A federal judge is allowing a ban on “woke ideology” associated with critical race theory to take effect on Friday.
Judge Mark Walker, Chief Judge in the Northern District of Florida, denied a request Monday for a preliminary injunction against the new law (HB 7), which Gov. Ron DeSantis calls the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.”
The measure will prohibit lessons and training which tell students and employees that they are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, color, sex or national origin. It also will ban instruction that they are personally responsible and should feel guilty for the past actions of members of their race, color, sex or national origin.
The request, filed by attorneys for teachers, a student and a diversity consultant, argues the law violates the First Amendment. However, Walker determined the group couldn’t halt the law because they hadn’t yet shown injury as a result of the law. Similarly, Walker allowed the State Board of Education to proceed with its rules, adopted last year, that ban lessons akin to critical race theory.
Walker did not rule on an additional injunction request by a University of Central Florida professor, who is targeting a proposed rule the state university system’s Board of Governors will consider on Thursday.
Jesse Wilkison — an attorney representing the plaintiffs with Sheppard, White, Kachergus, DeMaggio & Wilkison — told Florida Politics the firm intends to press for the injunction until Walker addresses the request from the professor, Robert Cassanello.
Wilkison acknowledged his team and their clients’ decision to try to strike down the law before it takes effect and the fact that they therefore could not point to specific examples of it being enforced. He called the move a “calculated risk.”
“I think one of the things that often gets lost in discussion about these cases is how difficult it is to come forward and be a plaintiff,” Wilkison said in a statement.
“I have spoken to dozens of teachers, professors, students, and employers who were all upset about the law, but ultimately feared putting their names on a complaint because of the culture of retaliation that Gov. DeSantis has created through his threats to pull funding, attacks on professor tenure, and appointing the Florida Senate’s sponsor of this bill to become his new Commissioner of Education. I admire and respect our client’s courage in coming forward against this law and hope we can redress its unconstitutional restrictions on their speech once the court reaches the merits of this issue.”
The “Stop W.O.K.E.” name used by DeSantis, short for “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees,” references the acknowledgment of injustices in American society in a manner often touted by the left but vilified by the right. Formally, lawmakers called the measure the Individual Freedom bill.
Republicans nationwide have made critical race theory an election focal point in the culture war. While DeSantis said Florida was at the “cutting edge” of anti-woke law, multiple states, including Texas, have already passed laws banning critical race theory or associated lessons.
The theory, which is taught in law schools but that DeSantis argues is also an “overall worldview,” posits that racial disparities have a continual influence on institutional structures.
While the bill doesn’t target critical race theory by name, DeSantis has said the bill would prevent “pernicious ideologies” like the principles of critical race theory from being taught in K-12 schools. He says critical race theory should stay in law schools where it is traditionally studied.
Critics, mainly Democrats, have argued the legislation amounts to censoring teachers and businesses that are trying to stamp out intolerance, hate and ignorance. They also contend it will chill the speech of educators teaching about African American history, LGBTQ history and more.
The “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.” also picked up another lawsuit last week by companies that argue the restrictions to corporate training also violate the First Amendment.
While Walker’s order sides with DeSantis and the state for now, he did not rule on the constitutionality of the measure. He noted lawyers, during a hearing last week, gave extensive debate on whether the Constitution protects discussions in a public classroom.
“Much ink has already been spilled over such weighty questions,” Walker wrote. “This Court recognizes, however, that these questions are not purely academic. Their answers have very real consequences for students, teachers, parents — indeed, for all Floridians.”