ACLU Sues DeSantis on Behalf of Pro-Hamas Student Group

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Governor Ron DeSantis and several education officials, officially challenging efforts to remove a pro-Hamas student group from Florida campuses. The suit was filed by the University of Florida Chapter of the ‘Students For Justice in Palestine’ (SJP) with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“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 SJP,” the ACLU announced on the social media platform X.

“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…

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.”

“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 wrote.

The order, which the local SJP chapter and the ACLU are now challenging, has not yet been carried out by the Florida University System, despite an Oct. 24 memo signed by Chancellor Ray Rodrigues “in consultation with” the Governor ordering the universities to do so.

At a board of governors meeting last week, Rodrigues followed up his original memo by stating that the constitutions of the two Florida SJP chapters “clearly state” that they are independent of the national SJP, leading the universities to refuse the order.

Despite the roadblocks, DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern told several media outlets that “Groups that claim to be part of a foreign terrorist movement have no place on our university campuses.”

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The original directive to disband the Florida chapters of the SJP followed the release of a “toolkit” by the National Students for Justice in Palestine, whereby the group identified themselves as “part” of the Hamas terrorist movement.

“These chapters exist under the headship of the National Students for Justice in Palestine, who distributed a toolkit identifying themselves as part of the Operation AlAqsa Flood,” Chancellor Rodrigues said last month, specifying that it is against Florida law “to provide material support… to a designated foreign terrorist organization.”

At the board of governors meeting last week, Rodrigues acknowledged challenges to the directive but reaffirmed the Florida University System’s stance against violence and anti-Semitism.

“Our campuses have avoided the violence and anti-Semitism that is occurring on campuses all across this nation,” Rodrigues said, according to Politico. “In Florida, we will not tolerate violent activity, antisemitic activity, or a failure to observe the law.”

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On Tuesday, George Washington University became the third university nationwide to suspend its chapter of the SJP after pro-Hamas students projected anti-Israel imagery onto the campus library.

Earlier this month, Columbia University in New York and Brandeis University in Massachusetts suspended their chapters. Brandeis permanently suspended their SJP chapter on Nov. 6, saying that the group “openly supports Hamas.”

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