- A federal judge Friday denied a request to temporarily block a Florida law that limits what public colleges can teach, calling the free speech concerns raised by professors and students "entirely too speculative."
- In August, a coalition of New College of Florida professors and students sued the Florida education commissioner over a law championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that bars professors from teaching about "certain topics or presenting information in specified ways" in general education core courses. The lawsuit also names New College’s trustees and the Florida university system’s board of governors.
- But U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled the group lacked standing to seek a preliminary injunction. "If you dislike a law or are afraid of possible future consequences, you cannot simply invoke the jurisdiction of this Court based solely on how you feel or what you believe may happen," he wrote Friday.
In May, DeSantis signed a bill into law limiting public college instruction on certain subjects, like “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.”
It also bars public colleges from spending on diversity, equity and inclusion programs, or on those that “promote or engage in political or social activism.”
NCF Freedom, the plaintiff group behind the lawsuit, argued that the law censors free speech and violates the First Amendment. The professors and students also expressed concern that faculty salaries would be cut based on their speech in the classroom.
Walker declined to comment on the law's constitutionality, writing that the plaintiffs had not provided sufficient evidence to establish standing.
"This Court recognizes that the average person might find the outcome in this case frustrating," he wrote. "Here we have real professors who teach real subjects at a real school where lawmakers and decisionmakers have demonstrated real hostility toward certain ideas and viewpoints, and there is now a law that could or could not be used to punish them."
The plaintiffs have a path forward, he wrote, if they can point to a law that directly targets them with disciplinary action, a regulation that enforces a challenged statute, or evidence that the state means to suppress their speech.
But they didn’t make any of those arguments, Walker wrote.
"Instead, Plaintiffs’ scant evidence demonstrates only that they subjectively fear potential consequences that may come about based on the general hostility toward certain viewpoints that specific state officials have expressed," the judge wrote.
This isn't the first attention-grabbing higher education case Walker has weighed in on.
Last November, he temporarily blocked enforcement of Florida’s Stop WOKE Act in public colleges, calling the law “dystopian” and saying it infringed on instructors’ free speech rights.
The act would bar college faculty and K-12 teachers from discussing certain topics related to race and gender. An appeals court upheld Walker's temporary injunction in March.