional provisions hostile to freedom of expression and academic freedom. If passed, it would represent another retreat from the open exchange of ideas that Florida’s leaders embraced just four years ago. . . .
- In Florida, the “Stop WOKE Act” and its limitations on teaching in undergraduate and graduate institutions has some on the right wondering whether censorship is the path to free speech. It’s not. Censorship is a dead end. . . .
FIRE statement on Governor DeSantis’ higher education proposals (Jan. 31, 2023)
- FIRE urges Florida lawmakers to remember that the First Amendment protects Americans of all political backgrounds by setting crucial limits on the power that politicians may wield within higher education. As FIRE has made clear in our ongoing litigation against Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, lawmakers cannot ban ideas from college classrooms. . . .
- FIRE submitted a formal comment to the Florida Board of Governors on a proposed regulation that requires tenured faculty at Florida’s public universities to undergo a comprehensive post-tenure review every five years. FIRE’s comment details serious free speech and due process concerns about the proposed regulation, which is now open for public comment through Dec. 9. . . .
- Earlier this month, a federal court enjoined the higher education provisions of Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act,” holding that the “dystopian” law violated the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the state’s public universities and colleges by promulgating a list of prohibited viewpoints. . . .
- Today a federal court halted enforcement of key parts of Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act” in the state’s public universities, declaring that the law violates the First Amendment rights of students and faculty. . . .
- To protect free speech, the government must censor. That’s the absurd argument put forth by Florida lawmakers in the controversial “Stop WOKE Act.” The law suppresses viewpoints disfavored by Florida lawmakers, threatens tens of millions of dollars in annual funding for universities that don’t crack down on faculty who “promote” an opinion on a government blacklist, and encourages people to report other Americans to government authorities if they “advance” those views — all in the name of “individual freedom.” . . .
- With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ enactment of House Bill 7 into law today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is calling on administrators at Florida’s public universities and colleges to stand up for the First Amendment rights of their students and faculty. Today, FIRE sent letters to nearly 40 public universities and colleges impacted by HB7, nicknamed the “Stop WOKE Act.” The bill will restrict the freedom of individual faculty members and students to discuss certain aspects of race and gender in the state’s public universities and colleges. . . .