ACLU, Educators and Students File to Block Florida's "Stop WOKE" LawBreaking News
tags: Florida, civil liberties, academic freedom, critical race theory, Ron DeSantis
A group of students and educators filed a lawsuit today challenging Florida’s HB 7 — also known as the Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees (“Stop W.O.K.E.”) Act — a law that bans Florida educators and students from learning and talking about issues related to race and gender in higher education classrooms. The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), and Ballard Spahr. Florida is one of nearly 20 states across the country that have passed similar laws aimed at banning discussions around race and gender in the classroom.
The lawsuit argues the Stop W.O.K.E. Act violates the First and 14th Amendments by imposing viewpoint-based restrictions on educators (including professors, lecturers, and student teaching assistants) and students that are vague and discriminatory. Additionally, it argues the Stop W.O.K.E. Act violates the Equal Protection Clause because it was enacted with the intent to discriminate against Black educators and students.
“All educators and students have a right to teach and learn free from censorship or discrimination,” said Leah Watson, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “The First Amendment broadly protects our right to share information and ideas, and this includes educators’ and students’ right to learn, discuss, and debate issues around systemic racism and sexism. In an effort to prevent progress towards racial justice, the Stop W.O.K.E. Act deprives educators and students of important tools to challenge racism and sexism. We urge the court to put an immediate stop to this discriminatory classroom censorship bill.”
“The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubrey helped inspire a racial reckoning in Florida, and across the nation, in the summer of 2020. As part of this reckoning, Floridians engaged in protests against police brutality and systemic racism, and colleges and universities in the state also launched initiatives to promote anti-racism, equity, and inclusion,” said Morenike Fajana, assistant counsel with LDF. “In response to community efforts to challenge racism, the Florida legislature passed ‘Stop Woke,’ a measure that perversely co-opts Black vernacular in order to greatly restrict speech related to systemic injustice and anti-Blackness—and even goes as far as to hold taxpayer money hostage as a threat to keep educators and students from speaking freely about their areas of study and their own lived experiences with discrimination.”
Rather than allow important issues around race and gender discrimination to be debated and explored in public education, Florida lawmakers — working together with Gov. DeSantis — have moved to impose their own viewpoints in state higher education. The law prohibits educators from teaching or even expressing viewpoints around racism and sexism that are disfavored by Florida lawmakers, even where those viewpoints are widely accepted and considered foundational information in their academic disciplines. The bill specifically targets and places vague restrictions on educators’ ability to teach and discuss concepts pertaining to systemic inequalities, including the legacy of slavery in America, white privilege, and anti-racism.
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