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NY court rules private university can ban campus groups

Benjamin Zeisloft, Campus Reform

  • A New York State court ruled that Fordham University was within its rights not to recognize a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter on its campus.
  • The court concluded that Fordham was correct in stating that the club would work against the school’s commitment to open dialogue, potentially setting the state for the schools to take similar action against conservative groups.
  • Campus Reform has reported on multiple examples of schools denying conservative student organizations registered status.

The New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division ruled that Fordham University was within its rights not to recognize a Students for Justice in Palestine chapter on its campus, potentially setting the stage for the university to deny registered student organization status to conservative campus groups as well.

According to the court’s decision to toss out an earlier ruling — which stated that Fordham was required to recognize the club — the original petitioners’ complaints are now moot because they have all graduated.

However, the court clarified that “even if we had found that standing exists and therefore had considered the merits of the petition, we would have concluded that the petition should not have been granted.”

The decision came less than a year after the New York Supreme Court upheld Fordham University’s decision to ban student Austin Tong from its campus over a pro-Second Amendment social media post.

Watch Campus Reform’s exclusive interview with Tong above.

The court concluded that “the proposed club, which would have been affiliated with a national organization reported to have engaged in disruptive and coercive actions on other campuses, would work against, rather than enhance” the school’s commitment to “open dialogue and mutual learning and understanding.”

Over the past several years, Campus Reform reported on numerous instances of Students for Justice in Palestine’s activities. In one instance, the University of California-Irvine’s SJP chapter disrupted and shut down a pro-Israel event, shouting “f**k you” at attendees.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Stony Brook University’s SJP chapter vowed to “eradicate” Zionism, criticizing Hillel — an international nonprofit Jewish group — as an organization that operates “with the expressive purpose to propagandize young Jews into supporting the state [of Israel].”

The earlier decision annulled Fordham Dean Keith Eldridge’s 2016 disapproval of the Students for Justice in Palestine club, stating that he had not provided “a rational basis for concluding that SJP might encourage violence, disruption of the university, suppression of speech, or any sort of discrimination against any member of the Fordham community based on religion, race, sex, or ethnicity.”

His only articulated concern was that “SJP singled out one particular country for criticism and boycott,” said the ruling.

StandWithUs, a nonprofit Israel education organization, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of Fordham University, congratulated the school on its victory.

“Today’s court ruling sets a precedent for private universities, showing that they have a right to reject hatred and discrimination from fomenting on campus,” said Carly Gammill, Director of the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, in a press release.

The students plan to seek review from the New York Supreme Court, according to a press release from Palestine Legal.

“The court’s ruling confirms the right of private schools to take a firm stand against bigotry and discrimination on their campuses,” StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department associate director Jonathan Bell told Campus Reform. “This victory shows how administrators at these universities have the ability to reject hate groups in good faith in order to protect their students and adhere to their missions of providing a cohesive, inclusive and diverse environment.”

“In holding that Fordham’s decision to reject SJP was arbitrary and capricious, the trial court failed to consider the various examples of SJP misconduct in which the administration had based its decision,” explained Bell. “The court also erroneously concluded that Fordham added an additional layer in determining whether the group should be granted formal status. In overturning the lower court’s decision, the appellate court made reference to Fordham’s good faith effort in enforcing its own rules and placed proper weight on private school administration discretion when considering formal recognition of campus groups.”

StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism director Carly Gammill told Campus Reform that “this situation emphasizes how university administrations must be able to identify matters happening on campus that are inconsistent with the values of inclusion and diversity, especially when those things are being done by individuals in positions of leadership and have had a harmful impact on community members targeted by the conduct at issue.”

“Because Fordham is a private institution, claims that its decision implicates First Amendment speech rights are simply misplaced,” she added.

But Foundation for Individual Rights in EducationDirector of Communications Daniel Burnett referred Campus Reform to the group’s statement on the decision, which disagreed with StandWithUs’s take on First Amendment grounds..

FIRE, which filed an amicus brief in the case, is “deeply disappointed” with the ruling.

The group pointed out that “Fordham had a number of student groups that were political in nature, or advocated for a political outcome, and that to the extent SJP was being singled out, it was for its specific political viewpoint.”

Campus Reform reached out to Fordham University for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft

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