January 15, 2018 — New York
AJC is calling for Senate confirmation of Kenneth Marcus as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education.
“We know Mr. Marcus. We are certain that he shares our commitment to the enactment and vigorous enforcement of the nation’s civil rights laws,” AJC General Counsel Marc D. Stern wrote in a letter to Senators Lamar Alexander, Chair, and Patty Murray, Ranking Member, of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The letter rebutted an interpretation of civil rights laws expressed by opponents of Marcus’s confirmation that AJC contended would undermine protections of Jewish students from anti-Semitic activities and expression.
The AJC letter notes the organization’s disagreement with a concern expressed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) regarding work that Marcus has done in response to anti-Semitism on campus. The LCCHR asserted in its own letter that “Mr. Marcus has sought to use the Office of Civil Rights complaint process to chill a particular point of view, rather than address unlawful discrimination.”
Stern emphasized that Marcus has repeatedly “made clear that he did not believe that, as the LCCHR letter implies, mere criticism of Israel was actionable under Title VI. On the contrary, Mr. Marcus has repeatedly stated that most such criticism is protected speech.”
AJC has long maintained that expressions and actions related to criticism of Israel can create a hostile environment actionable under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the same way as with racist, homophobic or misogynistic expression and activities.
“Application of hostile environment principles should be applied where Jews are singled out for discrimination, harassment and intimidation no less—and with the same careful balancing of free speech and anti-discrimination interests—as for other groups,” said Stern. “Unfortunately, the LCCHR letter obscures that crucial proposition.”
AJC is a founding member of the LCCHR, and is a proud partner of the nation’s preeminent civil rights coalition to the present day. Stern noted that the differing positions on Marcus’s nomination, and, in particular, on his advocacy regarding the use of Title VI in response to anti-Semitic activities and expressions, was a disagreement between friends who are united in the battle for civil rights and equal opportunity.