A law signed by Florida Republican Governor Ron Desantis that demands yearly surveys of the beliefs of faculty members and students at public colleges and universities in the state is continuing to be challenged in court. Essentially, the provisions of the law could function as an intimidation tactic, allowing an inroad to single out those whose beliefs are different from the perspectives of those in power. The law also states that these public educational institutions are not permitted to “shield” students from certain ideological perspectives, and putting this demand into practice could amount to forcing faculty members to promote certain viewpoints — a potential free speech violation.
As a lawsuit against the controversial legislation put it:
‘While [the law] may purport to protect and advance intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity on Florida’s public college and university campuses, its reality — and its intention — is the exact opposite. Without regard for the First Amendment, the law permits the state to collect the private political beliefs of students and compels faculty both to espouse and promote views they do not share and carefully consider whether and how to discuss views that they do.’
As further summarized by the voting rights organization Democracy Docket, the lawsuit “alleges that these provisions violate the First and 14th Amendments by infringing on constitutionally-protected freedoms of speech and association.” At this point, plaintiffs on the case include the United Faculty of Florida, a union representing education workers in the state, and the student-focused gun reform organization known as March for Our Lives, which was founded in the wake of the 2017 Parkland, Florida school shooting. Voting rights lawyer Marc Elias said over the weekend in reference to the case that if “you are rightfully outraged by Florida’s effort to undermine the 1st Amendment right of university faculty, you should be paying attention to this lawsuit.”
If you are rightfully outraged by Florida's effort to undermine the 1st Amendment right of university faculty, you should be paying attention to this lawsuit.https://t.co/wyqxtnBjQK
— Marc E. Elias (@marceelias) October 30, 2021
Elias spoke in reference to the recent denial by authorities at the University of Florida of permission for three professors to testify as expert witnesses in a case challenging new election restrictions backed by DeSantis. The school characterized the proposed expert testimony as “paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution,” but observers raised serious concerns about whether the ability of the professors to exercise free speech was being impeded. Plaintiffs in the case indicated that they “intend to ask if the governor’s office was involved in the university’s decision,” as NPR summarizes.