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  • Robert Lusk

Florida Federal Court Enjoins State's Stop WOKE Act

Wikipedia calls “eugenics” a “fringe set of beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population. Historically, eugenicists have attempted to alter human gene pools by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior or promoting those judged to be superior.” The so-called science of eugenics is properly associated with outrages ranging from the holocaust to miscegenation laws. Today, no reasonable person ascribes to such ignorant and pernicious ideas.


Nevertheless, the Florida legislature perceived assertions of racial superiority or inferiority as a continuing problem and passed a law, known as the “Stop WOKE Act” or the “Individual Freedom Act,” prohibiting “training or instruction that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels … student[s] or employee[s] to believe:


· Members of one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex.


· A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.


· A person’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex.


· Members of one race, color, national origin, or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, national origin, or sex.


· A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.


· A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.


· A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must 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.


· Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, national origin, or sex to oppress members of another race, color, national origin, or sex.


The legislation included a savings clause providing it “may not be construed to prohibit discussion of the concepts listed therein as part of a larger course of training or instruction, provided such training or instruction is given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.”


This law was challenged by a group of Florida professors and college students as an unconstitutional infringement on academic freedom prohibited by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida ruled in plaintiffs’ favor, granting a preliminary injunction, in Pernell v. Florida Board of Governors of the State University, Case No. 22-304 (November 17, 2022).


The Court’s decision will not surprise anyone familiar with the concept of academic freedom or First Amendment jurisprudence. It was all but a foregone conclusion. The surprise, to the uninitiated, may be that anyone was trying to persuade anyone else to adopt the eight enumerated ideas and that the Florida legislature thought there was enough attempted persuasion going on that legislation was necessary to stop it.


No educated American is ignorant of the fact there were people on this continent when the first Europeans arrived. And no educated American is ignorant of our history of slavery and racial discrimination. But is the proper question how to turn-the-tables? Or, is the proper question how to extirpate any remaining notions of racial superiority or inferiority?


Of course, that does not mean university professors, students, or anyone else should be legally prohibited from discussing or even adopting false ideas. This is America, after all, where we are at full liberty to exercise our God-given right to be wrong. Furthermore, we should not consider diluting our commitment to tried-and-true principles of academic freedom; as truth often emerges from the honest and respectful competition of ideas. Still, it is disturbing to imagine that any serious person believes it is reasonable to move forward by replacing one set of bad ideas with another. As children of all races, colors, and genders are taught, regardless of national origin, “Two wrongs do not make a right.”