Lower Court Ordered Fordham to End its Ban on Students for Justice in Palestine
November 24, 2020, New York – Today, attorneys representing Fordham University students argued before the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, urging the court to reject Fordham’s request that the court reinstate the school’s ban on a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) club. A lower court ruling held that Fordham had unlawfully overruled the Fordham student government’s approval of the creation of an SJP, “in large part because the subject of SJP’s criticism is the State of Israel, rather than some other nation.” Advocates say the struggle to form an SJP at Fordham is part of a broad and growing pattern of suppression of activism for Palestinian rights across the country.
“It's disgusting that Fordham is still fighting against SJP after four years of this lawsuit,” said Veer Shetty, a senior at Fordham and member of Fordham SJP. “While we organize and educate about an important human rights issue, the school continues to spend our tuition money on a team of lawyers to silence us. Palestinians deserve justice!”
More than five years have passed since students initially sought to start a Students for Justice in Palestine club on campus in the fall of 2015. For a year, administrators dragged out the application process, requiring the students to attend multiple meetings, questioning students about their political views, and expressing concern that the club would “stir up controversy.” Finally, in November 2016, Fordham’s undergraduate student government approved SJP as a student club – only to have the Dean of Students take the unprecedented step of vetoing the student government’s approval, based on SJP’s “political goals” and the possibility that the club would lead to “polarization.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, and attorney Alan Levine sued Fordham on behalf of the students in April 2017. In August 2019, a New York state Supreme Court judge ruled in the students’ favor, finding that Fordham had violated its own rules. The court wrote, “the consideration and discussion of differing views is actually part of Fordham’s mission, regardless of whether that consideration and discussion might discomfit some and polarize others,” and mandated that Fordham recognize SJP as an official school club. All of the students who originally sought to form an SJP at Fordham have since graduated, but current senior Veer Shetty joined the lawsuit in 2019. Even as the club had begun operating without incident on campus following the court order, Fordham appealed the decision in January 2020.
“It should be an open-and-shut case that Fordham is in the wrong for trying to silence SJP,” said Radhika Sainath, Senior Staff Attorney at Palestine Legal. “Students should be able to talk about Palestinian rights without being singled out for special treatment and censorship.”
Many groups of scholars and advocates submitted amicus briefs in support of the students’ opposition to Fordham’s appeal, including a group of Fordham professors, a group of Jewish Studies scholars and another of Catholic scholars, the National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN American Center, FIRE, Defending Rights & Dissent, and Jewish Voice for Peace.
“Over the years, the fight for Palestinian human rights has continuously faced roadblocks, but times are rapidly changing,” said Ahmad Awad, co-founder of Fordham SJP and now a Fordham alumnus. “I have hope that a win in support of Fordham SJP will help push forward the new era of acceptance to advocate for the freedom and equality of not only Palestinians, but, for all oppressed people.”
Advocates say Fordham’s ban on SJP is only one example among many in a coordinated nationwide attack on people standing up for Palestinian rights. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights have documented “the Palestine Exception” to free speech, a broad and growing pattern of suppression of activism for Palestinian rights across the United States, particularly on college campuses. Tactics used to suppress Palestine advocacy have included administrative disciplinary actions, harassment, firings, baseless legal complaints, legislative attacks, and false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism. Palestine Legal documented 1,494 incidents of suppression targeting speech supportive of Palestinian rights between 2014 and 2019.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
Palestine Legal is an independent organization dedicated to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of people in the US who speak out for Palestinian freedom. Our mission is to bolster the Palestine solidarity movement by challenging efforts to threaten, harass and legally bully activists into silence and inaction. Visit www.palestinelegal.org and follow @pal_legal.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.