But DeSantis' totalitarian new law has even darker echoes...
UPDATE 3/16/23: 11th Circuit panel unanimously denied FL request to stay the preliminary injunction...
By Ernest A. Canning on 2/1/2023, 9:56am PT  

Late last year, by of way a blistering 139-page order [PDF], Chief U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Walker agreed that a provision of Florida's totalitarian "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" pertaining to university professors and students should be blocked.

The acronym in the title of the bill --- also referred to, without apparent irony, as the Individual Freedom Act (IFA) --- stands for "Wrong to our Kids and Employees". But, turning to Judge Walker's decision in Pernell v. Fl. Bd. of Governors, it may be useful to understand the intended usage of the word "woke" in Act's title. As defined by Merriam-Webster, it means to be "aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)."

In pressing for passage and in signing this Act, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a current front-runner for the 2024 GOP Presidential nomination, vowed "to fight the woke" in our schools, businesses and government agencies. He and other Republican thought police have perniciously conflated the mere mention of historical truths about societal facts and issues relating to race or social justice with "indoctrination".

Last year, Judge Walker's order in response to the Stop W.O.K.E., aka Individual Freedom Act (IFA), hauntingly cited George Orwell's 1984...

"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." To confront certain viewpoints that offend the powers that be, the State of Florida passed the so-called "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" in 2022—redubbed (in line with the State's doublespeak) the "Individual Freedom Act". The law officially bans viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints. Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy "academic freedom" so long as they express only those viewpoints the State approves. This is positively dystopian. It goes without saying that "[i]f liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

This was not the first time Judge Walker ruled on a First Amendment challenge to the IFA. In HoneyFund.Com, Inc v. DeSantis, he issued a preliminary injunction [PDF] against the enforcement of a provision of the Act that, in the name of "individual freedom", prevents employers from offering diversity, equity and inclusion in their employee training courses. The injunction in HoneyFund was stayed pending appeal.

In Pernell, Florida has filed an 11th Circuit motion seeking a stay of the similar preliminary injunction pending their appeal. The ACLU, representing the professors and students, filed a Response opposing the stay motion.

Although the university professors and students in Pernell asked the court to block the entirety of the Florida law, Judge Walker ruled they lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of provisions that did not directly impact university professors and students. That has left high school teachers, librarians and students in the IFA's crosshairs, facing potential criminal prosecutions should they retain disfavored material in their libraries or discuss forbidden topics in their classrooms.

It's also led to the state's rejection of high school Advanced Placement class in African American studies. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump announced last week that he intends to file suit on behalf of affected high school students and faculty.

Conflating education with indoctrination

The idea that the mere inclusion of issues like "Critical Race Theory" (CRT) in a high school AP African American studies program amounts to "indoctrination" is ludicrous. Per the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, CRT entails "an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society --- from education and housing to employment and healthcare." CRT simply "recognizes that racism is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice. It is embedded in laws, policies and institutions that uphold and reproduce racial inequalities."

Brad Friedman and I made that very point during our on-air coverage of a federal court finding that linked the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles to a century of systemic racism. Black Americans account for only 8% of L.A. County's general population, yet they account for 42% of the County's more than 66,000 unhoused residents.

In the view of the Linguistics Professor Noam Chomsky, the core purpose of education is to foster an "impulse to challenge authority; think critically, and create alternatives to well-worn models." Indoctrination, by contrast, is to create a "framework" in which young people "follow orders." It's a "model that traps students into a life of conformity."

The effort to block CRT from an African American studies program calls to mind another passage from George Orwell's 1984: "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."

Another Haunting Echo

A report recently released by PEN America finds that 21 Florida School Districts have banned 566 book titles based principally upon objections to theme and characters relating to the LGBTQ community and those of people of color. Another PEN report finds that, last December, the state's Duval County removed 176 books from library shelves, including a number of titles from a collection that "features characters representing a variety of ethnicities, religious affiliations, and gender identities."

As I read the reports, I couldn't help but digress to Germany in 1933.

Shortly after the Nazis seized power, university students burned more than 25,000 books, including those authored by Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway and Helen Keller.

Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels seized the moment to declare: "The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end."

Ominously, in the wake of Florida's 21st century book bans and the elimination of CRT-based African American studies, DeSantis declared: "The State of Florida is where woke goes to die."

Both Goebbels and DeSantis would have done well to read Helen Keller's letter/response to the book burnings:

History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them. You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels and will continue to quicken other minds.

UPDATE 3/16/23: On March 16 a unanimous three-judge panel unanimously issued terse denial of Florida's motion to stay Judge Walker's preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the "Stop W.OK.E. Act."

* * *
Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, and Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). He previously served as a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. Canning has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing

Share article...