Does the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act ‘Criminalize the Gospel’?

With the heated anti-Semitism protests booming on college campuses, lawmakers, school authorities, and even average citizens are wrestling with how to deal with the chaos, hatred, and slander of Jewish people and the Jewish state. Law enforcement has made their fair share of arrests as pro-Hamas protestors violate policies and incite violence. Many have voiced something must be done to reign in the anti-Jew hostility, and last week the House of Representatives responded by passing the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (AAA).

The bill’s definition of “anti-Semitism” is not new, but one of the examples it includes is drawing greater scrutiny. Back in May 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a coalition of all of the largest Jewish organizations (conservative and liberal), agreed on a working definition of anti-Semitism that has since been widely adopted, including by the U.S. State Department in 2016 and by the Trump administration (by executive order) in 2019. The definition states, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities,” and includes concrete examples (which both the Trump executive order and the current bill included).

While most of the examples have drawn little commentary, there’s one that this time around has sparked concern and controversy, even though it was included in the 2019 Trump executive order: “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.” The words within the parenthesis are drawing all of the attention.

The second phrase in the parentheses, “blood libel,” is not. Blood libel is defined as the “accusation that Jewish people used the blood of Christians in religious rituals,” and this is a form of anti-Semitism widely acknowledged. But the first part has stirred immense tension, causing many to interpret it as a hinderance to the gospel, which teaches that Jesus was hung on a cross by some hateful Jewish leaders. However, what experts want to point out, including the lead sponsor of AAA, is that this section of the legislation has been heavily misinterpreted.

On Thursday’s episode of “Washington Watch,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), the sponsor of the legislation, discussed with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins the details of AAA in order to clear the air of what the law is really saying. But before addressing the controversy, the congressman took the time to explain why the legislation matters, and the importance of getting it right.

Considering the anti-Semitism on college campuses, Lawler said, “[T]hese protests are so overwhelmingly anti-Semitic and need to be rooted out at every turn.” He emphasized how out-of-hand they have become, and how they’re “not a function of free speech,” they’re “not a function of … protesting against decisions made by the Israeli government or the United States government. That’s constitutionally protected. This is anti-Semitic hate at its worst.” As such, sharper definitions are needed to crack down.

Perkins re-emphasized how “the main thrust” of the Act “is to adopt a standardized definition of anti-Semitism, which actually takes a definition that’s already in existence.” But “there’s been some opposition raised about this,” he added, specifically when it comes to that one example. As Perkins explained, some are concerned it “would criminalize the gospel.” But according to Lawler, that’s simply not true.

“I’m a practicing Catholic,” Lawler stated. “[B]orn and raised. [I] go to church. I believe very deeply in the gospel and in Jesus Christ.” And so, when people suggest that the claim of “Jews killing Jesus” is somehow a symbol of anti-Semitism, it’s crucial to understand the context of that kind of statement. Lawler insisted, “[N]obody is saying that the Bible should be criminalized. Nobody is saying that anybody who believes in the context of the Bible is somehow wrong.” What it is saying, he continued, “is if you are trying to use something for the purpose of attacking an entire group of people and trying to associate them with some action that someone else may have taken for the purpose of discriminating against them, then that can be considered anti-Semitic.”

Ultimately, “[I]n no way is anybody objecting to or trying to target Christians with this bill. This is about putting in place protections on college campuses for Jewish students.” And, as he went on to highlight, the legislation specifically states individuals have a right to “criticize the State of Israel as you would any other government.” He insisted, “We want robust public debate. People should be free to voice their opinions, their objections to decisions made by the government. Nobody is disputing that.” What the legislation has in mind is the violent protests that have emerged. “[T]he moment those protests turned violent,” Lawler asserted, is the moment “you lose that right” to protest.

Perkins agreed that clear definitions are necessary. Currently, “it’s like silly putty. It’s stretched to accomplish whatever someone wants [it] to do.” Perkins also emphasized that the legislation addressed constitutional protections, stating, “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.” As such, Perkins said, “[R]eligious freedom is not affected by this.”

Lawler also noted that this bill, which passed in the House Wednesday, has “broad bipartisan support.” As he said, “You saw 320 members of Congress vote for this bill. None of us would put forth something that would curtail free speech and First Amendment rights or violate someone’s constitutional freedoms. … [W]e’re trying to provide … a clear path forward on how to deal with these instances of anti-Semitism.”

In comment to The Washington Stand, Quena Gonzalez, senior director of FRC’s Government Affairs, took the time to detail why the misinterpretation of AAA is vital to rectify. While there still may be parts of the legislation some disagree with, Gonzalez carefully addressed the main controversy at hand:

“The example in question only applies to ‘using … claims of Jews killing Jesus … to characterize Israel or Israelis.’ No biblical Christian preaches that Israelis or the Israeli state is responsible for Christ’s death. All of Jesus’s first followers were, in fact, Jews. To be subject to the Education Department ‘reviewing, investigating, or deciding whether there has been a violation of … the Civil Rights Act,’ a covered entity would have to blame Israel or Israelis for Christ’s death, which no orthodox Christian entity does (or really can).

“The language of this bill has applied to all federal agencies since 2019. It was issued as an executive order by President Trump and retained by President Biden. No one objected then, and for the past four and a half years no one has been harassed for preaching the gospel as a result. But as we can see on the news, the Biden Department of Education is not enforcing this long-standing policy, so Congress is acting to enforce it by making it statute.”


Sarah Holliday

Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.


United Methodist Church Caves and Embraces LGBT Ideology

University of Utah Approves Trans Flags, but Not American Flags


EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2024 Family Research Council.

The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *