Florida Bill Would Eliminate Financial Aid for Students ‘Promoting’ Hamas

Students at public colleges and universities who promote a foreign terrorist organization would lose their state and institutional financial aid.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on February 23, 2024
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  • A proposed bill in Florida aims to cut off financial aid for students who promote Hamas.
  • If passed, the proposal would also force these students to pay out-of-state tuition.
  • The proposal may disproportionately impact international students.
  • It remains unclear whether the law, if passed, would violate First Amendment rights.

Florida college students who promote a foreign terrorist organization — including Hamas — may lose access to state and institutional financial aid under a bicameral Republican proposal.

Republicans Sen. Blaise Ingoglia and Rep. John Paul Temple proposed a bill that explicitly sanctions students who support Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad.

Students who promote any foreign terrorist organization, according to the proposal, would lose their eligibility for state and institutional financial aid. They would also be forced to pay out-of-state tuition and fees for the remainder of their college enrollment in the state and lose access to state tuition waiver programs.

The bill would also require institutions to report international students on an F-1 student visa to the Department of Homeland Security if the student promotes a terrorist organization.

The law would only impact students at state-run public colleges and universities, and it would take effect July 1, 2024, if passed.

Student sentiment surrounding the Israel-Hamas war has been a hot-button issue in higher education since October, and this recent proposal is the latest example of lawmakers attempting to regulate student speech and actions.

A staff analysis of the bill notes that federal laws currently ban material support of terrorist organizations, which includes financial support. These laws seemingly do not, however, bar citizens from promoting these organizations.

The recent Florida proposal also does not define what promoting a foreign terrorist organization would look like in practice, leaving it unclear what effects the law might have if enacted.

The staff analysis also notes that the First Amendment protects citizens from content-based restrictions on speech. A state law must serve a compelling state interest and be narrowly tailored to justify such restrictions, according to the analysis.

The staff analysis does not make a judgment on whether this proposed bill would meet those criteria.

Zach Greenberg, a senior programs officer at the free speech advocacy nonprofit the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), previously told BestColleges that the First Amendment protects a student’s right to support terrorism and terrorist organizations, so long as they do not contribute to terrorist acts.

It is feasible, therefore, that students or advocacy groups may challenge this law through the courts if enacted.

The proposal cleared its first bar in potentially being passed in late January. The state House of Representatives Postsecondary Education & Workforce Subcommittee passed the measure, but it must still make its way through other subcommittees in both the state House and Senate.