San Francisco State University Students Accused of Religious Discrimination

Issues: False Accusations, Suppression


Students were falsely accused of discrimination against San Francisco Hillel when they declined to offer the organization a platform at a Know Your Rights Fair.


In the aftermath of the 2016 election, vulnerable groups at San Francisco State University (SF State) wondered how best to protect their communities against government persecution. One group of students, faculty and administrators came together to put on a Know Your Rights (KYR) Fair in February 2017. The fair included both presentations on stage and a set of tables where minority rights groups on campus and from the community were invited to distribute educational materials.

On February 14, 2017, a member of the KYR fair organizing committee received a call from a young man asking for a table at the fair. She informed him that she was not sure space was available. Later that morning, he sent an email identifying himself as an SF Hillel employee, thanking her for inviting Hillel to participate in the fair and confirming their participation. The committee discussed Hillel’s request several times and ultimately denied the request, based on Hillel’s record of discrimination against, exclusion of and attacks on students advocating for Palestinian rights. The committee also had logistical concerns due to the number of groups that had already been invited and the limited amount of space available.

The day after the fair a complaint was filed claiming that SF Hillel had been excluded from the fair based on their religious affiliation. After a five-month factual investigation, SF State determined in July 2017 that the allegation of religious discrimination was unfounded. SF State however found the organizers of the fair had engaged in viewpoint discrimination and had retaliated against SF Hillel for its participation in a previous discrimination investigation that had similarly been dismissed.

Palestine Legal appealed this decision on behalf of three student members of the committee. The appeals office sent the case back to SF State, telling investigators to evaluate individual conduct rather making collective findings about the committee as a whole. In February 2018, SF State found that only one member of the committee had a retaliatory motive, while another student was motivated by Hillel’s viewpoint, and the third played no role in the decision-making process.

In May 2018, SF State’s Office of Student Conduct notified two of the student members of the committee that they had to meet with administrators to discuss proposed sanctions for viewpoint discrimination. Palestine Legal wrote to SF State, explaining that the university could not impose a viewpoint neutrality rule on student group events and could not punish a student they had already found played no role in the alleged viewpoint discrimination. One of the students declined the proposed sanctions and chose to contest the findings against them in a hearing. All charges and sanctions were dismissed. The other student was traveling abroad when the hearing was scheduled and chose to accept the sanctions.

History >>

February 2017 Complaint is filed claiming that SF Hillel had been excluded from the fair based on religious discrimination.

July 2017 SF State finds after a five-month factual investigation that Hillel’s allegation of religious discrimination are unfounded, but adds new charges for viewpoint discrimination and retaliation. Students appeal.

November 2017 Appeals office remands the case to SF State for further investigation.

February 2018 SF State issues new investigation report clearing one student and stating that another was motivated by Hillel’s viewpoint while a third retaliated against Hillel.

April 2018 Appeals office dismisses discrimination/retaliation charges against two students.

May 2018 SF State’s Office of Student Conduct notifies two students whose charges were dismissed that they have to meet with administrators to discuss proposed sanctions for viewpoint discrimination. Third student, who has graduated, is no longer subject to student conduct sanctions.

August 2018 Unable to attend hearing, first student accepts proposed sanctions.

September 2018 Second student has disciplinary hearing.

November 2018 SF State dismisses all charges and sanctions against the second student.

Media >>

Judge says SF State Jewish students haven’t shown university discrimination, Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle (November 9, 2017)

Blogs >>

SFSU Finds No Religious Discrimination, Hillel Claim "Unsubstantiated"

San Francisco State Students Appeal Retaliation Decision Against Know Your Rights Fair Organizers