Nov 16, 2023 - Politics & Policy

DeSantis, Florida university sued over ban of pro-Palestinian student group

Students at the University of Central Florida hold a rally in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 13. Photo: Paul Hennesy/Anadolu via Getty Images

A pro-Palestinian student group at the University of Florida is suing school leadership and Gov. Ron DeSantis for allegedly violating its First Amendment rights.

Driving the news: The University of Florida's Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the lawsuit Thursday alleging its First Amendment rights were violated with the order to deactivate its group "as punishment for a statement."

State of play: State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues wrote a letter to university presidents last month, telling them their SJP chapters "must be deactivated."

  • The move to deactivate the student groups came after the National Students for Justice chapter released a "toolkit" that Rodrigues' letter said was in support of the Hamas attack and in violation of a Florida statute.
  • The decision, the letter said, was made "in consultation with Governor DeSantis."
  • However, Rodrigues said last week that the groups were not deactivated since they are "not subservient or under the national Students for Justice in Palestine," per CNN.

Flashback: The student group previously told Axios in a statement that it found the "recent attempt by the DeSantis administration to shut down our chapter disgraceful."

  • "If followed through, a precedent would be set to shut down any organization that does not align with the ideals held by Governor DeSantis," the group added.

The big picture: Tensions are escalating on college campuses across the U.S. over the Israel-Hamas war, as universities crack down on pro-Palestinian protests and students step up demonstrations.

What they're saying: "Florida's deactivation order chills speech, fosters an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and violates the First Amendment," the ACLU said in a statement.

  • "Local student group chapters cannot be punished for their association with 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 organization said.
  • DeSantis and the SJP chapter did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

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