USF bans all student gatherings - except for SDS Jacob Blake protest

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

UPDATE (September 18, 2020): In its response to SLF, USF indicated that all student speakers are treated equally on campus. But that has not been the case – USF allowed Students for a Democratic Society to engage in a protest, but denied that right to others. SLF sent a follow up letter today to clarify how the University would address specific situations, like students hosting rallies for presidential candidates, gathering outdoors, engaging in protests, polling students about political issues, and bringing speakers to campus, among other things. Quoting Justice Alito, SLF writes, “a public health emergency does not give Governors and other public officials carte blanche to disregard the Constitution[.]”

UPDATE (September 15, 2020): The concerns expressed in SLF’s letter to USF have unfortunately come true – USF has become the latest school to apply its COVID-19 bans on gathering and on assembly in a discriminatory manner. As SLF points out in a second letter to USF, the school recently allowed members of Students for a Democratic Society to hold a protest in honor of Jacob Blake, but continues to refuse to allow groups such as Young Americans for Liberty or Turning Point to hold in person meetings.

SLF General Counsel Kim Hermann explains: “Setting aside the issue of whether USF’s ban on gatherings is constitutional in the first place, the university simply cannot cherry pick who it enforces the ban against. Such blatant viewpoint discrimination is unconstitutional.”

TAMPA, FL (August 26, 2020): In a letter to the University of South Florida (USF), Southeastern Legal Foundation warns that USF’s COVID policies violate the First and Fourth Amendments. USF allows athletic clubs to gather, subject to social distancing requirements. But USF will not allow any other student organization to meet. Student organizations who gather—on or off campus—face serious punishment, including suspension. The University encourages students to report those who violate this policy.

Even worse, USF requires all students to submit their names to a COVID testing pool. Students are randomly selected from the pool to undergo a COVID test. If students refuse, they can be forced to quarantine for two weeks or face suspension. “This is an unacceptable infringement on students’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures,” states SLF General Counsel Kim Hermann. SLF warns in its letter, “Police cannot even impose a [DNA] cheek swab on criminals absent a strong likelihood that a crime occurred; surely the University recognizes that the Fourth Amendment prohibits COVID swabs on students at random.”

SLF seeks clarity from the University about what will happen if students refuse to undergo a random COVID test and how the University plans to investigate and punish students who violate its policies. SLF also encourages the University to permit all student organizations to meet under reasonable COVID restrictions, because “[it] is especially during times of uncertainty that students must be able to gather and engage in discourse without fear of reprisal.”

Click here for the Campus Reform article about SLF's efforts to combat discriminatory COVID policies.

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