Chronicle for Higher Education
August 29, 2008
Judge Overturns Florida's Ban on Academic Travel to Cuba
A federal judge has struck down a Florida law that restricts students, faculty members, and researchers at the state’s public colleges and universities from traveling to Cuba and four other countries that the U.S. government considers terrorist states.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida had challenged the law in court on behalf of the Faculty Senate at Florida International University, arguing that the statute violated faculty members’ First Amendment rights and impinged on the federal government’s ability to regulate foreign commerce.
The two-year-old law prevents students, professors, and researchers at public universities and community colleges in Florida from using state or federal funds, or private foundation grants administered by their institutions, to travel to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. Those at private colleges in Florida are forbidden to use state funds for that purpose.
The decision, issued Thursday by the U.S. District Court in Miami, reversed an earlier ruling upholding the ban. In her order, Judge Patricia Seitz upheld one aspect of the law: State funds may not be used for travel to those countries. But nearly all such trips rely on private funds.
Judge Seitz agreed with the ACLU’s argument that the state should not be allowed to regulate travel financed with private funds and that the Florida Legislature could not interfere with federal foreign-relations powers.
“It’s a blow for academic freedom,” Thomas Breslin, a professor of international relations and chairman of Florida International University’s Faculty Senate, said of the decision during a news conference this afternoon.
The law was passed in 2006 after a Florida International professor and his wife, a university employee, were accused of spying for Cuba. —Karin Fischer