CAIR files lawsuit over alleged free speech violations at campus protests in Texas

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, has filed a lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and several state universities alleging free speech violations during recent campus protests.

CAIR held a news conference in Houston with three students who only identified themselves by their first names. Officials with the Muslim advocacy group believe Abbott misused the slogan "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" in his March Executive Order to justify shutting down Pro-Palestine protests at several state universities.

The lawsuit announced Thursday claims the slogan is a form of free speech and that it is an "aspiration for peace and dignity for all people," including Jewish people.

The slogan is a call for a standalone Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. However, some interpret it as a call for the destruction of Israel and the elimination of the Jewish population in that region. 


The CAIR lawsuit is asking a judge to make a declaratory judgment that strikes down Abbott’s Executive Order GA-44 as illegal.  CAIR also wants to prohibit that state from preventing or punishing individuals from saying or chanting the slogan.

The lawsuit includes a request to block all state universities from using language from the Governor’s Executive Order and for 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 with the group Justice in Palestine at the University of Houston.

Earlier this week, a top official with DPS testified before the state Senate subcommittee on higher education about the trooper response to the campus protests. Lt. Col Freeman Martin noted the 61 people arrested over two days at UT Austin were not students or faculty.

"So a lot of these, the university, University of Texas, we were a lot heavier than we were at the University of North Texas or UT Dallas or Texas Tech or UTSA, just based on the intelligence that we had and their intentions of wanting to take over and occupy and disrupt, it's our experience, that overwhelming force allows us to use less force," said Martin.


Members of the Democratic Socialists of America joined the CAIR lawsuit claiming they were also targeted by authorities.

"Our YDSA (Young Democratic Socialists of America) and our SJP comrades are doing nothing wrong. They are merely exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of speech," said James with DSA Houston.

Several of those at the CAIR news conference made a point of using the River to the Sea slogan in their statements.

"All the actions, protests, rallies and encampments across Texas and the rest of the country demand a cease fire in Gaza and free Palestine, and they will continue. From the river to the sea. Palestine will be free," said Shawn with DSA San Antonio.

Gov. Abbott's office provided a statement to FOX 7 Austin:

"Governor Abbott condemns heinous acts of violence and inhumanity against Israel and its people by ruthless terrorists. Across the country, acts of antisemitism have grown in number, size, and danger to the Jewish community since Hamas' deadly attack on October 7th. Antisemitism is never acceptable in Texas, and we will do everything we can to fight it. Texas will always stand with Israel and our Jewish neighbors here at home and across the world."

His office also outlined "significant action" by the governor to "bolster security and combat antisemitism across Texas amid acts of war against the State of Israel and innocent civilians by the brutal terrorist organization Hamas", including:

  • Distributing over $4 million in grant funding to 31 Jewish organizations that will support security enhancements
  • Directing the Texas Department of Public Safety to coordinate with local partners and federal intelligence agencies on heightened public safety measures across the state
  • Issuing an Executive Order directing all Texas state agencies to refrain from purchasing goods produced in or exported from the Gaza Strip and from any organization or state actor with ties to Hamas
  • Ordering Texas flags lowered to half-staff in honor of lives lost amid act of war in Israel
  • Bolstering education resources to increase awareness and understanding of the Israel-Hamas war for Texas students

His office also pointed to ways Abbott has shown support to the Jewish community and to combat antisemitism, including:

  • Establishing the Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Antisemitism Advisory Commission
  • Awarding more than $19 million through his Public Safety Office for security enhancement projects to houses of worship, such as synagogues
  • Banning all state agencies from engaging in business or investments with companies that boycott Israel

As for the boycott order mentioned by the governor’s office, officials with CAIR on Thursday claimed legal victories in those fights.

"When the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 89, which banned all state contractors from boycotting, divesting or sanctioning the state of Israel. And I reflect again, when CAIR won in 2019 against the state of Texas, against Greg Abbott and against Ken Paxton for the right of our client Bahia Amawi to practice Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. I reflect again on 2019, when the state legislature again passed House Bill 793, which banned BDS on the state of Israel with certain limitations, for state contractors and employees. And again, just a few years ago, when CAIR sued the state of Texas and Ken Paxton for our client and our engineering to practice their right to Boycott Divestment and Sanctions," said William White of CAIR Houston.

"And today we gather to announce yet another lawsuit to protect the constitutional freedoms guaranteed to all Americans. To protest, to speak out and to raise issue with the inhumane treatment, the genocide being committed, and the outright ethnic cleansing being done on Palestinians in Palestine," concluded White.