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FIRE statement on Gov. Abbott’s campus anti-Semitism executive order

Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Today, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order asking the state’s institutions of higher education to “update free speech policies” to address anti-Semitic “speech and acts.” 

Anti-Semitism on campus is a real problem. When anti-Semitic speech crosses beyond the First Amendment’s protection, Texas institutions have a moral and legal obligation to take action. But today’s executive order relies on a definition of anti-Semitism that reaches core political speech, including criticism of Israel. The order also singles out student organizations by name, suggesting these groups should draw official scrutiny on account of their views. 

State-mandated campus censorship violates the First Amendment and will not effectively answer anti-Semitism. By chilling campus speech, the executive order threatens to sabotage the transformative power of debate and discussion. That’s in sharp contrast to Texas state law, which wisely recognizes “freedom of speech and assembly as central to the mission of institutions of higher education.” When speech on contentious issues is subject to punishment, minds cannot be changed. 

Texas’ public colleges and universities are required by federal law to address anti-Semitic harassment. They’re also bound by the Constitution to respect their students’ First Amendment rights. For the sake of our country, they can and must do both. 

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