If not, then why were three University of Florida professors swiftly silenced after daring to offer to assist plaintiffs in a lawsuit to overturn a law restricting voting rights?

Is criticizing your state now in the same bracket as don’t bite the monarch’s hand that feeds you?   Don’t shout fire on a crowded campus?   Yes, political pressure forced freedom of speech to take a back seat, at of all places, a university!

The professors, all political scientists, were barred from assisting plaintiffs in a lawsuit to overturn the state’s new law restricting voting rights.  It raises questions of academic freedom and First Amendment rights, and maybe is evidence of some states skidding to new lows constitutionally. 

Or bowing too quickly to a modern magisterial set called governors!

According to reports, university officials told the three that because the school was a state institution, participating in a lawsuit against the state “is adverse to U.F.’s interests” and could not be permitted.  

It’s unclear whether Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, was involved in the decision, but judging from his past actions on various other fronts, it seems likely he might have played a regal role in squashing their rights to free speech.

DeSantis prefers institutions marching to his drumbeat like his ordering local school boards to cease requiring schoolchildren to wear facemasks or lose state funding.  Opposing vaccination passports to board cruise ships and mandates altogether, which he and others with similar views equate with the vile, despicable orders issued during the heinous reign of NAZI Germany. 

Funny, the other day I suggested to my condo manager that since now those residents fully vaccinated will no longer have to wear facemasks in our building, it would be nice if they could voluntarily show they were vaccinated.  Someone who overheard me shouted “NAZI Germany!”

The university’s refusal to allow the professors to testify was a marked turnabout for the University of Florida.  

Like schools nationwide, the university has routinely allowed academic experts to offer testimony in lawsuits, even when they oppose the interests of the political party in power.  Leading experts on academic freedom said they knew of no similar restrictions on professors’ speech and testimony, and they called the action probably unconstitutional. 

One of the professors in the latest filing testified with the University of Florida’s permission in two voting rights lawsuits against Florida’s Republican-led government in 2018. One suit forced the state to provide Spanish-language ballots for Hispanic voters. The other overturned a state-imposed ban on early-voting polling places on Florida university campuses. 

But university officials reversed course after a coalition of advocacy and voting rights groups sued in May to block restrictions on voting enacted this year by the Republican-controlled State Legislature.

Among other provisions, the new law sharply limits the use of ballot drop boxes, makes it harder to obtain absentee ballots and places new requirements on voter registration drives. Plaintiffs argue that the law disproportionately limits the ability of Black and Hispanic voters to cast ballots.

In a letter to university officials, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Florida branch noted Mr. DeSantis had signed legislation this year requiring universities to annually assess the state of academic freedom and ensure that students hear a variety of viewpoints, including those with which they disagree.

Barring the professors’ testimony would seem to go against the grain of those very tenets, the ACLU noted.  The university “simply should not be looking to Governor DeSantis to decide which speech activities it will engage in,” the letter added. “That is precisely the opposite of the values that universities are thought to stand for.”

While I agree with Gov. DeSantis on many other issues, and feel terrible about what his brave wife Casey is having to contend with and pray she’ll beat her breast cancer, I still say in this instance involving free speech, three cheers for the ACLU! 

Besides an inveterate blogger, Tom Madden is an author of countless published articles and five books, including his latest, WORDSHINE MAN, available in January on Amazon.   He is the founder and CEO of TransMedia Group, an award-winning public relations firm serving clients worldwide since 1981 and has conducted remarkably successful media campaigns and crisis management for America’s largest companies and organizations.