Protesters holding signs rally against Ron DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis’ ‘Positively Dystopian’ Stop W.O.K.E. Act Has Been Blocked From Taking Effect, at Least for Now

It’s still legal to discuss race and racism on college campuses in Florida, at least for now.

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In November, a federal judge blocked the so-called Stop W.O.K.E Act from going into effect pending legal challenges, calling the law “positively dystopian.” Now a panel of three appeals judges has upheld that decision.

If it’s allowed to go into effect, the Stop W.O.K.E. Act (not to be confused with the also terrible “Reverse Woke Act” attempting to ban trans healthcare) would restrict what professors can discuss in college classrooms. They would have to avoid the idea that some races or genders are privileged or oppressed, that any group is inherently racist, or that anyone should ever feel bad about slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, or any of the structural racism that ensued.

Oops, did I say structural racism? It’s a good thing I don’t live in Florida.

Ironically, the law is also known as the Individual Freedom Act. You see, censorship is “freedom” in opposite world, or in whatever world infamous Florida Gov. and wannabe presidential candidate Ron DeSantis lives. (He seems confused about geography, so who knows?)

“Defendants argue that, under this act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the state approves,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote last fall in his decision, in which he also quoted from George Orwell’s 1984. (For a serious legal document, it’s a fun read!)

Judge Walker issued the injunction following a challenge by University of South Florida history professor Adriana Novoa and USF student Sam Rechek, who argued the law violated the First Amendment and US Supreme Court precedent regarding academic freedom (er, the actual kind).

Following the injunction, DeSantis’ team expressed confidence they’d reverse the decision on appeal. After all, it wouldn’t just be heard by an appeals court, but an appeals court in Florida, and we can all guess what that means.

It was all bluster in this case, though, because a panel of three judges issued a two-sentence decision denying the appeal. It’s much less snarky than Walker’s decision but still worth a click to see “DENIED” in bold, all-caps font.

The decision goes on to say, “The Clerk is DIRECTED to treat any motion for reconsideration of this order as a non-emergency matter.” Zing! Any legal tantrums of the DeSantis administration are a low priority from now on.

Even better, the three judges who denied the appeal spanned the political spectrum, suggesting a bipartisan agreement that DeSantis is the actual worst. (Reading into what they actually said a bit since, again, what they actually said wasn’t much.) Judges Barbara Lagoa and Britt Grant were appointed to the Eleventh Circuit by Trump, while Judge Charles Wilson earned his spot during the Clinton administration (for those too young to remember the ’90s, that’s Bill, not Hillary).

While the case will continue to wind its way through the court system and the gross censorship sought by DeSantis may still come to pass, attorneys for the plaintiffs explained why this is a significant step.

“The court’s decision to leave in place the preliminary injunction is a recognition of the serious injury posed to educators and students by the Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” said Leah Watson, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “All students and educators deserve to have a free and open exchange about issues related to race in our classrooms — not censored discussions that erases the history of discrimination and lived experiences of Black and Brown people, women and girls, and LGBTQ+ individuals.”

In the meantime … critical race theory!

Sorry, just wanted to get that one out of my system while it’s still legal to say the words.

(featured image: David McNew/Getty Images)


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Erika Wittekind
Erika Wittekind (she/her) is a contributing writer covering politics and news and has two decades of experience in local news reporting, freelance writing, and nonfiction editing. Hobbies and special interests include hiking, dancing in the kitchen, trying to raise empathetic teen boys, and keeping plants alive. Find her on Mastodon at @erikalyn.newsie.social.