Protesters from the progressive organization Jewish Voice for Peace chant “cease-fire now” and “free Palestine” inside the U.S. House Cannon Office Building rotunda Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. U.S. Capitol Police arrested and led protesters away through the New Jersey Avenue exit. The demonstration occurred the same day that President Joe Biden visited Tel Aviv, Israel to announce defense aid as well as humanitarian assistance for Palestinians displaced in the Gaze Strip. (Ashley Murray/States Newsroom)
Top leaders at the American Civil Liberties Union criticized Florida in a letter Wednesday for demanding the deactivation of chapters of a pro-Palestine student organization.
More than 600 college and university leaders received the letter, urging them to reject political calls to investigate and punish student groups for exercising free speech, using Florida as the main example.
The ACLU letter states:
“On October 24, 2023, Florida State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues issued an order ‘in consultation with Governor DeSantis,’ calling for the deactivation of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters at public universities in Florida. In his order, Chancellor Rodrigues cited Florida’s material support for terrorism statute and asserted that a ‘toolkit’ released by the National SJP expressed the group’s support for terrorism. In particular, Chancellor Rodrigues cited the toolkit’s reference to Hamas’s ‘Al Aqsa Flood’ operation as ‘the resistance,’ and its statement that ‘Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement,’ as examples of the organization’s ‘support for terrorism.'”
The letter continued: “To be clear, the ACLU in no way approves of or endorses such statements. Endorsing brutal mass murder of civilians is contrary to the principles of human rights that animate our domestic agenda. And yet under basic free speech principles, such statements are constitutionally protected. University officials may criticize or condemn the statements contained in the National SJP’s toolkit. Those statements, however, are not material support for terrorism, but political advocacy fully protected by the First Amendment.”
According to the letter, local chapters of the organization can’t be penalized for their association with National Students for Justice in Palestine. Additionally, the ACLU wrote that because the statements from the association weren’t coordinated with Hamas, they counted as independent speech.
“In the absence of any indication that these student organizations have themselves engaged in unlawful activity, or violated valid university policies, both the First Amendment and bedrock principles of academic freedom stand firmly against any attempts to punish them for their protected speech and associations,” the ACLU leaders wrote.
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