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Florida’s ‘Stop WOKE’ law will remain blocked in colleges, appeals court rules


A federal appeals court has rejected Florida’s request to enforce its “Stop WOKE” law championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, maintaining a hold on some of its provisions while challenges unfold in court.

DeSantis, a Republican, signed the legislation, passed by the GOP-led state legislature, in April of last year. In November, Tallahassee U.S. District Judge Mark Walker temporarily blocked certain provisions of the law — which limits discussion of race, gender and inequality — at public colleges and universities, calling it “positively dystopian”.

DeSantis’ administration then appealed the decision and asked the court to lift Walker’s injunction. That motion was denied Thursday by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The Court has not ruled on the merits of our appeal,” DeSantis deputy press secretary Jeremy Redfern said in a statement responding to the ruling. “The appeal is pending and we remain satisfied that the law is constitutional.”

The state has faced multiple challenges to the law.

In August, the ACLU, ACLU of Florida, the Legal Defense Fund and a national law firm filed a lawsuit against the legislation on behalf of a group of students and educators.

They called the racially motivated censorship legislation enacted by the state legislature to stifle widespread demands to discuss, address and learn about systemic inequalities.

Adam Steinbaugh, a lawyer for FIRE, a group that has been involved in a separate legal action against the legislation, said: ‘In the college classroom, you’re supposed to learn from an exchange of ideas, which means it’s not It’s not a point of view that’s instilled in students.”

“You can’t replace one orthodoxy with another, and you won’t get freedom of speech through censorship,” Steinbaugh told NBC News, adding that the legislation pushed by DeSantis has a “chilling effect” because teachers fear rigor. impact on their teachings.

Issues around how race and gender are taught have become central to DeSantis’ messaging ahead of a possible presidential election in 2024.

Last month, Rep. Alex Andrade, a Republican representing Pensacola, introduced House Bill 999, which would allow the state’s Board of Governors to issue direction to universities on removing majors and minors in subjects such as critical race theory and gender studies, and bar expenditures on programs or activities that support these programs.

DeSantis pushed for such measures in his remarks to the public.

The ACLU lawsuit argued that the law violates the First and 14th Amendments, as well as the Equal Protection Clause.

“The ‘Stop WOKE Act’ limits professors to one perspective the Florida Legislature loves about systemic racism and sexism,” said Leah Watson, senior attorney for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. “In many cases, as our complaining professors have shown, this view is not even supported by years of research or scholarship on behalf of academics.”

Proponents of the law argue that it protects against mandatory workplace training or classroom instruction that could cause people to feel guilty or anguished because of their race or gender.

Judge Walker, in his lengthy November ruling, pushed back against such arguments, citing George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel “1984.” He wrote: “The defendants’ argument is like the thirteenth clock ticking: not only do you know it’s wrong, but it makes you wonder about everything you’ve heard before.

Manny Diaz Jr., commissioner of the Florida Department of Education, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.