Palestine Legal, together with the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel Alan Levine, filed a lawsuit in New York challenging Fordham University’s denial of club status to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
The decision to deny club status to SJP occurred in December 2016 – more than a year after Fordham students had applied to start an SJP club. The justification was that the group would create "polarization" on campus and "run contrary to the mission and values" embraced at Fordham.
Palestine Legal represents current and former Fordham students Ahmad Awad, Sofia Dadap, Sapphira Lurie and Julie Norris, who hoped to organize events on Palestinian history and raise awareness on the issue of Palestinian rights.
The case is being brought as a special proceeding under Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules. Students are seeking a judgment compelling Fordham to officially recognize SJP and provide it the same rights enjoyed by all other clubs at Fordham. Without club status, the students may not hold events, obtain funding, flyer or invite guest speakers.
The lawsuit argues that Fordham, a private university, violated Article 78 by failing to follow its own rules and policies that bar it from restricting students’ expressive activities based on the positions being advocated. New York courts have ruled that even private universities may not arbitrarily and capriciously violate their own rules.
In August 2019, the Court annulled Fordham’s decision to deny SJP club status, finding it arbitrary and capricious, as nothing in Fordham’s rules permitted it to “reject an application of a student club because it criticized the policies of only one nation.”
Nov. 19, 2015: Fordham students submit application to form an SJP club as per Fordham's rules.
Nov. 17, 2016: Fordham’s student government votes to approve SJP as a club at Fordham.
Dec. 22, 2016: Fordham dean overrules the student government’s decision and denies club status to SJP in an unprecedented decision.
Jan. 17, 2017: Palestine Legal and CCR send letter to Fordham expressing concern over SJP denial.
June 5, 2017: Fordham files motion to dismiss case.
July 7, 2017: Students file brief opposing Fordham's motion to dismiss.
July 17, 2017: Fordham files its reply brief.
Nov. 2, 2017: Students file order to show cause why preliminary injunction should not be issued and expedited discovery granted against Fordham.
Dec. 15, 2017: Fordham files its brief opposing Students’ preliminary injunction and request for expedited discovery.
Dec. 22, 2017: Students file reply brief.
Jan. 3, 2018: Court hears oral arguments on Students’ preliminary injunction and Fordham’s motion to dismiss.
Feb. 8, 2019: Students file motion to add a new petitioner to the case.
Mar. 4, 2019: Fordham files a motion opposing adding a new petitioner to the case.
Mar. 11, 2019: Students file reply brief.
May 8, 2019: Court hears oral arguments on adding new petitioner to the case.
Aug. 5, 2019: Court allows new petitioner and annuls Dean Eldredge's decision, mandating that Fordham recognize SJP as an official club.
Select Media Coverage
Students of SJP Await Court Decision, Ruby Gara, The Fordham Observer (January 24, 2018)
Law and Disorder Radio: January 15, 2018, with co-counsel Maria LaHood
Students Await Judgment in Suit Over Fordham University Banning of Pro-Palestine Club, Dina Sayedahmed, The Intercept (January 7, 2018)
Fordham Students Sue over Free Speech Rights to Establish Students for Justice in Palestine Group, Democracy Now! (January 3, 2018)
NJ students head to court in battle over Fordham University Palestinian club, Hannan Adely, The Record (January 3, 2018)
Pro-Palestinian Group Banned on Political Grounds, Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed (January 18, 2017)
Fordham flunks a free speech test, Ahmad Awad, New York Daily News (January 23, 2017)
Letters Supporting the Formation of SJP
Catholic clergy and professors letter
Fordham faculty letter
Friends of Sabeel North America letter
Jewish Voice for Peace letter
Middle East Studies Association letter
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights statement
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel open letter