ERLC applauds bipartisan House vote passing Antisemitism Awareness Act amid campus protests

WASHINGTON (BP) – The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is applauding a May 1 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives which passed a bill known as the “Antisemitism Awareness Act” amid nationwide protests on college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war. 

Originally introduced by U.S. Rep. Michael Lawler (R-NY) in October 2023, the legislation would make permanent the Department of Education’s usage of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which helps to clarify and identify the various manifestations of antisemitism. 

Since 2018, the Department of Education has used the IHRA definition when investigating violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This proposal will codify the existing standard used by the Department of Education. The legislation also states that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Brent Leatherwood, president of the ERLC, commended the House’s passage of the bill.

“The antisemitic displays we’ve seen across our nation, and especially on college campuses, are absolutely detestable and should be denounced at every turn,” Leatherwood said in a press release. “Approving this bill is the right response, and I would urge the Senate to move forward swiftly.

“This legislation strikes the right balance because it will appropriately deal with the heinous antisemitic acts we’ve seen on campuses while, as the bill itself states, protect legitimate forms of free speech and free expression. This ensures universities will continue to be open for the free exchange of ideas while Jewish students are free from harassment and fear of their safety.”

The bill passed the House by a vote of 320 to 91, with 70 of the votes against coming from Democrats. 

The legislation comes amid nationwide protests on college campuses such as UCLA, Northwestern, Florida, Columbia and City College of New York. Many of these protests are still ongoing and some have turned violent.  

One Southern Baptist Messianic leader described the protests as “more than just a hatred of Jews and Israel. It’s just a matter of hatred. Period.”

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, a Southern Baptist and former ERLC trustee, recently spoke on the protests taking place around the country.

“What we’re seeing on these college campuses across the country is disgusting and unacceptable,” Johnson said in a press conference.

“And we have to – every leader in this country, every political official, every citizen of good conscience – has to speak out and say that this is not who we are in America, and we got to have accountability and that’s what my colleagues and I are going to be working on.”

On April 30, Johnson announced an intentional effort by the House to crack down on antisemitism on college campuses. As part of this emphasis, Johnson said the House will be looking into the federal funding for the colleges and universities where the protests have taken place. 

“We must act, and House Republicans will speak to this fateful moment with moral clarity…” Johnson said. “That’s why today we’re here to announce a House-wide effort to crack down on antisemitism on college campuses. Nearly every committee here has a role to play in these efforts to stop the madness that has ensued. The federal government plays a critical role in higher education, and we will use all the tools available to us to address this scourge.”

Fighting antisemitism has long been an important value of Southern Baptists. There have been four SBC resolutions on antisemitism dating as far back 1873. The most recent one was adopted in 2003. 

Accordingly, the ERLC has a long history of fighting against antisemitic rhetoric on behalf of Southern Baptists. 

In an article from 2016, the ERLC outlined 6 reasons to reject antisemitism, including:

  1. Antisemitism is hatred of the Jewish people. 
  2. Antisemitism is contrary to Imago Dei.
  3. Antisemitism is an indicator of ethnic and religious intolerance.
  4. Antisemitism is contrary to the behavior of a civilized people.
  5. Antisemitism is contrary to God’s gifts of freedom of thought and religion.
  6. A lesson from history.

In the face of continuing nationwide protests, Leatherwood said the ERLC will continue to fight against antisemitism just as Southern Baptists have done for many years. 

“Antisemitism is a problem for every person of faith and even those of no faith,” Leatherwood said. “In multiple resolutions going back over a hundred years, Southern Baptists have long stood with the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. We will continue to do so and work to combat antisemitism and any form of hatred or bigotry at home and abroad.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Timothy Cockes is a writer in Nashville.)

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