Media Contact

CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office,, (786) 363-2737

May 1, 2024

MIAMI, FL – Yesterday, pro-Palestinian and anti-war student protestors were arrested by police at Florida State University. Arrests of students have also been reported at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida, where tear gas and rubber bullets were deployed on peaceful protestors.

Last week, university campuses across the country held pro-Palestinian demonstrations in protest of the Gaza war. Some of these pro-Palestine student protesters and allies present at the protests, including professors, have been met with police presence, arrests, and excessive use of force. Earlier demonstrations held at Florida state universities had faced little police involvement until the beginning of this week.

As protests continued to spread across Florida state universities, Gov. DeSantis said that grave repercussions such as expulsion and deportation should be employed to deter the growing movement for student protests on campuses.

Howard Simon, interim executive director of the ACLU of Florida, stated the following:

“The right to protest is a central pillar of the First Amendment – a value that has shaped this country since its founding, and one that we will always defend. The right to peacefully protest is a freedom guaranteed by our Constitution.

“The Supreme Court has forcefully rejected the premise that, ‘because of the acknowledged need for order, First Amendment protections should apply with less force on college campuses than in the community at large.’ Students have the right to advocate for the movements and causes they believe in.

“The First Amendment applies to public universities and colleges, and, thus – while targeted harassment rooted in antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, or other bigotry may be proscribed – university officials must respect free speech and the right to peacefully protest.

“Cracking down on peaceful protestors is likely to escalate – not calm – the tensions on campus, as events of the past week have made abundantly clear. Threatening students with expulsion from their university or deportation from the country does not align with the obligations of public officials to respect First Amendment rights regardless of the point of view that is being expressed.

“University leaders must resist the pressure from politicians seeking to exploit campus tensions to advance their own notoriety or partisan agendas. Universities need to stand up to such intimidation and defend the principles of academic freedom which is essential to their integrity and mission.

“Universities are meant to be havens for robust debate, discussion, and learning — not sites of censorship where administrators and politicians squash political discourse they don’t approve of with threats, arrests, rubber bullets, and tear gas."