ACLU Urges Federal Court to Block Florida Officials’ Unconstitutional Order to Deactivate Pro-Palestine Student Group

The ACLU, the ACLU of Florida and Palestine Legal represent the University of Florida chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine in a lawsuit against state officials.

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
January 26, 2024 3:24 pm

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, and Palestine Legal argued that Florida officials’ attempt to deactivate the University of Florida chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a clear violation of the students’ constitutional rights to free speech and association.

“The court acknowledged today that words have consequences, and we believe that they have consequences in this case,” said Brian Hauss, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology project. “Our client’s brave decision to challenge state officials’ attempt to restrict their speech sends the strong message that censorship is not only unconstitutional, but that it has no place in our schools.”

The ACLU and its partners urged the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida to block Chancellor Ray Rodrigues and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ unconstitutional attempt to silence and punish the University of Florida chapter of SJP based on nothing more than the protected speech of the national SJP organization.

“With more than 25,000 Palestinians killed and more than 60,000 wounded, we see our organizing for the end to all the violence in Gaza as urgent and continuing, and this looming deactivation threat has left us terrified and disheartened,” said students with the University of Floridas chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. “As the judge rightly recognized, ‘words have consequences’ and no matter what the ruling is, we can’t let the government silence us or others like us.”

For decades, students have participated in and benefited from the marketplace of ideas on college campuses, particularly with respect to pressing and divisive social and political issues. The Supreme Court has long recognized that right. As the ACLU argued, Florida’s attempt to deactivate the UF SJP violates the groups’ constitutional freedoms by enforcing viewpoint-based restrictions on speech and association.

“This case is about protecting the role universities play as a place where important social issues can be vigorously debated — free from politicians’ attempts to censor viewpoints they disfavor,” said Howard Simon, interim executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “Florida officials must protect free speech on campus and, at the same time, ensure that all students can pursue their education free from targeted harassment and discrimination. Silencing pro-Palestinian voices neither protects students nor keeps colleges campuses safe.”

The lawsuit comes at a moment when there has been a dangerous surge in efforts across the country to censor students and professors voicing opposition to Israeli and/or U.S. government policies.

“As the court recognized today, the words of officials have real consequences. SJP’s activism sits squarely in the tradition of students speaking out against war and injustice,” said Radhika Sainath, senior staff attorney with Palestine Legal. “The deactivation order puts these students at real risk in a moment when their speech matters more than ever.”

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