Educators sound the alarm on DeSantis' classroom censorship

In his latest effort to regulate higher education, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation back in April that will allow the state to oversee the inner workings of universities, or what DeSantis referred to as a "hotbed for stale ideologies." The series of regulations, collectively called the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act," took effect on July 1st and includes changes to the tenure system, the abolishment of widely accepted accreditation practices, and mandatory yearly "viewpoint diversity surveys" — perhaps the most controversial part of the new regime. The law also places a ban on training focused on race or diversity in schools and in the workplace.

"It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you'd be exposed to a lot of different ideas," DeSantis said at a press conference earlier this year. "Unfortunately, now the norm is, these are more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed."

The "Stop W.O.K.E. Act," where "W.O.K.E." stands for "Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees," falls in line with the right wing's nationwide campaign to rid public education of "critical race theory."

DeSantis, who himself attended Yale and then Harvard Law School, has been a longtime critic of elite universities that he believes have become "repressive environments" for conservative thinking and ideas. At its inception, DeSantis championed the legislation as a strong stand against what he saw as state-sanctioned critical race theory. "We won't allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other," he said.

"I also want Florida to be known as a brick wall against all things 'woke,'" DeSantis said back in February. "This is where 'woke' goes to die."

Since Friday, when the law went into effect, the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" has already faced strong legal challenges. Led by Associate Professor Robert Cassanello at the University of Central Florida, critics argue that the law violates teachers' constitutional rights.

"The governor, and the Florida Legislature acting at his behest, has repeatedly sought to punish companies who have engaged in speech that displeases him, in flagrant violation of the First Amendment," the preliminary motion filed on last week read.

A professor of the civil rights movement, Jim Crow America, emancipation, and reconstruction, Cassanello is worried that the regulations will restrict his ability to fully teach his courses. DeSantis' new law restricts the "ability to accurately and fully teach these subjects," he said.

Cassanello's institution, the University of Central Florida, withdrew its anti-racism statement after the law went into effect.

Screenshot of anti-racism statement being suspended due to Florida law.

A U.S. District judge is expected to rule on the lawsuit soon.

After the initial passage of the act, several Florida legislators came out strongly against the governor's attack on higher education.

Member of the Florida State Senate Bobby Powell sees the legislation as an attempt to suppress the history of people of color. "You cannot discuss Robert E. Lee, or George Wallace, or Selma or Charlottesville without context…Slavery happened. Hangings happened. Burnings happened. Massacres happened. Jim Crow happened. George Floyd happened. And no amount of legislative banishments can erase those uncomfortable facts," Powell said.

Even amid the lawsuit, Florida's state government started approving mechanisms to enforce the new legislation this week. The board is working on passing penalties for university employees who do not go along with the new regulations. Additionally, the implementation will now tie state university funding to compliance.

Depending on how the judge rules, this legislation could have large implications for other states.

In Texas, for example, Gov. Greg Abbott already passed a controversial bill in 2021 regulating the teaching of slavery and racism in PreK-12 classrooms and could take the passage of the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" as a green light to continue to regulate education.

One of Cassanello's main concerns is that the nature of these "critical race theory" bans is so vague, making their future impact currently unknown. "People are really concerned about their freedom in the classroom," he said. "A lot of this legislation is unclear about where the lines are."

Republicans react to another mass shooting with another round of deflection

Following the mass shooting that took place at the Fourth of July Parade in Highland Park, Ill, which left seven people dead, far-right figures are reaching for their grab-bag of different things to blame the latest massacre on anything but guns.

MAGA politician Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., suggested that the attack was part of Democrats' plans to push forward gun reform. Along with blaming Democrats, Greene argued that recent mass shootings have been caused by mental health medications themselves, such as the commonly used anti-depressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI).

In a video posted on her Facebook Live series, Greene espoused a wholly unfounded theory that Democrats were involved in the planning of the Highland Park shooting.

"Two shootings on July 4th, one in a rich, white neighborhood and another at a fireworks display. It almost sounds like it's designed to persuade Republicans to go along with more gun control," Greene said. "We didn't see that happen at all the Pride parades in the month of June, but as soon as we hit MAGA month, as soon as we hit the month that we're all celebrating, loving our country, we have shootings."

Greene's conspiracy theory works in conjunction with the repeated right-wing trope that mental illness is the cause for mass shootings, not the guns themselves.

"Gun control won't stop this epidemic of evil," Greene tweeted on Tuesday. Fellow freshman Republican flamethrower Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., similarly dismissed the need for gun control.

The AR-15 that 21-year-old shooter Robert Crimo III used in the shooting was legally purchased despite previous police reports that he displayed signs of "clear and present danger." Crimo has since been arrested and charged with seven counts of murder.

Instead of blaming the lack of gun regulations, Greene took to blaming Crimo's mental health medication for the shooting. Reposting a clearly photoshopped image of Crimo in a jail cell, Greene tweeted "Is he in jail or rehab or a psychiatric center in this photo?...What drugs or psychiatric drugs or both does he use?" She has called on the Highland Park police to "Release his records."

Fox News' Tucker Carlson sang a similar tune hours later on his hit primetime show.

Showing a graph of mass shootings since 1991, Carlson claimed that prescriptions for anti-depressants had increased 3,000 percent since, making no mention that the actual jump begins after the expiration of the federal ban on assault weapons.

The shooting came days after President Joe Biden signed into law the first major gun safety regulation passed by Congress in 30 years.

The bill focuses on enacting incentives for states to pass "red flag" laws that allow courts to take guns away from individuals deemed a threat. Additionally, the bill pours more federal money into mental health resources.

But instead of commending President Biden on allocating money towards mental health, Greene accused the bill of targeting right-wing gun owners.

"Passing red flag laws was not a solution by Democrats to stop mass shootings," Greene tweeted. "It will be a tool to disarm any gun owner that wants to stop abortion, the trans agenda on kids, mass illegal migration, & big government oppression suffocating our families, faith, & freedoms."