AFA Files Amicus Brief on Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act”

Jun 20, 2023 | Press Release

AFA Files Amicus Brief on Florida’s Unconstitutional “Stop WOKE Act”

Brief Filed with 11th Circuit calls Act “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad”

PRINCETON, NJ – The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) today filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit as it considers Pernell v. Lamb, a case against Florida’s “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.” The AFA’s brief argues that Subsection 4 of the Act violates the First Amendment to the Constitution by preventing faculty from discussing “a wide range of concepts that appear in debates at the heart of many university courses.” The case is on appeal before the 11th Circuit, which has upheld a lower court’s injunction against the Act pending a final decision.

“This is an important case testing the constitutional bounds of state legislatures regulating the content and pedagogy of state university classrooms,” the AFA’s Keith Whittington said after the amicus brief was filed. “The resolution of this dispute will have lasting consequences for academic freedom in public universities. The Academic Freedom Alliance thanks Professor Eugene Volokh and his First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic for preparing the brief on our behalf, enabling the AFA to contribute to the judiciary’s understanding of the implications of this kind of legislation.”

The brief makes a three-part argument against the Act.

  1. The Act is not justified by existing legal precedent (Bishop v. Aronov), which allows certain restrictions on personal speech in a professional university setting, because the Florida Act covers professional views that are directly relevant to courses.
  2. The Act is also not permissible on the theory that it allows professors to discuss divisive concepts “in an objective manner,” because what is or is not “objective” is in fact highly subjective and unconstitutionally overbroad.
  3. The Act affects the First Amendment rights of speakers across the political spectrum, and across a wide range of topics. For instance, a serious discussion of the merits of traditionalist attitudes towards sex roles might be seen as advancing a view rather than teaching about it.

The brief concludes, “The Florida Act abridges the First Amendment rights of a vast range of speakers—’woke’ and otherwise—by interfering with university professors’ ability to have honest and thorough classroom discussions with their students. It chills discussions on speech that is directly related to course content. And the illusory supposed safe harbor for ‘objective’ speech cannot provide constitutionally adequate protection.”

The Academic Freedom Alliance is a diverse alliance of college and university faculty members who are dedicated to upholding the principles of academic freedom and professorial free speech. These principles are central to the mission of our institutions of higher education for the pursuit of truth and knowledge. The AFA is committed to defending universal principles of academic freedom and will come to the assistance of professors regardless of their individual views. As always, the AFA is not concerned with the substance or merits of a professor’s ideas but with the principle that universities should be places that tolerate controversial ideas and allow free inquiry and debate, not public opinion or political pressure, to separate error from truth.

Learn More About the Academic Freedom Alliance

No one, at any academic institution, should fear suppression or retaliation for speaking out publicly in any form. We encourage you to join the movement in supporting the flourishing of intellectual life and the pursuit of knowledge and truth at institutions of higher learning.