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Judge Cites Orwell’s ‘1984’ in Order Blocking Florida’s Stop WOKE Act

— November 19, 2022

The controversial law, recently rebranded as the Individual Freedom Act, prevents educators from discussing subjects such as race and privilege in classrooms and workplace training sessions.

A federal judge has partially blocked the implementation of the so-called “Stop WOKE Act,” legislation that was championed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that would prevent educators from discussing racism and privilege in schools and workplace training.

According to National Public Radio, Tallahassee-based U.S. District Judge Mark Walker “excoriated” the law in his 139-page order, decrying its intent as dystopian.

“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 wrote in his decision. “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.”

“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 wrote. “If our ‘priests of democracy’ are not allowed to shed light on challenging ideas, then democracy will die in darkness.

N.P.R. reports that the legislation, which has since been rebranded as the Individual Freedom Act, was signed into law by Gov. DeSantis in spring, with the state commencing enforcement in July.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking with attendees at the 2021 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA. Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0

The Individual Freedom Act broadly prohibits public schools and workplaces from implementing any instruction suggesting that individuals—by virtue of their race, color, sex, or national origin—“bears responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress” for historical acts of prejudice and discrimination.

The bill also explicitly prohibits educators and workplace trainers from teaching that individuals are either “privileged or oppressed” due to their race or sex.

“What you see now with the rise of this woke ideology is an attempt to really delegitimize our history and to delegitimize our institutions and I view the wokeness as a form of cultural Marxism,” DeSantis said when the foundations of the Stop WOKE Act were still being assembled. “They really want to tear at the fabric of our society.”

The Individual Freedom Act’s far-reaching implications prompted Judge Walker, an Obama-era appointee, to cite George Orwell’s 1984 in the opening sentence of his decision.

“‘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,'” Judge Walker wrote. “This is positively dystopian.”

The Associated Press notes that the Stop WOKE Act is aligned with a concerted conservative effort to discredit critical race theory, which posits that many of America’s institutions—from law enforcement and courts to public education—have left lasting legacies of racism and disenfranchisement.


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