There has been a tremendous outpouring of sympathetic press, as well as other media coverage, since the tragic and senseless murder of 11 Jewish individuals, while attending Sabbath services, at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life* Or L’Simcha Congregation, on October 27, 2018. It is my hope that this act of insanity not simply fade with time, as typically occurs in other similar situations; leaving only family and friends to mourn their loss. As these souls left their homes for Shul, all undoubtedly expected to return safely, yet fate dictated a different outcome. Although they are gone, in their memory something of value may be put into place to assist others, from all religious backgrounds, with a little effort from our legislators.
It is important to start by shepherding our most vulnerable members of society, our children, many of whom are and with justifiable reason, unsure in what kind of America they will grow up.
For years there has been an unchecked, escalating hostility towards Jews; particularly pro-Israel Jewish youth on campuses across the United States. Frequently, the hostile confrontations are masked as anti-Israel actions. Yet, in most cases, even allowing for some gullible dupes, these actions in reality, are nothing less than overt expressions of angry antisemitism, with the ever present potential for lethal violence.
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives recognized the dangers early on, and attempted through legislative initiatives, S. 10 and H.R. 6421, titled “The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” of 2016 to address it. Unfortunately, this initiative fell short of becoming law due in large part to perceived First Amendment concerns. It could have provided a means to control the threats of actual and implied violence towards Jews and those that support them, and the speakers brought on campus to educate all who care to learn about Jewish issues. The legislation was never intended to stifle heated debate, or even hostile speech, yet it was regarded as a threat to First Amendment rights, by a vocal minority. Its essence was meant to provide a safe and secure learning environment that would counter the same deadly rhetoric espoused, by the “Tree of Life” parishioner’s murderer, Robert Bowers.
The other part of the unsuccessful legislative equation involved codifying antisemitism. This would have enabled the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, enforcement division; to investigate repeated, discriminatory activities targeting students for faith based harassment. Students of all religious backgrounds would have benefited from the protective measures sought and academic institutions accepting federal funding would be charged to address acts of religious discrimination,
Although S.10 and H.R. 6421 have been relegated to history as a failed, but well meaning attempt to remedy anti-Semitic religious attacks on school campuses across the United States; and even though a reintroduced “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” of 2018 (H.R. 5924) version is currently in the brew; the same First Amendment concerns that brought down the original initiative still linger.
Yet, there still remains a viable option of accomplishing the same goal by amending Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include acts of religious discrimination; in addition to those initially enumerated: race, color, and national origin discrimination. All students – Muslims, Christians, and Jews, as well as other targeted religious minorities – who currently suffer similar, if not identical offenses in silence, would be afforded the same protections under the law. It is imperative in memory of the 11 slain Jews murdered because of their faith, that we put into place the mechanism to rectify this omission, with stated force of law, and not by preferential inference.
This is an American issue that must no longer be tolerated, trivialized or ignored. We have an obligation to assure all students, of all faiths, a safe learning environment, whether it is in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, or institutions of higher learning. To do less would dishonor the memories of the “Tree of Life 11,” as well as all Americans of conscience.