Opponents rush to court to block Florida’s intellectual freedom surveys on college campuses

by | Mar 28, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Opponents of a controversial 2021 law asked a federal judge this weekend to prevent the state from moving forward with surveys about “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on college and university campuses.

Attorneys for students, faculty members and groups challenging the law filed an emergency motion Saturday seeking a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction. The motion said surveys could be distributed to college and university students and employees as soon as April 4.

The opponents filed an overall challenge to the law last summer, contending that the surveys would violate the First Amendment. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has scheduled a trial to start Sept. 19, according to an online docket.

Attorneys for the state had not filed a response to the emergency motion as of Monday morning, according to the docket.

Under the law, state universities and colleges will be required to conduct annual surveys. The law directed the university system’s Board of Governors and State Board of Education, which oversees state colleges, to each have a survey that will be used by schools and that “considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the university (or college) community, including students, faculty, and staff, feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.”

The law (HB 233) also said survey results will be published each September, starting this year. Students and employees are not required to participate in the surveys.

The emergency motion included a schedule that the plaintiffs said they had obtained. That schedule indicated invitations would be sent to students and employees April 4 to take the survey, according to the motion.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, including the United Faculty of Florida union, contended that allowing the surveys to move forward on the timeline “threatens irreparable harm to plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.” The motion said Republican lawmakers passed the measure to target what they perceived as liberal bias on campuses.

“Defendants are required to report survey ‘results’ in September, which Florida’s leaders have made plain they intend to use to punish or suppress disfavored viewpoints,” the motion said. “At the very least, the junk science that defendants peddle with these surveys threatens to further fuel a false narrative that has put academic freedom and plaintiffs’ free speech and associational rights under direct and severe attack. To accomplish those harms, defendants need only campus-wide statistics.”

But in a motion to dismiss the case filed in September, attorneys for the state said the plaintiffs’ allegations of a “violation of their free associational rights premised upon a parade of horribles arising from the provisions requiring colleges and universities to conduct surveys to measure intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity on their campuses are … unshackled from the text of HB 233.”

“Without knowing the content of any survey, how it will be administered, or how the results may be utilized in the future, plaintiffs foretell future injuries resulting from a hypothetical chain of contingencies that find no footing in the language of the statute they are challenging,” the motion said. “Of course, this is not how the constitutionality of a statute is determined.”

Walker has not ruled on the motion to dismiss the case, according to the docket.


%d bloggers like this: