Florida university system sued over effort to disband pro-Palestinian student group

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's university system was sued Thursday over its effort to silence a chapter of a pro-Palestinian student group, with a free speech group arguing that the state is violating the First Amendment rights of an organization that's promoting peace.

State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues last month ordered schools to disband chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, saying the national organization supports terrorism after Hamas fighters attacked Israeli citizens on Oct. 7. Rodrigues has since backed off the order while consulting lawyers to see how the state can proceed and whether it can force the groups to pledge to reject violence and Hamas and to follow the law.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court says the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine is only loosely affiliated with the national chapter and doesn't accept money or coordinate planning with the group. Either way, the national group's speech is protected by the constitution, the lawsuit said.

The UF group's mission is to “promote international law, human rights, and justice for all people affected by this conflict,” according to the lawsuit. The suit said interest in the group has grown since the war between Israel and Hamas began, but it now has to focus on its survival.

“Members fear that at any moment the University will disrupt their ability to sustain their growing momentum for their advocacy,” the suit said.

The Florida Department of Education and the Board of Governors didn't immediately respond to an email seeking the status of the order to disband the group.