TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A University of South Florida student and professor are suing state education officials and the university’s board of trustees over recently passed legislation, House Bill 7the “Stop WOKE law”.

Professor Adriana Novoa, who teaches history at USF, student Sam Rechek, and the USF First Amendment Forum have filed a lawsuit against Florida’s ban on critical race theory, alleging that it is government censorship. They are represented by the free speech educational organization FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

The case was filed in federal court in Tallahassee. The lawsuit seeks an injunction of the law, which they say operates “in blatant disregard” of free speech and academic freedom protections in higher education, which are “particular concerns” of the First Amendment. the American Constitution.

Plaintiffs’ request for relief asks the courts to permanently declare the law unconstitutional under the First and 14th Amendments and prevent its enactment, in addition to seeking attorneys’ fees and compensation for court costs.

As previously covered during the bill’s journey from proposal to law, HB 7, titled “Individual Liberty,” blocks the teaching of race-based topics from Florida’s K-12 curriculum, higher education curriculum, and on-the-job training.

HB 7 defines new types of bias for the State of Florida, saying that involving anyone in classes, courses, or training that leads to feelings of “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” because of their demographic status, such as “race, color, sex or national origin” is a form of discrimination.

Additionally, the law states that teaching, training, or activity that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels” one to believe one’s race, color, sex, or national origin is morally superior to members of another is also a form of discrimination. . In short, the bill has been called a ban on the teaching of critical race theory. To be clear, CRT was not taught in Florida’s K-12 school system before the law was passed.

Now in effect, HB 7 bars it from being taught in any of Florida’s “K-20 public education systems,” which includes academic courses in higher education. The lawsuit of USF Professor Novoa and university students alleges that the law not only conflicts with federal free speech protections, but also other state laws, such as the Act on freedom of expression on campus, adopted in 2021.

Lawsuit says Campus Free Speech Act ‘requires public universities to refrain from ‘protecting[ing] students from “access to, or observation of ideas and opinions” – expressly including “faculty research, lectures, writings and commentary” – on the basis that the ideas may be “uncomfortable, intrusive, distasteful or offensive”.

However, HB 7 pushes back against those protections, in addition to the normal academic and expressive rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, according to Novoa and Rechek’s lawsuit. It says plaintiffs are bringing their lawsuit against the state and its officials to “enforce the constitutional and statutory rights of faculty and students in college classrooms to engage in debate uninhibited by state orthodoxy.

Novoa teaches classes that will be directly impacted by the provisions of the law, according to the lawsuit. She has been an instructor at USF since 2001, according to the lawsuit, and currently teaches three classes that would be prohibited by the Stop WOKE law. Therefore, the lawsuit alleges Florida law will now have a “chilling effect” on her and expose Novoa to disciplinary action.

Additionally, under the provisions of the law, Novoa would be open to liability for attorneys’ fees, and USF itself would potentially lose approximately $73 million on an annual basis, in funding.

Rechek, as a student, will not be able to “engage in a debate” with Novoa or his fellow students because of the structure of the Stop WOKE Act, which infringes on his academic freedom and First Amendment rights, according to the lawsuit.

The court filing says students won’t be able to speak their minds or have civil discussions about “hot issues,” including reforming student rights policy, organizing events and workshops on student rights, or “cultivating a community that embraces the merit of the First Amendment” because of the way HB 7 is written and what it prohibits for discussion and teaching academics, according to the lawsuit.

As a result, the rules put in place by the Stop WOKE Act “limit students’ ability to hear—and chill students’ willingness to ask questions—from professors whose views may conflict with those of the state of
Florida,” according to Legal complaint by Novoa and Rechek.

According to FIRE, which represents the professor and the student, HB 7 “suppresses viewpoints disadvantaged by Florida lawmakers, threatens tens of millions of dollars in annual funding for universities that don’t crack down on professors who” promote “an opinion on a blacklisted government, and encourages people to report other Americans to government authorities if they “promote” those opinions – all in the name of “individual liberty.”

Through the trial, FIRE says Novoa and her co-plaintiffs seek relief from the restriction on “ideas that can be considered in a university classroom,” saying HB 7 is full of vague terms that make educators and professors unsure of the lessons the government of State approves for teaching, putting them at risk of being disciplined or fired.

“Without the freedom to engage in vigorous and robust debate on important issues and controversial concepts, a college education is merely an exercise in memorizing facts and rehearsing government-sanctioned viewpoints,” said FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh. “It’s not freedom or education.”

WFLA.com has contacted the Florida Department of Education to comment on the lawsuit.