ACLU Recommends Colleges and Universities Reject Efforts to Restrict Constitutionally Protected Speech on Campuses Re: Israel-Gaza War

By Kapish Kalita 

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union, in an open letter to 650 college and university leaders this week, opposed attempts to stifle free speech on college campuses, specifically about demonstrations relating to the Israel-Gaza war.

According to the ACLU, this follows a call from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for “universities to investigate Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters,” because of their “material support to Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.”

The ACLU urged colleges to “reject calls to investigate, disband, or penalize student groups on the basis of their exercise of free speech rights,” because “all students deserve equal access to education—free from harassment and discrimination on campus,” and that “ideologically motivated efforts to police speech on campus destroy the foundation on which academic communities are built.”

In addition, the ACLU letter noted “students’ political rhetoric is not “material support for terrorism,” and “investigations chill speech (and) foster an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, and betray the spirit of free inquiry.”

Executive director of the ACLU, Anthony D Romero, said, while “The devastating conflict in Israel and Palestine has embroiled campuses…sometimes resulting in speech that includes terms we vehemently disagree with or even find offensive and repugnant…college and university leaders” must “hold fast to our nation’s best traditions and reject proposals to restrict constitutionally protected speech.”

“A blanket call to investigate every chapter of a pro-Palestinian student group for ‘material support to terrorists’ — without even an attempt to cite evidence — is unwarranted, wrong, and dangerous. It echoes America’s mistakes during the McCarthy era and is counterproductive,” Romero added.

The ACLU letter noted, “Our concern about impermissible chilling of free speech and association on campus is not hypothetical. 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…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.’

“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.”

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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