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H.R. 6090 threatens free expression on campus by pressuring schools to police speech under a vague and overbroad definition of anti-Semitism.

Our colleges and universities have a legal and moral obligation to ensure that their campus environments are free from discriminatory harassment. To ensure equal access to educational opportunities, federal law requires universities to investigate and root out discrimination on campus, including discrimination based on anti-Semitism. But H.R. 6090 requires the U.S. Department of Education to evaluate claims of anti-Semitism by reference to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism—a definition that reaches a broad swath of speech protected by the First Amendment. 

Incorporating the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism—a definition never intended for this purpose—would not help the federal government address discrimination. But it would require the Department of Education to pressure universities to investigate and punish speech protected by the First Amendment. It would also leave students and faculty unsure about expressing statements and opinions that could get them into trouble, causing many to stay silent rather than risk investigation and discipline. 

The IHRA defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” In its examples of anti-Semitism, it lists specific criticisms of the state of Israel and its policies, such as “applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” This is a subjective standard: Who decides which behaviors are expected of democratic nations? In any event, the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to apply “double standards”—however that term is interpreted—to whichever countries they see fit. 

Ultimately, passing H.R. 6090 would put our colleges and universities in the position of deciding which arguments are permissible and which must be censored. Indeed, where the  IHRA definition is now required, FIRE has already seen administrators cite it to suppress free speech on campus.

Some proponents of H.R. 6090 cite recent instances of speech many might find anti-Semitic and offensive. But the First Amendment protects simply offensive speech, and academic debates about highly charged issues cannot happen if universities must censor arguments because one side or the other finds them offensive. 

If enacted into law, H.R. 6090 will result in self-censorship and suppression of speech protected by the First Amendment. It will threaten academic freedom and campus debates will be stifled. 

We urge you to join us in opposing H.R. 6090.

Take action today by sending an email to your legislators and standing up for our fundamental freedoms.