Citing Grave Free Speech Concerns, PEN America Rejects Florida Campus Ban on Students for Justice in Palestine
Florida Government Officials Allege Speech, Protest and Written Words Constitute Criminal "Material Support" to Terrorists, Which PEN America Rejects
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(NEW YORK) — PEN America today decried the decision of the State University System of Florida to shut down all Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters at member institutions. The System’s move was made in consultation with Governor Ron DeSantis, whose administration alleged that the student group committed a criminal felony offense–material support to a terrorist organization–through its speech, protests, and ‘Day of Resistance’ toolkit. PEN America rejects that allegation.
The DeSantis administration based its allegation on the content of SJP’s ‘Day of Resistance Toolkit,’ which was sent to SJP campus chapters around the country as they hosted protests in support of Palestinians last week. The toolkit identifies Hamas’s attack on Israel as a “historic win” and spells out how students can become involved in mobilizing to liberate Palestine “from the river to the sea.” It states that Israeli settlers are not civilians, and that Palestinian students in exile are “PART of” the Palestinian liberation movement, “not in solidarity” with it. The toolkit does not reference or include indicia of “material support” as legally defined.
In response, Jonathan Friedman, director of Free Expression and Education Programs, issued the following statement:
“This policy is part of a pattern from the Florida government, ready to cast aside free speech to silence students and censor campuses. The SJP toolkit in question includes abhorrent sentiments, but when university administrators or government officials believe students have made offensive statements or even supported hateful ideologies, it does not give them free license to abridge fundamental First Amendment rights, which must be upheld without prejudice. The notion of ‘material support’ for a terrorist organization is meant to apply to situations such as the supply of weapons or economic support, not acts of speech by supporters who identify with a cause. Absent evidence of criminal activity, accusing these students of committing felonies and banning this student club from all campuses in the state based on ideological grounds is a dangerous act of official government suppression. This policy should be rescinded immediately.”
About PEN America
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org.
Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057