Florida is in a novel situation: A national organization has allegedly committed a felony and explicitly said that its student chapters are part of the felony. What should happen in this case?
According to an October 24 letter to presidents of the State University System (SUS) of Florida penned by SUS Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, the organization called National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has broken Florida law by saying it is “part” of the terrorist actions in Israel, not merely supporting those actions through First Amendment activity. As a result, Rodrigues requires that student SJP chapters be derecognized.
The key document on which the chancellor relies is SJP’s Day of Resistance Toolkit. The toolkit refers to campus SJP organizations as “chapters” and states:
We as Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not [merely] in solidarity with this movement. This is a moment of mobilization for all Palestinians. We must act as part of this movement. All of our efforts continue the work and resistance of Palestinians on the ground.
Accordingly, SJP has not just declared it is part of Hamas’s terrorist activities, but it has also implicated all SJP chapters at U.S. colleges.
The toolkit adds that “resistance comes in all forms—armed struggle, general strikes, and popular demonstrations. All of it is legitimate, and all of it is necessary.” While strikes may be protected by labor law and demonstrations are clearly protected by the First Amendment, “armed struggle” is clearly not.
Furthermore, SJP appears to have violated Florida law by providing material support to advance the terrorist activity. According to Florida law, it is illegal to provide “material support or resources for terrorism.” Prohibited activities include specialized advice and training rather than “general knowledge” that could be used by terrorists and non-terrorists alike.
This is where the analysis gets tricky. What does the toolkit give specialized advice and training about? The toolkit does condone and advise “armed struggle,” and it advises student SJP chapters also to promote Hamas’s terrorism as something good and necessary. Most of the document, however, advises students about how to engage in First Amendment activity—protesting, speaking, and distributing literature. And the advice is for student protesters regarding Hamas—the advice is not directed to Hamas.
It’s a stretch to say that the toolkit gives specialized advice on anything other than First Amendment activity, yet the advice is clearly not about general knowledge. The talking points are specifically for use as part of the terrorist movement. I could see a Florida court going either way on the merits.
But there are also due process issues. Even if SJP is committing a felony and telling its student chapters that they are part of the felony, are the student chapters really responsible? Do they have to specifically disavow SJP’s statement, or at least disaffiliate from SJP, in order to avoid being charged themselves?
From this perspective, the chancellor is helping the SJP chapters by giving their members an opportunity to avoid criminal charges. Yet the allegation has not been proven, just asserted. There appears to be no emergency in which SJP chapters in America are engaging in armed struggle, although violent or harassing incidents have already occurred on some campuses.
If one of the Florida SJP chapters sues to maintain campus recognition, I could see a Florida court going either way on the claim of free speech versus the explicit and material support of terrorism, but on the due process issues—the verdict is already in, and no notice or hearing is anticipated—the scales tip in favor of the student SJP chapters.
The right answer here is to withdraw the chancellor’s letter pending further study of these complex issues.
The rule of law is one thing that divides civilization from barbarians, and it even protects the barbarians.
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