Appellate Ruling Means Professors In Florida Are Free To Teach About Race, Sexism, As They See Fit

Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix

College professors can continue to teach hard lessons about race and sexism notwithstanding Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Stop Woke” act, his attempt to dictate how educators handle these topics.

In a terse order issued Thursday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected requests by Florida’s Board of Governors and top state education officials to lift an injunction against enforcing the law imposed in November by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee.

“Appellants’ motions to stay injunction pending appeal are denied. The clerk is directed to treat any motion for reconsideration of this order as a nonemergency matter,” the panel said.

Participating in the decision were judges Charles Wilson, Britt Grant, and Barbara Lagoa. Wilson was appointed by President Bill Clinton and Grant and Lagoa by Donald Trump. Lagoa was a DeSantis appointee to the Florida Supreme Court before her elevation to the appellate bench in 2019. The order didn’t indicate how the vote broke down.

In his opinion blocking the law’s enforcement, Walker wrote: “Defendants argue that, under this act, professors enjoy academic freedom so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the state approves. This is positively dystopian. It should go without saying that if liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

DeSantis signed the measure, also known as the Individual Freedom Act, into law in April 2022. It:

Restricts conversations about race and gender in schools and workplaces, making it illegal to subject any student or employee to training or instruction or to compel a student or employee to believe concepts such as that “members of one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex.”Forbids suggestions that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”Bars contentions that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”

University of South Florida history professor Adriana Novoa and a student group at that university, the First Amendment Forum, filed suit, arguing the restrictions “impermissibly chill free expression and promote unconstitutional censorship on the state’s college campuses” in violation of the First and Fourteenth amendments.

In August, Walker enjoined portions of the law that sought to constrain workplace sensitivity training.

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