A way to combat anti-Semitism on campus: Amend Title VI

During Passover, Jews recounted the details of their departure from 430 years of Egyptian captivity and slavery.  Many recited a warning, lest we get too comfortable and forget our history: "in every generation, one will rise up against us, to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, will redeem us."

With hostility toward pro-Israel Jewish students on campuses across the United States escalating, the potential for lethal violence is ever present.

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both recognized the threat and  attempted through legislative initiatives, S. 10 and H.R. 6421, titled "The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016," to address it.  Unfortunately, this prospective initiative fell short of becoming law due in part to perceived First Amendment concerns.  It could have provided the means to control the threats of actual and implied violence against vulnerable Jewish students and others in pursuit of their education.  That said, the legislation was never intended to stifle heated debate or even hostile speech, and, as such, it was not a threat to the First Amendment.

The other part of the unsuccessful legislative equation involved codifying anti-Semitism.  This would have enabled the U.S. Department of Education's enforcement division to investigate suspected hate-based, discriminatory activities targeting vulnerable Jewish students for religious harassment.  By extension, all religions would have benefited from the protective measures sought.  In addition, academic institutions receiving federal funding could be held accountable for failure to provide all students with a safe learning environment.

Involvement of Congress would not have been necessary had Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 not limited its list of prohibited forms of discrimination to race, color, and national origin.  By religion's omission, overt and covert acts of religious discrimination became difficult to confront.

Although S.10 and H.R. 6421 have been relegated to history as a failed but well meaning attempt to remedy anti-Semitic injustices on campuses across the United States, there remains the viable option of amending Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include acts of religious discrimination.  All students – Muslims, Christians, and Jews, as well as other targeted religious minorities – who currently suffer these offenses in silence would benefit.  It is imperative to put into place the mechanisms to punctually rectify this omission.

This remains an unaddressed American issue that must no longer be trivialized or tolerated.  We have an obligation to assure all students, of all faiths, a safe and conducive learning environment, whether it be in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, or institutions of higher learning.  To do less would be a harsh legacy to leave to future generations.

Bruce Portnoy is a retired optometrist and author of the geopolitical thriller First, the 'Saturday People', and then the...  He is an op-ed contributor to the Miami Herald and the Washington Examiner.