By Jessica Weissman
ORLANDO, FL – A federal judge here this week issued an injunction preventing HB 7 – aka the Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees/Stop WOKE Act – from going into effect in college campuses and is being hailed as a major win for educators and educators students in the state.
The bill was set to censor school discussions about race and gender. A group of educators and a student from different colleges protested, calling it a “discriminatory classroom censorship law that severely restricts Florida educators and students from learning and speaking about issues related to race and gender.”
The order states: “The law formally prohibits professors from expressing unfavorable views in university lecture halls, while allowing the free expression of opposing views. Defendants argue that under this law, professors enjoy “academic freedom” so long as they hold positions approved by the state. It’s downright dystopian. It should go without saying that ‘[i]Freedom means everything, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.’”
The plaintiffs hailed the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and pro bono attorney Ballard Spahr and stated that an inclusive educational environment for higher education in Florida was protected.
“We are pleased with the court’s decision to prevent this discriminatory law from causing further harm to college students and educators in Florida and the state at large,” said Morenike Fajana, associate attorney at LDF.
“Black, brown and LGBTQ+ youth experience systemic discrimination in their daily lives, and they should not be excluded from open conversations with professors who have devoted their lives to studying these issues and often have similar experiences,” Fajana added.
The basis for the lawsuit, the ACLU said, stems from the First and Fourteenth Amendments, in which they argue that restrictions on what course materials can be taught violate the principles of those aspects of the Constitution.
“The court upheld the right of Florida educators and students to teach and learn free from censorship or discrimination,” said Jerry Edwards, prosecutor for the Florida ACLU, arguing, “The ability to have honest and open discussions about our history.” leadership and its impact on black and brown communities are critical to our democracy. As we better understand our country’s past and failures, we give ourselves the opportunity to build a brighter future for all.”
Plaintiffs have also found that HB 7 contradicts the Constitution’s equal protection clause because “it was enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and will have differential effects on black educators and students.”
“The law prohibits educators from teaching or even expressing views on racism and sexism that are opposed by Florida lawmakers,” which poses a threat to inclusive, diverse learning experiences for Florida graduate students, the lawsuit argued.
Opponents of HB 7 emphasize that it “specifically targets and imposes vague limitations on educators’ ability to teach and discuss concepts surrounding America’s legacy of slavery, white privilege and anti-racism,” arguably fundamental themes for a well-rounded education the plaintiffs.
The court order found that HB 7 violated the two previously listed amendments in higher education.
However, academics K-12 are still affected by this “classroom censorship law,” opponents said, noting: “Tentative victory in the case could amplify similar challenges to classroom censorship efforts in other states.”
“This is a great victory for all who value academic freedom and the value of inclusive education,” said Emerson Sykes, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.
Sykes added, “The First Amendment largely protects our right to share information and ideas, and that includes the right of educators and students to learn, discuss and debate systemic racism and sexism.”
The ACLU said it is working to delete similar bills that are now circulating in about a dozen states.