(NEW YORK) – In response to reports that the University of California-Berkeley student group Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) encouraged all Berkeley law student groups to adopt a bylaw including a pledge to not invite speakers who support Israeli policies and to align themselves with the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, PEN America released the following statement: 

“Calls to adopt and enshrine a political litmus test for all speakers invited to campus are inimical to the mission of universities and to freedom of expression and association,” said Jeremy C. Young, Senior Manager of Free Expression and Education at PEN America. “Student groups that are free to make their own choices about what speakers to invite and to protest views they disagree with are a key facet of a flourishing college campus. Pressing a categorical pledge of this type precludes the possibility of open discussion on a sensitive and important political issue.”

“Berkeley Law School appears to have handled this controversy effectively,” Young continued, “making clear the provision violated the tenets of free speech, while also acknowledging that the student group is within their rights to advocate for it. While the proposal has apparently not led to  any known event cancellations or speaker disinvitations, it must be recognized that such campaigns can have a chilling effect–contributing to an environment in which an openness to hearing from those one disagrees with is stigmatized and discouraged. Most student groups did the right thing by rejecting this ban on speech and constraint on association.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057