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Published on May 17, 2024
CAIR Sues Texas Governor Over Anti-Palestine Protest Crackdown on CampusesSource: Office of the Texas Governor

The battleground of free speech and protest rights has found a new frontier on university campuses in Texas, where the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is taking legal shots at Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order. This mandate is under fire for directing public universities to penalize students protesting in support of Palestine. According to KVUE, the lawsuit decries the executive order as a direct violation of the First Amendment.

CAIR's suit, filed on behalf of students from several institutions, including the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Houston, is not just about the protests. It's also challenging the interpretation of the slogan "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," which Gov. Abbott used in his order as a pretext for the crackdown on campus demonstrations. FOX 7 Austin reported that CAIR frames the slogan as an "aspiration for peace and dignity for all people," including those who are Jewish.

The legal action doesn't end with seeking a judgment to nullify Abbott's Executive Order GA-44, but it also calls for an injunction against the state for preventing or disciplining individuals for speaking or chanting the contentious slogan. CAIR's suit further includes a request to have state universities disengage from applying language from Abbott’s executive order, besides seeking compensation and damages. "Students play a critical role in the movement for the Palestinian liberation. We hold true power on our campuses, and that is the reason Greg Abbott attempts to stifle our ability to organize," said Francis of Justice in Palestine at the University of Houston in a statement obtained by FOX 7 Austin.

In a response laden with assertions of antisemitism and support for Israel, Governor Abbott's office relayed to FOX 7 Austin that "Texas will always stand with Israel and our Jewish neighbors here at home and across the world." This included a detailed outline of "significant action" taken by the governor, such as distributing over $4 million to Jewish organizations for security enhancements, and several measures to combat antisemitism. The statement further boasted of Texas's history with pro-Israel policies, including passing House Bill 89, which restricts state contractors from boycotting Israel, a policy CAIR claimed to have legally triumphed over in the past.

As both sides prepare to square off in a courtroom, the nation's eyes might once again revisit the challenging conversation regarding where free speech ends and a state's authority to regulate it begins. Meanwhile, statements, rallies, and the continuation of the discussion on campus and off underscore the deeply-rooted tensions and high-stakes politics involved in this Texas-sized showdown over constitutional rights.