A student and a professor from the University of South Florida are suing the Florida Department of Education, alleging that enforcement of the state’s Stop WOKE Act violates their First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Adriana Novoa, a professor of history, and Samuel Rechek, a student and activist with the school’s First Amendment Forum, filed their 93-page lawsuit in US District Court this week, arguing that the law signed by Gov Ron DeSantis targeting free speech in Florida classrooms in April is unconstitutional.
Mr DeSantis, who is running for re-election this fall and is a potential presidential contender in 2024, praised the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act as a means by which his state could “stand up against discrimination and woke indoctrination”.
The law – which, like many laws banning so-called Critical Race Theory, is relatively vague – bars Florida schools and companies from teaching that people are privileged or oppressed on the basis of their race or gender. It similarly bars any teaching that members of a particular ethnic group are inherently racist or should feel guilt for the past actions of any other member of that group.
Mr Rechek and Ms Novoa, who the suit says grew up under a dictatorship in Argentina, see the law as an illegal attempt to chill discussion of the history of race and racism and other issues that challenge narratives of white American exceptionalism in Florida classrooms.
“The Stop WOKE Act has had (and will continue to have) a chilling effect on Professor Novoa. The first moment she endorses a prohibited viewpoint or advances a student’s argument on a prohibited concept — which she has done before and intends to do this academic year — she will expose herself to disciplinary action and liability for attorney’s fees and will expose her university to the loss of approximately $73 million in annual funding,” the lawsuit reads.
Mr Rechek, who is slated to take a class with Ms Novoa in the spring, alleges that enforcement of the Stop WOKE Act will curtail his ability to learn from his professor and debate issues with his classmates and fellow club members.
This lawsuit is not the first to target the Stop WOKE Act. The ACLU sued to stop the enforcement of the act in August, aruging that the law was passed to “stifle widespread demands to discuss, study, and address systemic inequalities… in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd,” while a private Clearwater-based company won an injunction blocking enforcement of the law in a seperate August suit.