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Dive Brief:

  • The American Association of University Professors filed a brief Friday in federal court supporting Florida faculty who have challenged the state’s ban on teaching certain topics related to race and gender at public colleges.
  • The law, known commonly as the “Stop WOKE” Act, is meant to prohibit faculty from forcing discriminatory concepts on students as part of the curriculum, supporters say. The law itself argues that classroom instruction in public universities qualifies as government speech, meaning the First Amendment would not apply.
  • In its brief, AAUP disagreed with that assertion and argued the law violates the First Amendment, thereby undermining the foundation of academic freedom and higher education more broadly.

Dive Insight:

The American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of Florida faculty and a student, filed a lawsuit in August arguing the law forces faculty and students to abide by vague and discriminatory viewpoint restrictions. The ACLU’s complaint also asserts that the law, which took effect last July, will disproportionately affect Black employees and students.

In November, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker temporarily stopped the law’s enforcement, calling its prohibitions a direct threat to faculty free speech rights. 

State officials have since appealed. The most recent injunction blocking enforcement will stay in effect until the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules in the case, Pernell v. Lamb, according to the ACLU.

AAUP asked that the injunction be affirmed by the appellate court.

“By selectively censoring specific viewpoints about racial and sexual inequities that Florida’s current politicians disfavor — while at the same time permitting the expression of opposing viewpoints — the law seeks to suppress genuine discussions about vitally important issues currently facing this country,” the group said in a statement

The Stop WOKE law — officially the Stop the Wrongs to our Kids and Employees Act — blocks Florida’s public colleges from promoting concepts conservatives have deemed alienating, such as that a “person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past.”