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Judge strikes down higher education portions of DeSantis’s ‘Stop WOKE Act’

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A federal judge on Thursday struck down provisions of Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act” that prohibited public college employees from promoting eight concepts related to race during instruction.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who previously blocked other portions of the law in a separate case, quoted the opening sentence of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” as he issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law’s higher education provisions and pushed back on the state’s arguments.

“‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,’ and the powers in charge of Florida’s public university system have declared the State has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom,’” Walker wrote.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and state GOP lawmakers championed the legislation as fighting back against a “woke” agenda pushed by liberals and banning the instilling of critical race theory.

An undergraduate student, student organization and professor at the University of South Florida filed the suit in September and were supported by a variety of legal advocacy organizations.

Walker ruled the First Amendment protects professors’ in-class speech and the provisions were impermissibly vague, describing the law as “positively dystopian” as he compared it to the Ministry of Truth, the propaganda agency in Orwell’s novel.

“Our professors are critical to a healthy democracy, and the State of Florida’s decision to choose which viewpoints are worthy of illumination and which must remain in the shadows has implications for us all,” Walker ruled.

“If our ‘priests of democracy’ are not allowed to shed light on challenging ideas, then democracy will die in darkness,” he added. “But the First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints and cast us all into the dark.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Legal Defense Fund and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, all of whom were involved in challenges to the law, celebrated Thursday’s ruling.

The Hill has reached out to DeSantis’s office for comment. The State University System of Florida declined to comment.

Walker previously issued a preliminary injunction blocking some of the law’s other provisions, which prevented companies from requiring employees to attend any activity or training that violates the eight concepts.

Updated at 1:28 p.m.