The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

URGENT: Tell your senators to vote against speech-chilling legislation

Should college students who compare Israeli government policy with that of the Nazis be investigated by their school?

Politicians love to say they love free speech. But let’s see who actually means it.

The Senate may pass the Antisemitism Awareness Act as early as tomorrow [May 7]. Going by the name alone, it sounds great. Combating anti-Semitism is a laudable and important goal. 

But when you dig into the details, the effects of the bill are chilling: It requires the Department of Education to adopt an unconstitutionally vague and overbroad definition of anti-Semitism that would pressure schools to investigate and censor students for speech protected by the Constitution. 


The definition is accompanied by a list of examples—but those examples include core political speech, protected by the First Amendment. Should college students who compare Israeli government policy with that of the Nazis be investigated by their school? Should they be censored for holding Israel to “double standards”?

You can condemn what people say. But the government shouldn’t throw out the First Amendment to censor students for saying it. 

Our country is built on the idea that we all have the freedom to share our opinions. There are only very narrow exceptions to our free speech rights — and having “double standards” isn’t one of them.

The bill uses a definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance which was created to collect data on anti-Semitism in Europe, not to police student expression. Even the definition’s author agrees laws like this are a bad idea:

What’s next? Should Congress define what speech is Islamophobic? Anti-Palestinian? Racist? Anti-white? How about defining ‘anti-United States’ speech? We could dust off the files of the House Un-American Activities Committee … When people are seduced by the false notion that a law can stop hateful ideas, they neglect to actually fight bigotry.

The bill won’t effectively address anti-Semitic discrimination. But it will chill core political speech about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on our nation’s campuses — the places where difficult conversations and debates are supposed to flourish.

Congress has other ways to address anti-Semitic discrimination on campus without suppressing free speech. Congress should adopt three FIRE proposals to further safeguard students from discrimination, while ensuring their First Amendment rights are protected: 

  • Prohibit harassment on campus on the basis of religion.
  • Confirm that the law prohibits discrimination on campus based on ethnic stereotypes.
  • Enshrine into law the Supreme Court’s definition of discriminatory harassment. 

Part of being a principled defender of free speech is to defend even speech that you may find offensive. We can’t let today’s controversies allow those in Washington to chip away at our free speech. Whose speech will the government target next?

If you agree, we urge you to contact your senators immediately.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression





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