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Louisiana: House Education Committee pushes reactionary anti-free speech bill

By Carson Cruse

Baton Rouge, LA – On May 14, several concerned people delivered powerful comments against SB 294. The proposed legislation claims that it “confirms the protections of free speech and First Amendment protected activities on college and university campuses” despite its content, which puts restrictions on First Amendment activities. SB 294 targets activists based on the ridiculous claim that the student movement is being funded by “foreign terrorist organizations.” The ruling class is unsettled by the students’ support for militant resistance to Israeli oppression.

This community mobilization to the capitol came only two weeks after over 150 Louisiana State Police in riot gear raided the Popular University for Palestine encampment at Tulane University, resulting in 14 arrests. Although the bill was first introduced into the Senate on March 11, it is clearly targeting pro-Palestine student demonstrations.

The legislation specifically intends “to prohibit protections for activities conducted by organizations that have been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the federal government; to prohibit protections for activities that are in violation of criminal law,” both of which are already federal law. Louisiana is trying to criminalize popular support for the Palestinian resistance, which is rightly fighting for the liberation of Palestine.

“SB294 is a solution in search of a problem. There is no credible evidence that these student protests are linked to foreign terrorist organizations,” said Jack Sweeney, the New Orleans Democratic Socialists of America local council member.

Public comment on the bill lasted for an hour. The only comments made by constituents were in opposition to the bill.

“The formidable protests we see across colleges and universities, both public and private, are signs that the youth are awake; they are our conscience; they represent hope that when atrocities are being committed on the other side of the world, they are willing to stand up and demand ‘no more.’ That is courage,” said Dr. Pablo Zavala, professor of Latin American Studies and faculty advisor to Loyola Students for a Democratic Society.

Reactionary politicians like State Senator Valarie Hodges, who wrote this bill, cannot fathom that students might be appalled by the U.S. support for a genocide and might want to do something about it. Students in the United States do not sympathize with a genocidal, racist state – they recognize the Palestinians’ right to resist a brutal occupation by any means necessary.

“As a student body, many of us find that the rhetoric used by our university administration has been dishonest and purposefully misleading, as it disagrees with the documented experiences of those present at the encampment. Coverage of these protests has obfuscated the plurality of professors and students who supported student organizing,” said Brian Lucas, a concerned constituent.

The House Education Committee decided to move the bill forward, but testimony seemed to sway some committee members. Legal censorship and repression will likely increase following the rising student movement for the liberation of Palestine. However, such attempts seem to galvanize students towards greater action and organization. The students’ resolve will not be broken, and they will continue to fight political repression and stand in full solidarity with the freedom fighters in Palestine.

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