Bipartisan Legislation Would Let the Government Create Speech-Chilling 'Antisemitism Monitors'

The bill would allow the Education Department to effectively force colleges to suppress a wide range of protected speech.


On Friday, several House representatives introduced legislation that would permit the Education Department to create third-party antisemitism monitors at any college receiving federal funding. The purpose of the bill—the full text of which is not yet available—is to crack down on rising antisemitic speech on college campuses. However, the bill's supporters fail to consider how an "antisemitism monitor" would create a chilling effect, curbing academic freedom and encouraging colleges to punish protected expression. 

Following a growing number of pro-Palestine protests on college campuses, universities are facing increasing scrutiny over their handling of student demonstrations—especially as photos and video footage from these protests have often captured extremely inflammatory, offensive rhetoric from student activists.

In response, Reps. Mike Lawler (R–N.Y.) and Ritchie Torres (D–N.Y.) introduced the, ahem, carefully named College Oversight and Legal Updates Mandating Bias Investigations and Accountability (COLUMBIA) Act. According to a Friday press release, the bill would allow the Education Department to appoint a third-party antisemitism monitor to any college receiving government funds. The department would have broad power to set the "terms and conditions of the monitorship," and the colleges would be forced to pay the costs of their own antisemitism monitor. Schools that don't comply with the monitoring would risk losing federal funding.

"Rising antisemitism on our college campuses is a major concern and we must act to ensure the safety of students," Rep. Mike Lawler (R–N.Y.) said in the press release. "If colleges will not step up to protect their students, Congress must act." 

"The monitor would release a publicly available online quarterly report," the press release reads, "evaluating in detail the progress that a college or university has made toward combating antisemitism on campus and issuing policy recommendations to Congress, the Secretary, and state and local regulators as needed."

It's not difficult to see how, if passed, the COLUMBIA Act would chill a wide range of anti-Israel speech—not to mention constitutionally protected, genuinely hateful expression. Facing the loss of federal funding, colleges will be incentivized to suppress any speech critical of Israel. At public colleges in particular, universities facing antisemitism monitoring could end up in an impossible position—bound by the Constitution to allow any protected speech yet facing punishment from the government for not suppressing offensive expression.

It's also easy to see how the use of "monitors" for hateful speech could be expanded to cover just about any controversial topic, suppressing any speech that runs foul of a representative's pet issue.

However, these consequences seem of little concern to the bill's sponsors, who remain focused on the need for the government to intervene to stop offensive campus protests.

"American universities are not capable of handling it when left to their own devices," Torres said. "Jewish students have told my office that they feel completely abandoned by their university administrators and they view Congress as the only avenue for accountability and safety."