November 17, 2022
Declaring it a “positively dystopian” assault on free speech, a U.S. district judge blocked enforcement of provisions of a Florida law banning state university professors from expressing certain opinions on topics related racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in their classes on Thursday.
The decision means that the leadership of Florida’s state university system cannot punish professors or instructors for violating the prohibition on the expression of eight viewpoints enacted by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis and state legislative Republicans under the Individual Freedom Act of 2022.
In a blistering opinion that opens by quoting George Orwell’s classic anti-totalitarian novel “1984,” Judge Mark Walker, appointed by President Barack Obama, ruled that the law violated the First Amendment right of freedom of speech of both professors and students and the Fourteenth Amendment by being unconstitutionally vague.
“In this case, 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,” Walker wrote.
“[T]he First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark,” Walker concluded.
The case focused on the law’s prohibition on the expression of eight different viewpoints related to race, sex, gender and sexual orientation by state university professors. The law, originally introduced by DeSantis as the Stop WOKE Act, was enacted as part of the governor’s culture war political agenda seeking to bend institutions from state universities, government bureaucracies and in-state corporations to the will of Republican politicians.