(New York, NY) — Fordham University’s decision in 2016 to reject a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine because it could cause potential “polarization” on campus violated the student organizers’ rights, a new amicus brief joined by PEN America argues.

Fordham has argued in Awad v. Fordham University that it is not subject to the First Amendment as a private institution and well within its right to bar Students for Justice in Palestine. A New York judge rejected that argument in August 2019. Now on appeal in the New York Appellate Division, PEN America argues that despite Fordham’s private status, the university still guarantees freedom of speech in its own university policies, statements, and mission. As Fordham’s policy on bias-related incidents and hate crimes carefully notes, “the expression of an idea or point of view may be offensive or inflammatory to others” may not be a pretext to prohibit such speech from seeing the light. In fact, like many other peer institutions, Fordham’s mission statement “guarantees the freedom of inquiry required by rigorous thinking and the quest for truth.”

“Private universities should be in the habit of upholding free speech, not finding ways around it,” said Jonathan Friedman, program director for campus free speech at PEN America. “Rules for the formation of student groups should be consistent and content-neutral, not bent because one groups’ views are seen as objectionable by administrators. Fordham’s lopsided application of its own rules has resulted in the censorship of legitimate speech. However controversial, students should never have their views stifled—ideas in conflict are the nature of the academy.”

Click here to read the full brief.

PEN America has previously examined the importance of free expression and open inquiry on college campuses in its 2019 report Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America. It has also developed guidance for a range of scenarios related to free speech at public and private universities in its Campus Free Speech Guide.