Florida is defending the Stop Wrongs Against our Kids and Employees Act, or the “Stop WOKE Act,” after two public school teachers filed a lawsuit claiming the law and regulations violate their First Amendment rights.
Lawyers representing Governor Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody have asked for a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit to be rejected and argue that the legislation does not infringe upon what the teachers can say on their own time.
The law, HB7, was passed by the state legislature on March 10 and is set to go into effect on July 1. It bans controversial teachings, such as Critical Race Theory, in classrooms and mandatory workplace-training programs because they are “discriminatory.”
“We are not going to use your tax dollars to teach your kids to hate this country or to hate each other,” DeSantis said during a press conference about the legislation in April. “We’re not going to tell a kindergartener that they’re an oppressor based on their race and what may have happened 100 or 200 years ago. And we’re not going to tell other kids that they’re oppressed based on their race.”
One of the banned concepts includes teaching that members of a race has “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, national origin or sex.”
It also bans any teachings that would cause the student to “feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin or sex.”
According to a report from Orlando Weekly, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are “two public-school teachers, a University of Central Florida associate professor, a child who will be a public-school student in the coming year and the president of a firm that provides workplace training.”
The lawsuit claims that the legislation will “intrude on the free expression and academic freedom of Florida’s teachers by imposing a pall of orthodoxy over the classrooms.”
“These provisions suppress a wide range of viewpoints accepted by academics for the sole reason that Florida’s conservative lawmakers disagree with them,” a motion from a lawyer representing the plaintiffs said. “Even if such disagreement could form a legitimate government interest, Governor DeSantis failed to identify any actual examples of what he calls ‘critical race theory’ being taught in Florida public school classrooms.”
The suit also claims that the rules will “ensure students learn only a white-washed version of history and sociological theories that ignore systemic problems in our society that create racial injustices.”
Last week, the lawyers representing DeSantis and Moody fired back, asserting that the plaintiffs who are educators “have no constitutional right of academic freedom to override curriculum policies adopted by democratically elected lawmakers.”
Their motion additionally asserted that the plaintiffs can share any views that they may hold, “on their own time.”
“Here, the act does not prevent the state’s educators from espousing whatever views they may hold, on race or anything else, on their own time, and it does not prevent students from seeking them out and listening to them,” the document said, according to the Orlando Weekly report. “All it says is that state-employed teachers may not espouse or advocate in the classroom views contrary to the principles enshrined in the act, while they are on the state clock, in exchange for a state paycheck. The First Amendment does not compel Florida to pay educators to advocate ideas, in its name, that it finds repugnant.”
“Plaintiffs’ First Amendment challenge to the educational provisions fails because the act regulates pure government speech — the curriculum used in state schools and the in-class instruction offered by state employees — and the First Amendment simply has no application in this context,” the motion asserted.
The lawyers also claimed in a separate motion that the laws are intended to combat discrimination.
“The balance of the equities and the public interest weigh decisively against enjoining the act. … (The) state has a compelling — constitutionally imperative — interest in ending discrimination based on race and other immutable characteristics, and enjoining the act will sanction conduct and curricular speech that Florida has determined, in the exercise of its sovereign judgment, is pernicious and contrary to the state’s most cherished ideals,” the motion said.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker is scheduled to hold a hearing on the preliminary injunction on June 21.