UT San Antonio allegedly banned students from singing ‘From the River to the Sea’
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UT San Antonio allegedly banned students from singing ‘From the River to the Sea’

“The First Amendment protects speech that others may find offensive,” the rights group says

The University of Texas at San Antonio is facing pushback from a free speech group after allegedly banning pro-Palestinian student protesters from using certain words and phrases, including singing in Arabic.

The university’s president is also named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by pro-Palestinian students, alleging that the public university banned the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” violating their right to free speech.

The phrase has been described as “anti-Semitic” by both Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Harvard Hillel and others, saying it calls for the eradication of the state of Israel and its Jewish citizens.

However, the Foundation for Individual and Expressive Rights told UTSA in a recent letter that public universities have an obligation to protect student speech under the First Amendment “no matter how offensive’ or subjectively hateful or anti-Semitic to some.”

“It is widely accepted that the First Amendment protects speech that others may find offensive,” said Haley Gluhanich, FIRE senior program specialist College amendment in a recent email. “While there are some narrow categories of speech not protected by the First Amendment, such as genuine threats or incitement to violence, there is no categorical exception for speech deemed “anti-Semitic” or “hateful.”

According to FIRE, the university allegedly recently banned student protesters from using the words “Zionism”, “Israel”, chanting “from the river to the sea” and “speaking Arabic” – allegedly to crack down on anti-Semitism.

A video obtained by the legal organization shows a university official warning protesting students that they will be reported to law enforcement if they chant “from the river to the sea.”

Joe Izbrand, UTSA’s communications director, did not respond to two recent emailed requests for comment. Correction asked the university to respond to allegations that it is violating students’ First Amendment rights, whether pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protests on campus are protected under UTSA’s “Free Speech Commitment” and whether the governor’s order affects university policing.

Hillel San Antonio, the Jewish organization on campus, also did not respond to two recent emails from Correction asking for a comment on the situation.

FIRE linked the university’s actions to Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order in March that targeted anti-Semitism on college campuses.

The order requires public universities to “review and update their free speech policies” to address an alleged increase in “anti-Semitic speech and behavior on college campuses and establish appropriate penalties.” It also requires public universities to adopt the state’s definition of anti-Semitism.

– said Gluhanich Correction that “if a school changes or adds policies in response to an executive order, it must be mindful of First Amendment protections.”

“For speech to be considered a true unprotected threat,” Gluhanich said, “the speaker must communicate a serious intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a specific person or group of people, and the speaker must consciously ignore a substantial risk that his speech would expose another person to fear of serious physical harm.”

FIRE said in its letter that it also filed an open records request requesting more information about the situation at UTSA.

The Council on Islamic Relations recently filed a lawsuit alleging that Abbott’s executive order violates students’ First Amendment rights. The plaintiffs are Palestine justice students at the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Dallas.

The case faulted the governor’s order and said “efforts at the campus level to comply are a clear attempt to illegally suppress viewpoints critical of one particular foreign country.”

Along with the governor and other universities, the lawsuit names UTSA President Taylor Eeighmy as a defendant. It accuses Eeighmy of following Abbott’s “illegal instructions… to rid Texas public universities of their criticism of Israel” by banning the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” on campus.

The lawsuit says a UTSA official allegedly told pro-Palestinian students that the term was defined as “anti-Semitic” under the governor’s executive order.

A UTSA spokesman told Texas Public Radio that the university “does not comment on pending litigation.”

Meanwhile, Gluhanich said Correction that FIRE is watching to ensure that all universities “are complying with their First Amendment obligations or, if they are a private institution, ensuring that they are complying with any free speech commitments they have made.”

MORE: Universities across the country face anti-Semitism lawsuits en masse

PHOTO: Foundation for the Rights of Individuality and Expression/X

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