Breaking Campus News. Launching Media Careers.
UT San Antonio allegedly banned students from chanting ‘from the river to the sea’

‘First Amendment protects speech that others may find offensive,’ legal group says

The University of Texas at San Antonio is facing pushback from a free speech organization after allegedly prohibiting pro-Palestine student protesters from using certain words and phrases, including chanting in Arabic.

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

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

However, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression told UTSA in a recent letter that public universities have a duty to protect students’ expression under the First Amendment, “‘no matter how offensive’ or subjectively hateful or anti-Semitic to some.”

“It is well settled that the First Amendment protects speech that others may find offensive,” FIRE Senior Program Officer Haley Gluhanich told The College Fix in a recent email. “While there are some narrow categories of speech unprotected by the First Amendment, such as true threats or incitement to violence, there is no categorical exception for speech deemed ‘antisemitic’ or ‘hateful.’”

According to FIRE, the university allegedly recently banned student protesters from using the words “Zionism,” “Israel,” the chant “from the river to the sea,” and “speaking in Arabic” – supposedly in an effort to crack down on antisemitism.

A video obtained by the legal organization shows a university official warning student protesters they would be reported to law enforcement if they chanted “from the river to the sea.”

Joe Izbrand, chief communications officer at UTSA, did not respond to two recent emailed requests for comment. The Fix asked for the university’s response to the allegations that it violated students’ First Amendment rights, if pro-Palestine and pro-Israel campus protests are protected under UTSA’s “Commitment to Freedom of Expression,” and if the governor’s executive order affected polices at the university.

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

FIRE linked the university’s action to an executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott in March that addressed antisemitism on college campuses.

The order requires public universities to “review and update free speech policies” to address the purported increase in “antisemitic speech and acts on university campuses and establish appropriate punishments.” Additionally, it requires public universities to adopt the state’s definition of antisemitism.

Gluhanich told The Fix that “if a school changes or adds a policy in response to the Executive Order, it must keep the First Amendment’s protections in mind.”

“For speech to be considered an unprotected true threat,” Gluhanich said, “the speaker must communicate a serious intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals and the speaker must consciously disregard a substantial risk that their speech would place another in fear of serious physical harm.”

FIRE stated in the letter it also filed an open records request seeking more information about the situation at UTSA.

The Council on Islamic Relations recently filed a lawsuit alleging Abbott’s executive order violates students’ First Amendment rights. Plaintiffs include the Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Dallas.

The case alleges the governor’s order and “the campus-level efforts to comply with it are obvious attempts to illegally suppress a viewpoint critical of one particular foreign country.”

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

A UTSA official allegedly told pro-Palestinian students the phrase is defined as “antisemitic” under the governor’s order, according to the lawsuit.

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

Meanwhile, Gluhanich told The Fix that FIRE is watching to make sure all universities “are abiding by their First Amendment obligations, or if they are a private institution, making sure they abide by any commitments to free speech they make.”

MORE: Universities nationwide face antisemitism lawsuits en masse

IMAGE: Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression/X

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

Please join the conversation about our stories on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, MeWe, Rumble, Gab, Minds and Gettr.

About the Author
College Fix contributor Erin Van Natta is a student at Liberty University where she is studying journalism. She is a columnist for the Lone Conservative.