Texas Governor Orders Campuses To Address Antisemitism, Drawing Free Speech Criticism

2024-03-31 13:00:19

The governor of Texas issued an Executive Order on Wednesday, March 27, addressing campus antisemitism, including “antisemitic speech.” The order quickly drew the ire of individuals and organizations across the political spectrum.

The March 27 order directs institutions to “[r]eview and update free speech policies to address the sharp rise in antisemitic speech and acts on university campuses.” Institutions must further “establish appropriate punishments, including expulsion from the institution,” for violations.

Muslim civil rights and civil libertarian groups CAIR and FIRE condemned the order on free speech grounds. Conservative commentators Matt Walsh and Christopher Rufo criticized the order for creating “safe spaces” and resembling DEI policies that privilege certain groups while excluding others by omission.

The order singles out two pro-Palestinian groups, mandates one definition of antisemitism

Under the order, institutions must “[e]nsure that these [updated] policies are being enforced on campuses,” including against student groups like the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which the order mentions by name.

“As students we know we are constitutionally protected by our First Amendment,” SJP Houston told Legal Insurrection.

“We will not capitulate,” SJP Houston continued, “to the racist, Islamaphobic, and anti-Palestinian/anti-Arab racism of Greg Abbott’s Executive Order and we call on others to join us in rejecting this blatant attempt to suppress free speech.”

“We condemn the racist campaign being launched in violation of our state and federal constitutions and reaffirm our commitment to fight for the liberation of Palestine on our campuses and communities,” the University of Texas at Dallas PSC told Legal Insurrection in a joint statement with Texas SJP chapters also posted to Instagram.

The order requires institutions to “[i]nclude the definition of antisemitism” adopted by Texas in their updated policies as guidance “on what constitutes antisemitic speech.”

Texas’s definition of antisemitism incorporates examples of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

The IHRA definition lists examples of antisemitism like Holocaust denial, “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” and “[a]ccusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group.”

The order affirms support for free speech, but not all are convinced

“Texas supports free speech, especially on university campuses,” the order reads, but “such speech can never incite violence, encourage people to violate the law, harass other students or other Texans, or disrupt the core educational purpose of a university.”

Texas’s stated support for free speech, however, did not allay the fears of groups like CAIR-Texas or FIRE.

“This executive order . . . dangerously encroaches upon the rights of students and university communities to engage in open dialogue,” argued CAIR-Texas.

“State-mandated campus censorship violates the First Amendment and will not effectively answer anti-Semitism,” argued FIRE.

Conservatives criticized the order as a conservative DEI measure

Rufo compared the order to “DEI programs promising to prohibit ‘anti-black speech’” while failing to mention “anti-white speech”:

Walsh criticized the order for trying “to ensure that ‘college campuses are safe spaces’”:

Texas State University, the University of North Texas (UNT), and the University of Houston (UH) told Legal Insurrection they are reviewing the order to ensure compliance.

UNT and UH highlighted their existing commitments to preventing discrimination, with UH reaffirming its commitment to free speech.

Executive Order No. GA-44:


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Texas Governor Orders Campuses To Address Antisemitism, Drawing Free Speech Criticism


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