Sarsour commencement speech draws fire
Opponents call on CUNY to rescind invitation
Despite mounting public pressure from elected officials and leaders of Jewish and Catholic organizations, the chancellor of the City University of New York (CUNY) is refusing to rescind an invitation for controversial Arab-American civil rights leader Linda Sarsour to serve as the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony for the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.
The graduation ceremony is set for Thursday, June 1. Sarsour, a political firebrand from Bay Ridge, was one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, the massive protest demonstration that took place in the nation’s capitol the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated the 45th president of the U.S.
Sarsour is also the former executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York and has frequently spoken out on civil rights issues regarding the Middle Eastern community.
Chancellor James A. Milliken issued a statement standing by CUNY’s decision to invite Sarsour to speak to the Class of 2017, citing the importance of the First Amendment.
“The current discussion about the invitation to Linda Sarsour to speak at the commencement ceremony of the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy draws into sharp focus principles central to a free society and its academic institutions. The School of Public Health made a decision to focus on women leaders for its commencement this year and invited Ms. Sarsour because of her involvement in public health issues in New York City and her position as a leader on women’s issues, including her role as co-chair of the recent Women’s March in Washington,” Milliken said in a statement.
“While one might disagree with the School of Public Health’s decision to invite Ms. Sarsour to speak at commencement, that difference of opinion provides no basis for action now. Taking action because critics object to the content of speech would conflict with the First Amendment and the principles of academic freedom,” the chancellor added.
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights President Bill Donohue is the most recent leader of a religious-affiliated organization to object to the decision to invite Sarsour to speak.
“I stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters by respectfully urging you to withdraw the invitation,” Donohue wrote in a letter to Milliken.
“The primary purpose of higher education is the pursuit of truth. For Americans, there is one foundational truth that towers over all others: our unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those who find this goal objectionable are welcome to their view, but they should not be given a prestigious platform to advance their politics. That would certainly include Linda Sarsour,” Donohue wrote.
Assemblymember Dov Hikind (D-Borough Park-Midwood), an Orthodox Jew who represents a heavily Jewish community, disputed CUNY’s contention that Sarsour’s commencement address is a First Amendment issue.
“While everyone else who understands the danger that Sarsour poses seems content with hand wringing and forelock tugging and issuing notes of tepid criticism, there are a few good people willing to actually stand up,” Hikind said in a statement praising Sarsour’s detractors.
Sarsour could not be reached for comment on the controversy swirling around her.