PSLS Urges John Jay College President Travis to Stop Censoring SJP’s Speech, Protect Freedom of Expression
Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, sent a letter to John Jay College President Jeremy Travis on October 23, 2014, urging the College to stop censoring Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) expressive conduct. The letter also expresses concern regarding President Travis’ recent statement to the John Jay College community suggesting that SJP’s activities are linked to a rise in anti-Semitism.
The letter advises President Travis that the First Amendment requires that messages not be treated differently based on the controversy they provoke. John Jay College instructed SJP not to use sheets covered in red paint during their October 8, 2014 “Die-In/Vigil from Ferguson to Gaza” event after some students complained that they felt uncomfortable with the message. During the theatrical event, students from SJP and the African Students Association wrapped themselves in white sheets and lay on the floor to represent Palestinian and African-American lives taken by military and police repression. Students held up signs with messages such as “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” “Black Lives Matter, Palestinian Lives Matter,” “U.S. Dollars Feed Israeli War Crimes, and “Free Palestine.” After the event, SJP learned that John Jay College’s Student Life Coordinator had directed students not to attend the Die-In/Vigil.
The letter advises President Travis that:
[The College’s] scrutiny and censorship of SJP’s activity violates the First Amendment rights of SJP and must immediately cease. . . . Students and faculty have the right to voice objections to Israeli policies, just as they have the right to voice support. [The College] may not direct SJP to dilute its message because some students may disagree or feel uncomfortable with the message expressed. Likewise, [the College’s] pressure on students to not participate in an event supporting the rights of Palestinians chills student expression that John Jay College is required to protect.