PEN America Legal Filing Argues that Florida’s Stop WOKE Act is Unconstitutional
Amicus Brief in Pernell v. Lamb Details Chilling Impact of Law on Florida's Schools
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(NEW YORK) – PEN America has filed an amicus brief in the case of Pernell v. Lamb addressing Florida’s “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act, which bans teachers from discussing some topics related to race, gender, and other protected classes of identity. In the view of PEN America, this law is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court has, in numerous cases, affirmed the First Amendment’s protection of academic freedom and free speech. Florida’s law codifies censorship, and directly harms both the educational experience in the state, and a culture of free expression protected in the U.S. Constitution.
The impact of the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act has already caused disruption in classroom settings, seriously impeding the ability of educators to do their jobs without fear of penalty. The bill’s language is vague, and its implications are difficult to navigate. It requires a broad interpretation of restricted subjects and, as the brief states, “threatens to effectively ban a wide swath of literature, curricula, and historical materials, from classrooms and institutions across the country.”
The brief filed on Friday continues, detailing the chilling impact that the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act has had on Florida’s educational environment: “In response to the law and the political climate, the University of Central Florida’s sociology department canceled every course on race. Florida Gulf Coast University renamed its Center for Critical Race and Ethnic Studies to eliminate the word ‘critical.’ And, at Florida State University, an assistant professor who studied critical race theory delayed going up for tenure, at her department chair’s suggestion, because of the law – while a graduate instructor weeded out student-suggested questions about white privilege from class discussions.”
Educators in other states who are impacted by similar legislation have reported drastic alterations of classroom curriculum for fear of violating the restrictive laws. The brief references a number of examples of this chilling effect, emphasizing the removal of topics such as the work of Fredrick Douglass, jazz and blues music, historic elements of Reconstruction, and more from classrooms impacted by laws similar to Florida’s “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act.
“Florida’s ‘Stop W.O.K.E.’ Act impedes the robust exchange of ideas that is foundational to our education system and our democracy,” said Kate Ruane, Sy Syms director of the U.S. Free Expression programs at PEN America. “This legislation is an extension of the larger trend of educational gag orders restricting free expression in the classroom across the country. The ability of educators to discuss topics relevant to their subject matter, including those subjectively deemed ‘divisive by state legislatures,’ must be protected. The ‘Stop W.O.K.E.’ Act isn’t just dangerous—it’s wholly incompatible with the First Amendment.”
PEN America also filed an amicus brief in the related case of Honeyfund, Inc. v. DeSantis, which challenged the Stop W.O.K.E. Act’s application to businesses that wish to offer diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings.
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.