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ACLU files suit against state officials, including DeSantis, over Palestinian student group ban

A grey and brown building with many windows is in the background, behind many palm trees and other foliage. A blue and white sign at the front left says "UF University of Florida Pugh Hall."
The University of Florida's group 'Students for Justice in Palestine' filed suit against state officials for attempts to ban the organization.

The American Civil Liberties Union is filing a lawsuit over the state's order to ban the University of Florida's chapter of 'Students for Justice in Palestine.'

The American Civil Liberties Union is filing a lawsuit against multiple defendants, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, on behalf of a student group at the University of Florida.

The UF chapter of 'Students for Justice in Palestine' filed the complaint Thursday against Florida officials for placing an order to ban the group for alleged links to a national organization with the same name, according to a press release.

Along with DeSantis, the complaint names State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues and the Board of Governors, University of Florida President Ben Sasse, and the University of Florida Board of Trustees.

The order issued by Rodrigues, in consultation with DeSantis, directed state university presidents to "deactivate" the student groups due to their affiliations with a larger, national group.

It said the national group violated state anti-terrorism laws by providing a "toolkit" to chapters, alleging they were providing "material support" to Hamas.

However, at a Board of Governors meeting last week, Rodrigues said the ban would be put on pause after university chapters told the state they were not affiliated with the national group. But the ACLU says the "deactivation order" of the group remains in place.

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

The ACLU said the order bypassed university procedures to discover whether the UF SJP had violated university policy and did not include any violations that could justify its deactivation.

They added the order violated the SJP's First Amendment rights by censoring its speech and association. While the group is still active, "the looming threat of deactivation hampers its activism," the civil rights group said.

Previously, ACLU Florida officials told WUSF the organization sent a letter to about 650 schools nationwide rejecting the claims in the state's order to disband chapters of SJP.

"If there's any place in American society, where there's supposed to be room for raucous and offensive debate about social and political issues, it's a university campus," ACLU of Florida Interim Director Howard Simon said.

The UF student group is represented by the ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, and Palestine Legal in the lawsuit.

The University of South Florida's chapter of SJP remains active, but is not involved with the complaint.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.