May 22, 2024 at 2:35 p.m.


House bill cracking down on antisemitism does not restrict biblical teaching
People wear Israeli flags as they participate in a United for Israel March at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles May 8, 2024, during the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Gaza's ruling Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas. (OSV News photo/David Swanson, Reuters)
People wear Israeli flags as they participate in a United for Israel March at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles May 8, 2024, during the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Gaza's ruling Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas. (OSV News photo/David Swanson, Reuters) (Courtesy photo of David Swanson)

By Kate Scanlon | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (OSV News) -- Claims circulating among right-leaning influencers about legislation under consideration in Congress to counter antisemitism on college campuses are not an accurate reflection of the legislation, according to an analysis by OSV News.

In a now-viral commencement address to Atchison, Kansas-based Benedictine College, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, who is Catholic, claimed that "Congress just passed a bill where stating something as basic as the biblical teaching of who killed Jesus could land you in jail."

But that is not an accurate description of the bill recently passed by the House that aims to crack down on campus antisemitism, according to a review of the bill's text. It also appears to be a misinterpretation of Catholic teaching promulgated by the church's magisterium regarding both the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Catholic-Jewish relations.

Butker was not the only one to make such a false claim about the bill: social media influencers including former Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed the legislation banned the New Testament. A handful of hard-right House lawmakers also voted against the bill, making similar claims.

On May 1, amid unrest on some college campuses across the country amid protests of the war in Gaza, the House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act with broad bipartisan support in a 320-91 vote. As of May 16, the Senate has not yet taken up the bill, and its future in the upper chamber is uncertain.

The bill would require the Department of Education to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal anti-discrimination law. The bill targets federal funding for colleges and universities that fail to restrict antisemitic behavior.

Contrary to Butker's claim, the bill does not impose jail sentences on anyone, including for such behavior.

The IHRA working definition -- which the U.S. government adopted in 2019, and which according to the bill text has been used by the Department of Education since 2018 -- states that "antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

Among the contemporary examples of antisemitism the IHRA (of which the U.S. has been a member nation since 1998) cites is "accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews."

While there is some debate over the legislation -- some groups have raised free speech concerns while others have argued it could unfairly restrict criticism of the Israeli government -- the bill does not restrict the Bible or its contents.

The definition of antisemitism the bill seeks to codify includes the phrase "Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis," as antisemitic.

But the government has previously used the same definition. In 2019, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order on combating antisemitism using the same definition as the Antisemitism Awareness Act.

Catholic magisterial teaching also rejects the assertion that the Jews collectively killed Christ.

The claim that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ -- rather than Christ freely giving his life to atone for the sins of each individual person -- prompted centuries of violence against Jews at the hands of Christians, particularly in Europe.

Since the Second Vatican Council, which took place 20 years after the systematic slaughter of 6 million European Jews in the Holocaust (known in Hebrew as the Shoah) during World War II, the Catholic Church has denounced "hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone," while affirming the "spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews," as stated in the "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," a council document better known by its Latin name "Nostra Aetate," promulgated in 1965.

Specifically, Nostra Aetate states that Christ's voluntary submission to his passion and death for the redemption of humankind "cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today." The text also declared that "the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures."

Following the Second Vatican Council, Catholic teaching has also consistently affirmed that God's covenant with the Jews remains intact, while upholding that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "all salvation comes from Christ the Head, through the Church which is his Body." The church also acknowledges that Christ can make salvation possible to those of other or no faiths, without diminishing what St. John Paul II called "the conviction that the Church is the ordinary means of salvation," as stated in his 1990 encyclical "Redemptoris Missio" ("The Mission of the Redeemer," on the permanent validity of the church's missionary mandate).

Church teaching additionally stresses the importance of understanding Jesus as one who "was and always remained a Jew," as well as the need to appreciate the Jewish roots of Christianity.

Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed that teaching in 2011, stating that there was no basis in Scripture for the belief that the Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Christ.

The Anti Defamation League, which works to counter antisemitic tropes, states on its website that "deicide" myth "has been used to justify violence against Jews for centuries." Their website states, "Historians as well as Christian leaders have agreed that the claim is baseless."

OSV News requested comment from Butker through the Kansas City Chiefs, who did not immediately respond to the request. A spokesperson for Benedictine College also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @kgscanlon. Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X @GinaJesseReina.


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