Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, has ordered pro-Palestinian student groups at Florida universities to shut themselves down. While the stated rationale is that these activists are providing “material support” for terrorism, the governor’s order is a direct violation of free speech principles, as well as the First Amendment.
State University System of Florida Chancellor Raymon Rodrigues announced the order on Tuesday, citing the on-campus activism of National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student group that is active at both the University of Florida and the University of Southern Florida.
“Based on the National SJP’s support of terrorism, in consultation with Governor DeSantis, the student chapters must be deactivated,” wrote Rodrigues. “These two student chapters may form another organization that complies with Florida state statutes and university policies.”
The chancellor did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In his written order, he explains that National SJP circulated a “toolkit” that expresses solidarity with Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, another name for the series of brutal terrorist attacks committed by Hamas against Israeli citizens on October 7. In the state’s view, this is ample evidence that the students are “knowingly providing material support” to Hamas.
The toolkit is indeed vile; its authors celebrate the slaughter of innocent Israeli civilians as “a historic win for the Palestinian resistance.” Anyone who disagrees with the activists is free to criticize them, organize protests against them, and form student groups that seek to counter their aims. No one has the right to shut them down, however.
National SJP’s views on the conflict in Gaza are clearly protected speech rather than “material support” for terrorism. Unfortunately for would-be censors in Florida, the First Amendment takes precedent, explains the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.
“This directive is a dangerous—and unconstitutional—threat to free speech,” wrote FIRE in a statement. “If it goes unchallenged, no one’s political beliefs will be safe from government suppression.”
Conservatives who claim to oppose censorship on college campuses—and call it out whenever right-leaning students and faculty are the victims and leftwing activists are the aggressors—are engaged in obvious hypocrisy if they do not criticize DeSantis for this. The answer to bad speech is more speech; it is not state action.