Statement: New NY Bill Unconstitutional

Credit: Lisa Bettany

Credit: Lisa Bettany

New NY Bill Aims to Censor Student Groups

Palestine Legal issued the following statement in response to SB 8017, which seeks to amend New York’s education law to defund any student group that “directly or indirectly promotes, encourage or permits” boycotts “based on race, class, gender, national origin” and other protected categories, introduced by Sen. Martins on June 6:

SB 8017 is an unequivocally unconstitutional attack on First Amendment freedoms that strikes at New York’s college students. Boycotts to effect political, social or economic change are a constitutionally-protected form of speech, association and assembly, and have a long history of being used successfully to address injustice.

The Supreme Court has made it clear that the state may not deny a benefit on a basis that infringes freedom of speech. As its sponsor has indicated, this bill is aimed at censoring students who advocate for Palestinian rights by painting such advocacy as discriminatory. Boycotts for Palestinian rights do not target individuals or groups based on their identity. They target institutions and companies for their complicity in human rights violations against Palestinians. Should this bill become law, it would undoubtedly face legal challenges.

This bill comes in the wake of an executive order signed by Governor Cuomo creating a blacklist of entities that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, recent calls from 35 New York legislators for the “immediate suspension” of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) from the City University of New York and a three-month investigation of two Brooklyn College SJP students (which resulted in their exoneration). These efforts to create a “Palestine exception” to free speech cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.