Students sue CUNY Law School over ban on commencement speakers, claiming move is anti-Palestinian

Eight CUNY Law School students are suing the embattled institution claiming it violated federal censorship rules by nixing student-selected speakers, who have recently been anti-Israel, at commencement.

The left-leaning institution’s ban was imposed after graduate Fatima Mousa Mohammed gave a hate-filled speech last spring bashing Israel, “white supremacy” in America and the “fascist” NYPD.

The students’ suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, alleges the “repression” of free speech and “unlawful termination” of two customs for the publicly funded City University of New York’s law-school commencement: the student-elected speakers and the live-streaming and recording of the event. 

Student-selected CUNY Law School student Fatima Mousa Mohammed unleashed a hate-filled talk at last year’s commencement.
Protesters rally outside CUNY earlier this spring. Getty Images

The plaintiffs allege that CUNY is censoring speech that supports “Palestinian freedom.”

This year’s CUNY Law graduation ceremony will be held May 23 at the Apollo theater in Harlem in Manhattan.

“CUNY Law has a long history of celebrating commencement with elected student speakers, who often highlight social justice causes and freedom movements,” said Sajia Hanif, a third-year student at CUNY Law and one of the plaintiffs, in a statement released by, the group that filed the suit.

“It’s outrageous that CUNY would rather erase that tradition and stifle free speech than allow students to speak and be heard at the event marking the culmination of their program,” Hanif said.

“The cancellation of student speakers only happened after Arab, Palestinian, and visibly Muslim women started speaking up for Palestinian freedom — clearly a targeted, discriminatory response aimed at preventing students from calling for an end to Israel’s genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.”

Another plaintiff, third-year Palestinian law student Nusayba Hammad, said the restriction on speech  “affects every graduating student at CUNY Law and sets a dangerous precedent not only for students who want to speak in support of Palestinians but for anyone at CUNY advocating for justice and freedom.”

The lawsuit lists CUNY Law School Dean Sudha Setty as a defendant along with CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodgriguez and the CUNY’s board of trustees, including chairman Bill Thompson.

The lawsuits claim pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel viewpoints have been targeted for censorship in violation of free-speech rights afforded under the First Amendment.

“The First Amendment roundly protects freedom of speech within public institutions like
CUNY, irrespective of viewpoint, and subject only to very narrow limitations,” the lawsuit says.

“Its protections are especially critical in a setting like the law school, which is supposed to train students like Plaintiffs to engage critically with opposing and often charged viewpoints that abound in legal advocacy.”

A CUNY Law rep responded, “In accordance with University policy, CUNY School of Law does not comment on complaints or pending litigation.”

City College protesters rage last month. Getty Images

CUNY’s chancellor and board also declined comment on the litigation through a representative.

The lawsuit comes as numerous anti-Israel pro-Hamas demonstrations and even riots have recently occurred on college campuses — including Columbia University — where lawbreaking protesters were arrested for vandalizing and occupying an academic building.

Also, CUNY Law school’s faculty council and student government have passed resolutions in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, which critics claim smacks of antisemitism.

CUNY emphasized that it was important to hold graduation ceremonies without disruptions.

“Each year, more than 50,000 CUNY students proudly graduate at more than 25 commencement ceremonies, a tradition we look forward to continuing this year,” CUNY said in a general statement regarding commencement at its campuses.

“We are working with campus leaders to ensure students enjoy a send-off with their classmates, families and faculty that honors their hard work and achievements.”

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