'Florida Has a First Amendment Problem': Judge Blocks Pronoun Law From Applying to a Trans Teacher

'Florida Has a First Amendment Problem': Judge Blocks Pronoun Law From Applying to a Trans Teacher

On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked Florida's pronoun law from applying to a transgender teacher

Liv Caputo
Liv Caputo
|
April 10, 2024

TALLAHASSEE, FL—A federal court ruled that a transgender teacher's First Amendment rights were violated by a 2023 law requiring educators to provide pronouns that are consistent with their biological sex.

This preliminary ruling, however, does not apply statewide. It only addresses the two plaintiffs, transgender Hillsborough County teacher Katie Wood, and nonbinary educator AV Schwandes, who was fired last year by Florida Virtual School.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker blocked on Tuesday the enforcement of the state's law against Wood, but did not grant an injunction sought by Schwandes.

“Once again, the state of Florida has a First Amendment problem. Of late, it has happened so frequently, some might say you can set your clock by it,” Walker’s 60-page ruling began, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“This time, the state of Florida declares that it has the absolute authority to redefine your identity if you choose to teach in a public school. So, the question before this court is whether the First Amendment permits the state to dictate, without limitation, how public-school teachers refer to themselves when communicating to students. The answer is a thunderous ‘no.’”

The 2023 law bans teachers from providing personal pronouns that do not align with their biological sex. Violating the law can result in financial fees for school district and teachers being stripped of their certifications.

Wood and Schwandes argued that the law violates both their First Amendment rights and a civil rights law. The Florida Department of Education, however, asked Judge Walker to dismiss the lawsuit, as the Legislature is allowed to “promote the state’s pedagogical goals and vindicate parental rights.”

But Walker brought up Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which allowed a high-school football coach to pray with his team in exercising his freedom of religion.

“Both Coach Kennedy and Ms. Wood are expressing their own personal messages about their own personal identities to their students — identities that exist independent from their roles as coach or teacher,” Walker wrote.

However, Walker said that Wood did not "persuasively explain why she is entitled to a statewide injunction", therefore allowing the law to still apply to other teachers. This, Walker wrote, means that injunctions should be "limited in scope" to the matter at hand.

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Liv Caputo

Liv Caputo

Livia Caputo is a senior at Florida State University, working on a major in Criminology, and a triple minor in Psychology, Communications, and German. She has been working on a journalism career for the past year, and hopes to become a successful reporter after graduation. Her work has been cited in Fox News, the New York Post, and the Daily Mail

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