Hillel joined twelve other Jewish organizations in a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, urging that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 be interpreted so as to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination
The letter asks Secretary Duncan to review a policy enunciated by the department's Office for Civil Rights that (in a reversal of an earlier departmental pronouncement) the protections of Title VI do not extend to Jewish students subjected to anti-Semitic conduct, because such conduct is not, by definition, racial or "national origin" discrimination as covered by Title VI. Title VI does not include religion among its protected classifications. For Jewish students, the letter states, the narrowed policy means that they must endure a hostile educational environment because the law, while protecting other ethnic and racial groups, offers them no protection--even when intimidation or harassment is directed at them based on ethnic, as opposed to religious, identity.
American Jewish Committee Director of National and Legislative Affairs Richard Foltin, who spearheaded the letter, explained: "We recognize that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not cover religious discrimination, but there is ample basis in the law to recognize that, in certain contexts, Jewish identity is ethnic (or 'national origin') in nature and therefore, under those circumstances, anti-Semitic harassment or intimidation is covered by Title VI. The courts and the Department of Education should seek to protect students from discriminatory harassment to the full extent possible under the law," he said.
The letter urges the OCR to issue a clear statement, asserting that a Jewish student is entitled to the protections of Title VI, when that student is targeted in a school setting for speech or conduct based on the victim's ethnic identity as a Jew. It also requests the OCR issue a directive to vigorously enforce the law to ensure the protection of Jewish students around the country from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation.
The 13 organizations that co-signed the letter are: American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, American Jewish Committee, The American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, B'nai B'rith International, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Institute for Jewish and Community Research, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish War Veterans of the USA, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and Zionist Organization of America.