ACLU Statement on introduction of ‘Anti-Semitism Awareness Act’

By agency reporter
May 25, 2018

On 23 May 2018 the US Congress introduced an Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says it risks chilling the free speech of students on college campuses, and is unnecessary to enforce federal law’s prohibition on harassment in education.

The bill directs the Department of Education to consider a wide range of examples of speech critical of Israel in assessing whether a school has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by tolerating anti-Semitic harassment. By equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, says the ACLU, the bill is likely to cause college campuses to stifle protected speech in order to avoid investigations by the Department of Education. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, colour, or national origin in programs receiving federal financial assistance, including higher education.  It has been interpreted to include discrimination motivated by animus against Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and others.  This law would go further, by dangerously equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

Borrowing from a definition and examples published by a European monitoring organisation, the bill characterises as anti-Semitic many constitutionally protected statements about Israel, including accusing people of “being more loyal to Israel” than to the United States, applying a “double standard for Israel”, or “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination”.

American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero issued the following statement: “Anti-Semitic harassment has no legitimate place in government-funded institutions, just as anti-Muslim and racial and sexual harassment have no place.  Jewish people, like people of other faiths, must be protected against harassment and discrimination. Anti-Semitism is a serious problem in the United States, as evidenced by statistics put forward every year by the FBI. Religious liberty is a fundamental right under our Constitution and protecting every individual’s right to practice their faith if they choose is at the core of the ACLU’s values and advocacy.

“Unfortunately, the proposed bill risks chilling constitutionally protected speech by incorrectly equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.  And there is no need for a new bill to protect students from anti-Semitic harassment, because that is already prohibited under Title VI. We worry that the law will lead colleges to suppress speech, especially if the Department of Education launches investigations simply because students have engaged in speech critical of Israel. College campuses should be havens for free expression, and students must be free to express their opinions and viewpoints, so long as they avoid harassment. We urge Congress to reject this dangerous and unnecessary bill.”

* American Civil Liberties Union https://www.aclu.org/

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