New York Supreme Court Dismisses Fordham First Amendment Case

Student disciplined for posing with a legally owned firearm says he won't give up legal fight

Fordham University
October 12, 2020

The New York Supreme Court has dismissed a case against Fordham University alleging the school violated the First Amendment rights of a student.

Fordham senior Austin Tong filed a lawsuit against the university in July for disciplining him for posing with a legally owned firearm on social media. Judge Carol R. Edmead dismissed the suit as "meritless," as private universities reserve the right to restrict free expression.

"It's a ridiculously odd and unseen court decision," Tong told the Washington Free-Beacon. "Despite the disappointing amount of political bias, we're optimistic about the steps ahead that will come soon."

Despite its name, the New York Supreme Court is not the state's highest court, so Tong and his legal team can appeal the decision.

In June, Tong posted two photos on Instagram that sparked blowback from his peers. The first photo was an image of retired police captain David Dorn, who was shot dead in riots following George Floyd's death.

The second showed Tong, a Chinese immigrant, holding an AR-15 with the caption, "Don't tread on me," in commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

After Fordham students complained that the posts made them feel unsafe, university public safety officers arrived at Tong's Long Island residence late at night to confirm that he would not use the AR-15 to harm students.

Dean of students Keith Eldredge then sanctioned Tong for the photos, arguing they ran afoul of the school's commitment to combating bias and hate crimes. Sanctions included restricted access to the university, completion of an "implicit bias" program, and a written letter of apology.

Tong previously told the Free Beacon he would not apologize for the photos, as they did not pose a threat to his peers.

Fordham University did not respond to requests for comment.