Photo Credit: The House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Last week, I had the chance to testify before members of Congress about the recent rise in antisemitism on college campuses. The Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, which has initiated important investigations into this issue, asked me to speak about the legal recourses we can take to protect Jews at America’s universities.

To open my remarks, I asked the members to imagine the following scenes: A demonstration breaks out in the main thoroughfare of a public university. Activists carry antisemitic signs and chant, “Slaughter the Jews.” Police officers are present, yet they stand idly by as the activists intimidate Jewish students and faculty.


Then I asked them to imagine that hundreds of agitators swarm a law school, holding signs and chanting slogans like “death to Jews.” Weeks later, a professor finds a piece of paper outside her home entitled “Loudmouth Jew” accompanied by a book cover featuring a swastika.

Finally, activists erected an unauthorized encampment on campus. They create checkpoints, interrogate students attempting to pass, and deny entry to Jews. Rather than stop it, university officials aid and abet the encampment.

While these episodes may sound straight out of 1930s Germany, I made clear to the members of Congress that they weren’t. These are real events that occurred at UCLA over the past nine months – events that have precipitated a federal lawsuit against the university where my law firm represents several students. They also describe events at other American universities where similar incidents have erupted since October 7.

So, what can be done to ensure that universities that have denied Jewish students, faculty, and employees’ equal treatment under the law are held accountable? Many existing laws offer potential solutions.

To start, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin at institutions receiving federal funding. That means universities can be sued when they deprive students and faculty of full participation and the full benefits of their programs for being Jewish. Similarly, Title VII bans employment discrimination, including creating a “hostile work environment.” Consequently, employers are liable to suit when they allow antisemitism to fester in their workplaces.

Other civil rights laws can also help. The Ku Klux Klan Act, passed during Reconstruction to protect Black Americans from racial terrorism, applies today and provides protection for attacks against Jews on college campuses. When universities acquiesce in antisemitic activity and refuse to apply their campus policies to unlawful behavior, that opens the door to filing a claim under the Act against the universities.

Where public universities are involved, our federal Constitution helps, too. Often, these schools deny Jewish students equal protection under the laws. And they are frequently denying them their right to freely exercise their religion – by appearing as Jews and not disavowing Israel – and their right to free speech.

The federal government can also make an important difference. In a recent Congressional hearing, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block admitted that UCLA officials knew about the antisemitic events on campus and did little to stop them. But his statements did something crucial: they galvanized Jewish students and faculty and made them realize they were not alone and could address these issues before they got worse. Without such Congressional oversight and investigation into antisemitism at UCLA and other universities, many would not have felt empowered to speak up.

Federal agencies can also act. The Department of Education, for example, has the power to investigate Title VI violations without needing formal complaints. Antisemitism in higher education is a known issue, and the Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has the tools to initiate investigations outside the complaint process. As OCR has noted, agency-initiated cases, called “compliance reviews,” are intended to “target resources to compliance problems that are particularly acute, national in scope, or newly emerging.” Antisemitism on college campuses fits that bill.

The federal government must show the American people that it is taking antisemitism on college campuses seriously. Further Congressional oversight and decisive agency action are an excellent start.

In 1790, President George Washington wrote to a small Hebrew congregation in Rhode Island, assuring them that Jews could live free in the new nation. He wrote, “the Government of the United States . . . gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” It is time for America to live up to Washington’s promise. Working together, our nation can ensure that our Constitution and our civil rights laws are kept and safeguarded for Jewish Americans.

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Mark Rienzi is president and CEO of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Professor of Law at The Catholic University of America.