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FL student groups defend Palestinian rights with lawsuits against state officials

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Friday, December 1, 2023   

The Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida are filing lawsuits against the deactivation orders issued by State University System Chancellor Raymond Rodrigues and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The groups claim the looming orders come at a time when the conflict in the contested territories of Israel and Palestine are a matter of vital public discourse, depriving them of essential resources.

Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, is part of the legal team representing the students.

"Our client has made a very brave decision to challenge state officials' attempt to restrict student speech, in a case that they and we hope sends a strong message that censorship in our schools is unconsitutional," said Shamsi.

The state's deactivation was based on the groups' alleged connection to a toolkit supporting Hamas' attack on Israel, which violates a Florida law against providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations. However, neither group has a formal relationship with the National Students for Justice in Palestine, which the Chancellor later acknoledged.

According to Shamsi, the groups recognize that colleges are contending with how to manage increased tensions and threats on their campuses while keeping students safe, but pointed out that it doesn't mean they have to abandon students' rights to do so.

"We take the weight and complexities of those issues seriously," she added, "but it is precisely in times of heightened crisis that university leaders must remain steadfast in their commitment to free speech, to open debate and peaceful dissent on campus."

While the Chancellor Rodrigues says they are reviewing legal and deactivation options, a spokesman for the governor's office said it was "reprehensible to see some university administrators, after the fact, creating bureaucratic roadblocks."



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