Pro-Palestine student group, ACLU sues University of Florida system, DeSantis

A pro-Palestine student group and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced Thursday they are suing the University of Florida system and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for trying to deactivate the group and violating students’ free speech rights.

“Our client, the University of Florida Students for Justice in Palestine, is suing university leaders and Governor DeSantis for violating its First Amendment rights by ordering the deactivation of the group as punishment for a statement from the independent national [Students for Justice in Palestine],” the ACLU posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The lawsuit, jointly filed by the ACLU, ACLU of Florida and Palestine Legal as three organizations co-representing the student group, challenges an order issued by the university chancellor that targets the group. University Chancellor Raymond Rodrigues’s order “in consultation with DeSantis” instructed the school to strip the group of its official recognition.

In his order, Rodrigues cited a statement from the national Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which is where the ACLU and the Florida chapter centered their argument. In the lawsuit, they allege that Rodrigues’s order is a serious and stigmatizing allegation that has been based solely on statements the national chapter made.

“Local student group chapters cannot be punished for their association with their separate, national organization — nor can the government selectively punish and censor student groups for engaging in speech it doesn’t like or agree with,” the ACLU posted on X.

According to the lawsuit, the local chapter and the national chapter share no formal relationship “other than sharing the ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ name.”

The plaintiffs argue that independent political advocacy, regardless of its viewpoint, is protected by the First Amendment. Florida state law excludes speech that is “conducted in coordination with, or at the direction of, a designated foreign terrorist organization,” the lawsuit said.

“Free speech is a foundational value of our democracy, and our right to discover new perspectives — and share our own — relies on the robust protection of free speech on public college and university campuses,” the ACLU’s post said.

DeSantis, who has been an outspoken advocate for Israel in the conflict, characterized members of the SJP organization as part of the militant group Hamas and alleged that they materially support the terrorism the group has perpetuated. He said he is proud of what he has been able to do as governor, referencing the group’s deactivation across the Florida university system.

“Our client’s brave decision to challenge officials’ attempt to ban the group sends a strong message: Censorship in our schools is blatantly unconstitutional,” the ACLU said.

This story was updated at 8:46 a.m.

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