Newly proposed Florida bills target pro-Palestinian groups promoting ‘terrorist organizations’

USF’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine organized an on-campus protest in support of Palestine on Oct. 26, 2023. ORACLE PHOTO/JEISLIAN QUIELES SIERRA

Two bills were proposed on Wednesday in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives that would penalize college students for supporting “foreign terrorist organizations.” 

Under Senate Bill 470 and House Bill 465, students who “promote” such organizations will pay out-of-state tuition and remain ineligible to state grants, financial aid, scholarships and tuition assistance. It would also require universities to report “certain student information” to the department of Homeland Security.

The bills specifically mention Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad as examples of foreign terrorist organizations. There was no definition of “promote” included in the bill. 

The identical proposals were introduced by Republican lawmakers Sen. Blaise Ingolia and House Rep. John Temple for the 2024 legislative session which begins this January. 

A university spokeswoman said it is not university practice to comment on proposed legislation.

State chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) were also recently in the national limelight. The pro-Palestinian groups – including USF’s own chapter – ran the risk of being disbanded earlier this month after State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues ordered university leaders to terminate them

There are two active chapters in the state – University of Florida and USF. 

Related: Florida halts order to disband pro-Palestinian student groups

In the letter, Rodrigues wrote that National Students for Justice Palestine (NSJP) had made statements classified as “harmful support for terrorist groups” and released a toolkit which promoted Hamas. 

Hamas was designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. after an attack on Israel in early October. The Israeli cabinet declared war against Hamas one day after the attack, according to the Council of Foreign Relations

Rodrigues announced at a recent Board of Governors meeting on Nov. 9 that the groups were not deactivated. He said the active SJP chapters showed the administration that they were not led by the NSJP. 

The state universities are working with SJP chapters to write an “affirmation,” according to Rodrigues. It will consist of confirmations that the groups “reject violence, that they reject that they are part of the Hamas movement and that they will follow the law,” he said. 

The UF SJP chapter filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday against Florida leaders, including Rodrigues and Gov. Ron DeSantis. The lawsuit states students’ free speech rights were violated by the order to disband the pro-Palestinian groups.

“Nowhere is free speech more important than in institutions of higher learning, and students possess the fundamental right to express their political and ideological expressions through college organizations,” the lawsuit reads.

The defendants also include UF President Ben Sasse, the UF Board of Trustees and the state’s Board of Governors.

Both the national and state level American Civil Liberties Union are named as plaintiffs in the case.

The Oracle has reached out to USF SJP for comment.

This story has been updated.