San Francisco - October 27, 2010 - The Institute for Jewish & Community Research commends the Obama administration for issuing a policy reversal that provides civil rights protection for religious groups on campus. Buried within a response to an epidemic of bullying and harassment in American schools, a new guidance letter issued by United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) explicitly warns federally assisted schools that they will face punitive actions if they fail to respond to hostile environments that target students because they are Jewish, Muslim or Sikh. These groups had previously been denied protection because the key civil rights statute, Title VI, did not explicitly cover religion.###
The new guidelines affirm a 2004 policy letter by then-OCR chief Kenneth L. Marcus, current director of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research’s (IJCR) Anti-Semitism Initiative. According to the policy: “groups that face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics may not be denied protection under Title VI on the ground that they also share a common faith.” This clarification explicitly covers Jews and other groups under OCR’s jurisdiction.
The newly issued letter represents a significant departure from the practice within OCR of denying protection for Jewish students, even in the face of increasingly hostile environments on university campuses in past years. A recent case filed against the University of California Irvine was dismissed despite a wealth of supporting evidence, leading to serious recriminations within OCR. The new policy suggestions echo the position argued in Marcus’ new book, Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America
“This statement is precisely what IJCR has been working toward for several years,” said Marcus, adding “it is a huge step in the right direction.” OCR is finally recognizing that anti-Jewish harassment rarely is based solely on religious practice and regularly includes prejudice based on ethnicity and/or ancestry. “However,” Marcus notes, “this is only the beginning of the process. More clarification is still necessary, and congressional action is required to reinforce this welcome change.”
Kenneth L. Marcus is director of the Initiative on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism at the Institute for Jewish & Community Research. He holds the Lillie and Nathan Ackerman Chair in Equality and Justice in America at CUNY/ Baruch College. Previously, Marcus was the Staff Director at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and was delegated the authority of Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Civil Rights. http://www.kennethlmarcus.org/
The Institute for Jewish & Community Research (IJCR) is an independent, non-partisan think tank that provides innovative research and pragmatic policy analyses on a broad range of issues including racial and religious identity, philanthropy, and anti-Semitism. www.jewishresearch.org
Link to Letter