AhlulBayt News Agency

source : Dallasnews

18 May 2024

5:15:06 AM

Texas governor, UT sued over pro-Palestinian protest arrests

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and two Texas university systems are being sued for violating the rights of pro-Palestine activists.

AhlulBayt News Agency: Texas Governor Greg Abbott and two Texas university systems are being sued for violating the rights of pro-Palestine activists.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, is suing them on behalf of student activists, saying Abbott and the universities violated students’ First Amendment rights.

CAIR argues Abbott’s recent executive order addressing antisemitism specifically targets the free speech rights of Palestinian activists.

In addition to Abbott, the University of Texas System and the University of Houston System were also named as defendants.

“Governor Abbott’s executive order, along with the campus-level efforts to comply with it, are obvious attempts to illegally suppress a viewpoint critical of (th Israel regime),” the suit says.

The suit follows an executive order issued by Abbott in late March directing Texas colleges and universities to update free speech policies to address what he described as rising antisemitism on campuses. The order was a response to pro-Palestinian protests that followed Israel’s genocidal war on the Gaza Strip. The protests culminated in April when students in New York occupied a building at Columbia University and protests across the country, including in Texas, resulted in scores of students being detained.

Shawn Lindsey, associate vice president for media relations at the University of Houston, said in a statement to The News the university has and enforces a freedom of expression policy as well as an anti-discrimination policy, which includes religion and national origin as protected classes.

To comply with Abbott’s executive order, “language was added to our policies defining antisemitism according to the state’s statutory definition,” Lindsey said.

The University of Texas System declined to comment.

CAIR’s lawsuit aims to “protect the constitutional freedoms guaranteed to all Americans to protest,” William White, director of CAIR’s Houston chapter, said during a news conference in the organization’s office Thursday.

“We will not tolerate any politician, whether by executive order or by legislative policy, to infringe upon those rights,” White said.

Abbott ordered school officials to establish punishments – including expulsion – for those who commit acts of antisemitism, including chanting the phrase “from the river to the sea.” Some people argue the chant is a call for the elimination of Israel, while others say it’s a call for the freedom of Palestinians.

“The First Amendment has durably stood for the promise that free speech is real,” said Gadeir Abbas, CAIR’s national deputy litigation director. “It’s real if you’re saying something that is unpopular. It’s real if you’re criticizing someone that’s powerful. It’s real even if the people around you don’t want to hear it.”

As protests against the war on Gaza grew and escalated in recent weeks, state troopers and other law enforcement agencies arrested dozens at both the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Texas at Austin after protesters tried to set up encampments and “occupy” lawns and plazas.

The governor’s order infringe on constitutionally protected speech of all Texans, said John Floyd, CAIR’s board member and criminal defense attorney.

“I’m a born Texan. We appreciate our independence, our free speech and none of us should take this lightly,” he said.