On April 22, 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 7, also known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” into law. The bill restricts the freedom of individual faculty members and students to discuss certain aspects of race and gender in the state’s public universities and colleges. As a result, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has written letters to nearly 40 public universities and colleges impacted by HB7, calling on administrators to stand up for the First Amendment rights of their students and faculty.
FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh asserts that “Florida faculty have the constitutional right to speak freely in the classroom and deserve to know that they are not alone if they decide to push back against this legislation.” The bill targets discussion in both K-12 and higher education that “spouses,” “promotes,” or “advances” prohibited concepts, specifically critical race theory. The bill’s text may reach discussion on pedagogically relevant topics such as systemic racism, the gender pay gap, affirmative action, or reparations for slavery.
FIRE’s letters emphasize that HB7 violates the First Amendment because it prohibits faculty from espousing certain opinions, leading to a chilling effect on faculty speech. The signing of this bill would interfere with faculty members’ academic freedom, as well as students’ right to receive information unfettered by a “pall of orthodoxy.” FIRE encourages Florida institutions to interpret the legislation as narrowly as possible and, if necessary, to ignore it where enforcement would be unconstitutional.
FIRE is also reaching out to faculty members, urging them to get in touch if their ability to discuss their areas of expertise is limited by HB7 or by their university administration’s implementation of the bill. “College students are, by and large, adults who are perfectly capable of ‘engaging’ with views they don’t agree with — that’s how students learn to think,” says Steinbaugh. FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience.