(MIAMI)— A coalition of 20 Florida-based and national education, rights and faith-based organizations today called on lawmakers to reject a new bill that would damage teacher training programs by undermining classroom instruction and discussion of topics like race and gender. Senate bill 1372 mirrors the Stop WOKE Act passed in 2022, which was blocked for higher education by a federal judge, who concluded it violated the First Amendment.

Much like the original discriminatory Stop WOKE Act, SB 1372 bans curricula or instruction on “identity politics,” along with theories that racism, sexism, oppression and privilege “are inherent” in the United States. SB 1372 is yet another bite at the same apple, with the same constitutional failings.

“This bill is as dystopian as the original Stop WOKE Act, and would undermine teacher training across key classroom topics, from history and literature to social studies and current issues. Consider how any educator could possibly teach the Civil Rights Movement without reference to “inherent racism,” said Katie Blankenship, director of PEN America’s Florida office. “It would further chill classroom topics and conversation while leaving teachers unprepared to adequately educate future teachers.”

“Even as a federal court has enjoined the STOP Woke Act for unconstitutionally restricting what ideas can be taught and discussed in college classrooms, the Florida legislature is yet again considering a bill that violates the First Amendment by restricting speech and academic freedom,” said Tyler Coward, lead counsel for government affairs at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). “The legislature must reject SB 1372.”

“It is imperative that Florida’s students be taught the truth about our history. Florida’s students need to know and understand all parts of history – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Florida’s students must also be taught to develop their own thoughts and opinions on historical matters after they have been challenged intellectually with the facts and truth surrounding such matters,” said Teresa M. Hodge, president of United Faculty of Florida. “SB 1372 does absolutely nothing to elevate the minds of Florida’s students. To the contrary, it aims to stifle a growth mindset in Florida’s students and hinder their ability to thrive personally, at work, and as future community leaders in our richly diverse state.”

In a letter to Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, the organizations stated that the bill’s language is “intentionally vague.”

The letter stated: “The bill fails to define “identity politics,” or what it means to “distort historical events.” This vagueness is sure to cause widespread chilling of speech among Florida educators, replacing academic freedom with a pervasive climate of fear. This chilling effect may in turn further exacerbate Florida’s severe teacher shortage, continuing to put students’ educations at risk.”

The organizations raised the specter of a generation of history teachers who are unsure how to teach material about slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, or women’s suffrage, English and art teachers who are unable to discuss how an author’s or artist’s background and identity contributes to their work, and civics teachers unable to teach about the impact of racism and sexism in America.

U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker ruled that the Stop WOKE Act, in part, violated the First Amendment and prevented it from being implemented in higher education.

Members of the coalition that signed the letter include United Faculty of Florida; the Florida Education Association; the Woodhull Freedom Foundation; PEN America; the American Civil Liberties Union, Florida; Equality Florida; Defending Rights & Dissent; Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression; EducateUS; Freedom to Read Foundation; American Federation of Teachers; Citizens for Truth and Justice in Education; American Historical Association; Interfaith Alliance of Southwest Florida; Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami; National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education; American Sociological Association; National Council of Teachers of English; Florida Council of Churches; People for the American Way.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057