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The University Star




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The University Star

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The University Star

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TXST changes free speech policy for antisemitism

Allen+Dominguez%2C+co-chair+of+YDSA%2C+and+other+Texas+State+students+gather+to+deliver+a+letter+to+President+Kelly+Damphousse+against+Executive+Order+44+on+Wednesday%2C+May+8%2C+2024.+
Mandalyn Lewallen
Allen Dominguez, co-chair of YDSA, and other Texas State students gather to deliver a letter to President Kelly Damphousse against Executive Order 44 on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.

Texas State has updated its free speech policies to comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s March 27 order on antisemitism on college campuses.

Executive Order (EO) GA-44 requires Texas public universities to adopt the state of Texas’ legal definition of antisemitism into their free speech policies and to “establish appropriate punishments, including expulsion from the institution,” for students violating the new policy.

Texas State’s new policy defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews that may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. The term includes rhetorical and physical acts of antisemitism directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals or their property or toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The university did not send out a notice to students before updating the free speech policy. Texas State’s Young Democratic Socialists of America’s (YDSA) leadership said not announcing the update is a way to stifle student protests and organization for pro-Palestinian causes.

“If it was to really help Jewish students feel safer, you would think that they would have done initiatives like ‘hey guys we’re doing something,’ but they’re not, which tell us that this is not [in good faith],” Marco Pena, the YDSA’s head of political education said.

According to Mike Wintemute, vice chancellor for marketing and communications for the Texas State University System, the changes to the free speech policy will not result in punishment for any speech or actions done before the policy was updated.

Wintemute was unable to give examples of possible punishments, citing that each case will have unique variables that determine if the incident results in no discipline, a warning or other consequences.

“These are complex issues when you [talk about] the First Amendment,” Wintemute said. “For each example there would be specific circumstances that I don’t want to speculate on.”

YDSA leadership expressed concern over potential punishments being on a case-by-case basis.

“It feels like we are treading a fine line,” Kristan Beluso, the YDSA secretary said. “That discretion gives us more freedom, but the university could just take [disciplinary action] from zero to 100.”

Chabad at Texas State’s Rabbi Ari Weingarten said he supports the order and believes it will protect the students in his organization.

“This will allow students and the Jewish Bobcats to feel safe on campus and to pursue their studies and their careers without disruption. The governor is ensuring a successful higher [education] experience for the Jewish,” Weingarten said in a previous interview with The Star.

According to leadership at the YDSA, they would challenge any disciplinary action received by their members for any future protests, or other actions they take.

“I don’t think this order is going to limit any action on our part; we will definitely keep it in mind,” Joseph Nativi, propaganda chair for the YDSA said.

According to Amy Sanders, UT Austin associate professor and licensed attorney, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment.

“The U.S. has a long history of the Supreme Court, through decisions, protecting hateful and offensive speech, even if it is targeted at specific groups of people,” Sanders said.

Sanders said universities must enforce their free speech policies fairly across all groups. She said she thinks Abbott did not write his order with neutral enforcement in mind.

“Constitutionally, I think the problem with Governor Abbott’s executive order is that it’s perhaps mandating that universities engage in behaviors that are perhaps unconstitutional,” Sanders said. “I think this order is clearly a political game. It’s designed to send a message.”

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