ACLU files lawsuit against Florida’s ‘Individual Freedom Act’ calling it 'racially motivated censorship'

The lawsuit claims that limiting education on CRT and gender theory violates the Constitution.

ACLU claims that the new law has problematic political and ideological motivations, but the organization has a long history of advocating for a liberal agenda in education

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Flordia's students and educators on Aug. 18 against Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Individual Freedom Act,” christened as the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” claiming that it is “racially motivated censorship.”

In defense of Critical Race Theory, gender theory, anti-racism, and white privilege, the ACLU claims restricting one's availability to teach the subjects violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments protecting free speech and all rights of individuals when they have violated the law.

“[The Individual Freedom Act] unconstitutionally abridges First Amendment freedoms by imposing viewpoint-based restrictions on the speech of instructors and the receipt of information by students in college classrooms,” the complaint states. “It violates the Due Process Clause’s prohibition against vagueness because it is difficult, if not impossible, for instructors to determine what is, and is not, prohibited by its terms.”  

The lawsuit also posits that the law is designed to discriminate against “Black instructors and students and those who align with them.”

Campus Reform spoke with ACLU Florida attorney Jerry Edwards regarding the lawsuit. He explained that “robust debate” is needed on college campuses. 

“[W]hat this law essentially does, is it’s telling these professors that they can’t instruct on systemic racism or systemic bias,” he told Campus Reform

Edwards said the bill disproportionately affects “professors of color” who wish to teach on CRT, white supremacy, and systemic racism. 

“So while the law on its face tries to purport to be racially neutral, it isn’t,” Edwards argued. “[I]t definitely targets people who focus on these topics, who teach on these topics, who research on these topics, and those happen to be, unsurprisingly, professors of color.”

[RELATED: Florida university restricts speech that creates an 'offensive' campus environment]

Governor Desantis signed the “Individual Freedom Act” into law on April 22. The law was temporarily halted on Aug. 18 due to a federal judge issuing a temporary injunction after Florida businesses complained it violated their First Amendment rights. 

While the ACLU claims that the new law has problematic political and ideological motivations, the organization has a long history of advocating for a liberal agenda in education despite claiming to “vigorously defend individual freedoms.”

“The ACLU is committed to fight for freedom and the protection of constitutional rights for generations to come,” the 'about' section of the organization’s website reads. 

On Nov. 9, 2021, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs against the state of Oklahoma after it passed bill H.B. 1775, charging the bill with “censoring” conversation regarding race and gender in the classroom in public schools as well as universities. 

The bill prohibited students from being forced to complete “any orientation or requirement that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex.”

The ACLU argued that conversation and instruction on these topics are “essential to the preservation of America’s democratic system.”

[RELATED: Florida A&M University pushes policies in tension with free expression]

On August 1, the ACLU filed an amicus brief supporting the race-based admissions systems at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. 

The brief argues that race should remain a part of the admissions process to fulfill universities’ commitment to diversity. It also claimed removing the race requirement would lead “to a more racially divided educational experience for countless young people.”

After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of religious freedom in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District and Carson v. Makin this past year, the ACLU came out and decried the rulings, claiming that the Supreme Court had brought “us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.”

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Governor Greg Abbott after he issued a directive to state agencies to investigate parents attempting to give their children puberty blockers or forms of gender reassignment surgery. 

Campus Reform contacted every university, organization, and person mentioned in this article and will update accordingly.

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