JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Florida lawmakers are looking to crack down on students who express support for terrorist groups like Hamas, but First Amendment advocates warn the proposal would be ripe for a legal challenge.
A similar one filed Thursday challenged the state’s effort to disband student groups affiliated with the national organization Students for Justice in Palestine.
Major protests have erupted on college and university campuses all across the country since the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel.
Many of the protests held in support of Palestinians have been characterized as pro-Hamas and antisemitic by some elected leaders and Jewish groups like the Anti Defamation League.
“For instance, from the river to the sea, Israel should no longer be. That means you’re advocating for genocide of the Israeli people,” said State Senator Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill).
Ingoglia filed a bill on Wednesday seeking to penalize students that openly support terrorist groups like Hamas, by revoking scholarships, grants and other financial aid they may be receiving from the state.
“How much is the taxpayer actually paying to subsidize the hate speech on our own Florida campuses?” said Ingoglia.
But Bobby Block with the Florida First Amendment Foundation argued even speech as controversial as openly supporting terrorists is protected by the First Amendment.
“If they want to demonstrate that people are providing material support to terrorism, then they should prosecute them under that law. That they are providing material support to terrorism, okay? If they are supporting what terrorists do through speech, they’re out of luck,” said Block.
[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]
State Representative Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay), who is Jewish, said he supports Ingoglia’s effort.
But Fine argued a law passed in 2019 combatting antisemitism on college and university campuses that provides for the expulsion of students engaged in some of the demonstrations is currently not being utilized.
“In the same way a student running through campus saying hang all the Black kids from a tree would be gone in 60 seconds, well, that’s what’s supposed to happen to kids who are calling on Jews to be killed,” said Fine.
Read the Bill Breakdown: Republican proposes bill taking scholarships from college students supporting pro-Palestinian groups
Ingoglia argued his bill would be another tool in the toolbox for combating antisemitism, and highlighted the requirement for colleges and universities to report international students attending schools on student visas to the Department of Homeland Security if they’re caught promoting a foreign terrorist organization.
On the First Amendment argument, he said he’d welcome a legal challenge.
“I dare anyone to challenge that on a First Amendment issue, saying that they have a right to shout genocide of the Israeli people. I would love for them to stand up in a court and make that argument. Please do so, because we’ll know who you are,” said Ingoglia.