The University of South Florida chapter of the group National Students for Justice in Palestine has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and state higher-education officials over an order that called for disbanding the organization on campuses.
The lawsuit was filed less than a week after a similar case was filed by a Students for Justice in Palestine group at the University of Florida.
The USF lawsuit challenges an Oct. 24 order by university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues that alleged actions by National Students for Justice in Palestine violated a state anti-terrorism law.
Rodrigues called for shuttering the group’s chapters on Florida campuses, but left open the possibility that the organizations could restart if they followed state law and university policies. The order came as state leaders have tried to show support for Israel in its war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The 26-page USF lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Gainesville, alleged a violation of First Amendment rights. The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare the order unconstitutional and block its enforcement.
Named defendants are DeSantis, Rodrigues, USF President Rhea Law, members of the state university system’s Board of Governors and members of USF’s Board of Trustees.
“Neither the state of Florida nor its state colleges and universities are enclaves immune from the requirements and protections of the First Amendment. But once again events suggest that defendants either don’t know that or reject it,” the lawsuit said.
Attorneys also said the USF chapter disagrees with at least some of the national group’s views and has “no formal relationship” with the national organization.
The lawsuit pointed to comments made by Rodrigues during a Nov. 9 meeting of the university system’s Board of Governors that indicated Florida student groups are not directly affiliated with the national organization.
Rodrigues said the board was seeking legal input on the matter. However, as the order has not been withdrawn, the lawsuit said the USF student group is in “limbo” and fears that deactivation could still happen.
A spokesman for the Board of Governors told the News Service of Florida last week that the board would not comment on pending litigation.