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Federal Executive Order Targets Anti-Semitism at Colleges

December 18, 2019

On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, President Trump signed an executive order which expands the interpretation of race and national origin to include Judaism under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Judaism will now be considered a national origin, similar to Italian or German. The order provides civil rights protection for Jews in educational settings.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits federal funded educational institutions from discriminating based on race, color, and national origin. Religious discrimination is not covered under Title VI. However, under the executive order, if a Jewish student makes a discrimination complaint, the Department of Education must consider whether the student was discriminated against based on their race or national origin as a Jew. The Department of Education could cut federal funding for universities and colleges that fail to correct anti-Semitic incidents.

The Department of Education has already interpreted Title VI to protect students of all religions from discrimination. In 2010, a Justice Department letter stated that Title VI protects religious students when discrimination “is based on the group’s actual or perceived shared ancestry of ethnic characteristics, rather than its members’ religious practice.” However, with the signing of the new executive order, the inclusion of anti-Semitism will be emphasized in the interpretation of Title VI.

Kenneth L. Marcus, the head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, has already opened “national origin” investigations at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University to determine if qualified applicants were rejected due to their Judaism. Under the new order, these types of investigations may open at more educational institutions throughout the country.

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