Free to Divide and Indoctrinate

Last Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker from the North District of Florida issued a preliminary injunction halting enforcement of the employment provisions in Florida’s newly codified Individual Freedom Act (IFA). On the same day, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) submitted a lawsuit challenging the IFA, also known as the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (“Stop W.O.K.E.”) Act, as unconstitutional and “racially motivated censorship.”

In his expertly worded ruling, Judge Walker compared the District Court and himself to “the heroine in Stranger Things” who was tasked to “pull Florida back from the upside down.” The Stop W.O.K.E. Act, in the court’s opinion, is “a naked viewpoint-based regulation on speech that does not pass strict scrutiny,” thereby violating the First Amendment.

Similarly, the ACLU denounces the Florida Legislature for vaguely and inaccurately “defining certain viewpoints that it disfavors as discriminatory.” Therefore, the Stop W.O.K.E. Act assaults “free and open academic inquiry and debate,” as higher education instructors now “fear teaching topics of oppression, privilege, and race and gender inequalities.”

In other words, prohibiting Florida employers and college professors from mandating (not discussing) trainings and curricula that endorse eight controversial concepts identified in the law chills free speech by “muzzling the state’s opponents.” What a dire situation this is for our cultural and corporate elites!

It may very well be the case that the IFA’s legal language needs finetuning to observe the strict scrutiny principle and to rid itself of the illusion of an anti-woke power grab. Certainly, laws are not the best instruments with which to fight ideas.

[Related: “Peer-Reviewed History is Dying of Wokeness”]

However, these two recent challenges to Florida’s rightful pushback against our society’s pathological obsession with race are more than legal opinions. Rather, they are political statements designed by the progressive establishment to, on the one hand, craft a false narrative of leftist innocence, powerlessness, and victimization, and, on the other hand, to make an example of someone trying to bring genuine reform to a society dominated by illiberal and divisive dogmas.

“We double dare you to challenge our orthodoxy!”

In the employment case, the self-described opponents are Honeyfund, a Clearwater technology company with 16 employees; Primo, a Tampa-based Ben & Jerry’s franchisee with 40 employees; and Chevara Orrin, an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) who heads the consultancy Collective Concepts. The plaintiffs are fighting for “the freedom to endorse those eight concepts without fear of government enforcement.” Notably, Judge Walker was appointed by President Obama and rebuked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a 2021 ruling against the state’s “anti-riot” law.

In the higher education case, the ACLU is representing seven professors and one college student from various Florida public universities and colleges, each one of whom is identified by race and gender in the complaint. Observing cancellations of anti-racist trainings and removals of anti-racist statements across all Florida higher education institutions, the plaintiffs describe “a climate of increased racial hostility and harassment on campus” and fear among themselves “and Black instructors and students.”

One plaintiff, a professor who teaches “Feminist Theories, Theories of Sex and Gender in the Humanities,” maintains a “longstanding consensus in her field that notions of merit, objectivity, and colorblindness, among other concepts, function to solidify systems of oppression.” Another plaintiff, a law professor, argues that his pedagogy, “the idea that the legal system is not, and has never been, race-neutral,” would be banned. The student plaintiff, who “endeavors to learn more about racial justice,” feels that she wouldn’t “fully explore certain views and modes of analyses,” including the idea of white privilege, as they are disfavored by the Florida Legislature.

Free and open inquiry is a misrepresentation of the current academic environment. It is a faulty starting point echoed by Michael Bloomberg, who criticized Governor DeSantis and conservatives in general of “government censorship of ideas” through the Stop W.O.K.E. Act. Bloomberg also sides with Judge Walker in arguing that “truth has nothing to fear from free speech.” This could only be true if there was freedom of speech on college campuses and corporate workplaces to begin with.

[Related: “The Pipeline of Indoctrination”]

Ideally, it is only fair practice for social scientists, who are arguably “most directly impacted by the Act,” to teach and discuss concepts and doctrines in a balanced manner. If the race studies professor discussed the New York Times’ 1619 Project alongside the Woodson Center’s 1776 Unites, a compilation of essays on black history, he would not need to worry about the law’s effect on his teaching. After all, there would be no endorsement of controversial theses as universal truths, just robust academic discussions.

But such is not the reality on the ground: woke ideologues would not just concede and respect others’ free expression. The racialized ideas restricted by the Stop W.O.K.E. Act are not merely academic constructs in social sciences or law—they are a dogmatic vehicle that is invading all aspects of American higher education and public life.

Is the political litmus test of mandatory DEI statements a sign of academic freedom, when aspiring scientists must affirm leftist ideology as a condition for employment and career advancement? Is it a free exchange of ideas if medical school students are expected to pursue racial justice to “dismantle white supremacy,” while the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination is watered down to “pass/fail” grading? How about the recent attempt by over 500 medical experts to cancel Dr. Leana Wen so that she wouldn’t share her “unscientific” views at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association? Dr. Wen is a George Washington University professor of health policy who advocates for a pre-pandemic normal regarding vaccinated people and for relaxed school restrictions on masks and distancing.

In this sense, opponents to the Stop W.O.K.E. Act are confusing efforts to tackle intolerance, propaganda, and indoctrination with banning free speech. The challengers and naysayers are defending the indefensible by obfuscating the core of the issue, which is the destructive takeover of all major American institutions by the illiberal woke mob. Stopping bullies is not bullying.

Big Diversity, a multi-billion-dollar industry that sells race essentialism and thrives on dividing Americans, is not the pro-free-speech heroine it claims to be. Neither are the cultural bourgeoise and the academic establishment that support this industry more and more each day.

Their latest crusade against the Stop W.O.K.E. Act is another PR stunt that seeks to intimidate the underdogs of the culture war: “Look what happens if you actually stand up to us!”


Image: Maren Winter, Adobe Stock

Wenyuan Wu

Wenyuan Wu is Executive Director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. Twitter: @wu_wenyuan

3 thoughts on “Free to Divide and Indoctrinate

  1. It has occurred to me that there is a kind of mirror symmetry emerging between left and right. The left wants to cancel people who offend favored groups on the left. The right wants to cancel (e.g. fire teachers) who offend certain groups on the right. We have yet to find ways to have civil discussions about controversial issues. Strangely enough to myself, I am finding both sides more and more at fault.

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