Since last Wednesday night, Indiana University officials have betrayed fundamental free speech principles in their response to pro-Palestinian protests on the IU Bloomington campus. In response, students, faculty, and the Bloomington community are calling for university officials to return to the university’s unwavering support of free speech. The ACLU of Indiana urges President Whitten and Provost Shrivastav to listen to these voices, make meaningful changes to current practice regarding protests, and remedy the harms they have caused.

In response to news that a pro-Palestinian protest would be held in Dunn Meadow on the IU Bloomington campus, a tiny committee of university officials changed a decades-old policy the night before the protest was scheduled. The university then met a peaceful protest that violated this updated policy with aggressive law enforcement action leading to—as of Sunday night—56 arrests. Arrested protesters, including many current students, were then subjected to grossly disproportionate one-year bans from campus. Given these events, it is extremely difficult to interpret the university’s actions as anything other than an objection to the message of the pro-Palestinian protesters.

The President’s and Provost’s actions are creating an unnecessary crisis of values at a public institution that has weathered many larger, more disruptive protests with grace and dignity for more than fifty years. The administration’s actions have caused significant harm to the protesters, the campus community, and free speech in Indiana.

Fortunately, many people have stepped up and spoken out in support of free speech principles. People from a variety of political backgrounds and views have unified behind calls for arrests of peaceful protesters to end, trespassing charges against protesters to be dropped, campus bans against those arrested to be rescinded, and the change in policy for protests on campus to be voided. The ACLU of Indiana strongly supports these demands.

Assaults on protected political speech degrade the educational environment and damage a university’s reputation, and they complicate universities’ responsibility to protect all people on their campuses from targeted threats, harassment, and intimidation. There is no doubt that antisemitism and Islamaphobia have been on the rise since last October 7th. However, when public university officials infringe on protected speech, it blurs the line between what is lawful, and makes it more difficult for universities to focus on any individuals on campus who are violating university policy by harassing others.

Public higher education officials serve a vital role in protecting free speech on their campuses and in their states – and the larger Bloomington community is calling on the President and Provost to faithfully fulfill that role. We know that officials at Indiana University, like at other higher education institutions around the country, are under enormous pressure from elected officials to crack down on pro-Palestinian student groups, rallies, demonstrations, and protests. Complicating matters further, this pressure is framed as a response to antisemitism. This has led some higher education officials to conflate protected political speech that is sometimes controversial with unlawful harassment of individual students, faculty, and staff. Officials must exercise extreme caution to distinguish between the two.

The ACLU of Indiana will be closely monitoring the situation going forward for any violations of the First Amendment. If you are participating in a protest and you believe your constitutional rights have been violated, fill out our online legal intake form.