Attorneys Also Ask Judge to Decide Long-Pending Motions
May 8, 2019, New York – Today, attorneys asked a New York State Supreme Court judge to allow a new student petitioner, sophomore Veer Shetty, to join a lawsuit against Fordham University over the school’s refusal to allow a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) club on campus. Fordham opposed Veer joining the lawsuit and has barred students from forming an SJP since the club was approved by the student government in 2016. The original four petitioners who brought the lawsuit in April 2017 have graduated or will graduate in ten days. Judge Nancy Bannon indicated that parties should expect a decision next week.
“I’m still at Fordham, I still want to form an SJP, and I will continue this lawsuit until I am able to organize freely for Palestinian human rights at my school,” said Veer Shetty, Fordham class of 2021, who was seeking to be added to the case today.
The lawsuit argues that Fordham’s veto of the student government’s approval of SJP was arbitrary and capricious, violating the school’s own policies guaranteeing free expression. In November 2017—after two of the original four petitioners had graduated—attorneys asked the court for a prompt order directing Fordham to recognize the SJP club. The court has not yet ruled on that request.
“Over the three and a half years since students first requested that Fordham allow a Students for Justice in Palestine, Fordham has continued to refuse. We hope that current and future students, including Mr. Shetty, have the opportunity to form a Students for Justice in Palestine club, just as any other college student is permitted to organize around issues they care about deeply,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Bertha Justice Fellow Astha Sharma Pokharel, who argued today’s motion along with Cooperating Counsel Alan Levine.
This is the first lawsuit in the country to challenge institutional censorship of students advocating for justice in Palestine. The Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal 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 campuses. Tactics used to suppress Palestine advocacy include administrative disciplinary actions, harassment, firings, baseless legal complaints, legislative attacks, and false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism. Palestine Legal has responded to nearly 1300 such incidents of suppression since 2014.
“Fordham says it’s committed to the spirit of inquiry, to caring for the dignity and well-being of the most vulnerable,” said Palestine Legal Senior Staff Attorney Radhika Sainath. “There simply can’t be an exception to these noble goals when it comes to advocating for the rights of Palestinians.”
For a timeline comparing events in the Fordham litigation with events in Palestine, visit this Center for Constitutional Rights resource page.
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.