CUNY Law Students Sue University for First Amendment Repression of Graduation Ceremony

Law Students Bring Legal Action After CUNY Bans Student Commencement Speakers in Targeted Censorship of Palestinian Rights Advocacy During Ongoing Genocide of Palestinians

Queens, NY — Today, a group of eight law students represented by Muslim Advocates and attorney Jonathan Wallace of the Parachute Project filed a lawsuit against the City University of New York (CUNY) alleging repression of student speech at the law school’s commencement ceremonies, starting with the ceremony scheduled for this May. 

The lawsuit alleges unlawful termination of two customs for law school commencement—student-elected speakers and live-streaming/recording by the law school—each of which the Plaintiffs allege CUNY terminated to punish and chill speech supportive of Palestinian freedom, in reaction to the pro-Palestine speeches of the prior two student speakers and to the persistent on-campus activism of Plaintiffs and their peers this year in support of Palestinian lives and for an end to Israel’s genocide in Gaza.  

In September 2023, the University quietly removed the student-speaker platform from this year’s commencement ceremony, before the start of the Israeli government’s ongoing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. The ban on student speakers at CUNY Law’s graduation is part of a growing and national pattern of repressing student speech supportive of Palestinian freedom. This repression has escalated dramatically since the beginning of Israel’s now six-month-long genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza.

“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 law student at CUNY Law and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “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. 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. This is utterly disgraceful at a time when the Israeli government with the backing of ours has killed over 34,000 Palestinians, intentionally cutting off their access to food, water, and medicine.”

CUNY has a history of repressing and condemning  students advocating for Palestinian freedom. It not only failed to stand by the free-speech rights of the Arab, Muslim women who spoke at the law school’s past two graduation ceremonies but publicly denounced the 2023 speaker, generating vocal defense and support of her from her peers, law school faculty, Jewish Voice for Peace, and at least thirteen civil rights and social justice organizations. The New York City Bar Association publicly criticized CUNY for “chilling free speech and debate among law students.”  

“Palestinians have been struggling for our freedom for five generations. People of conscience have been struggling alongside us for decades, too. Palestinians are entitled to live in freedom and safety on our indigenous lands, and it’s absolutely shameful that CUNY is trying to repress people saying that out loud,” said Nusayba Hammad, a Palestinian 3L student and one of the plaintiffs. “The decision to remove both our platforms— the student speaker and livestreaming—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.”

Another plaintiff, Eric Horowitz, said, “We have tried over and over to engage the administration on this issue and demand the reinstatement of the student-speaker platform. CUNY’s decision to censor student speech flies in the face of what our school — the only publicly funded law school in New York City — is supposed to stand for. CUNY cannot advertise itself as being built on ‘movements for social change’ and ‘communities who have experienced injustice’ while actively censoring and silencing students speaking up for Palestinian life and freedom. CUNY should do the right thing by reinstating the student-speaker and live-streaming platforms and allow our voices to be heard at an event that means so much to us, our families, and communities. Censoring our advocacy is not just harmful to CUNY students — it’s hurting Palestinians in Gaza, who are being bombed and starved by Israel right now and need our voices urgently in order to save lives and put a stop to Israeli state violence and U.S. complicity.”

This lawsuit against CUNY follows recent reporting of USC’s barring a pro-Palestinian, Muslim, female valedictorian from speaking at her graduation this year, as well as a recent lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and Palestine Legal against Columbia University’s unlawful suspension of student groups supporting Palestinian freedom.


Muslim Advocates is a national social-justice, legal-advocacy, and educational organization that works with and for Muslim and other historically marginalized communities to build community power, fight systemic oppression, and demand shared well-being.