*2/21/24 update: The ACLU of Indiana supported an amendment to HB 1002 which significantly improved the bill by eliminating the addition of a definition of antisemitism in Indiana code that included multiple examples of protected political speech and targeted critics of the state of Israel. The examples would likely have been most commonly used to silence supporters of Palestine.
In its current form, the ACLU of Indiana still opposes the section of the bill that defines one expression of antisemitism as a form of discrimination. Read more on our bill tracker.
At the ACLU of Indiana, we are committed to defending civil rights and liberties of all people in America. Antisemitism is affecting Jewish Hoosiers throughout our state, and we are committed to supporting constitutional responses to it wherever we can. However, a recent bill moving quickly through the Indiana Statehouse, HB 1002, threatens free speech and meaningful discourse on our public university campuses. It should be defeated.
Harassment of individual Jewish students, faculty, staff, and visitors to our public universities (or student groups at our universities) is not protected speech. Higher education administrators have the tools to respond to such harassment and should be doing so. But, political discourse — even discourse that is uncomfortable or offensive — must not be stifled by our legislators or administrators.
By going beyond raising awareness of antisemitic harassment, HB 1002 heightens fears that constitutionally protected criticism of the state of Israel or Israeli policies or practices will be punished as harassment or discrimination. And that punishment will fall hardest on Palestinian-Americans and supporters of Palestine.
This is not a theoretical concern. Indiana University Bloomington recently canceled a long planned retrospective at the Eskenazi Museum of Art by Samia Halaby, considered one of the most important living Palestinian artists. An IU graduate, Ms. Halaby has reported that school officials told her that the cancellation followed museum staff responses to Ms. Halaby’s social media posts critical of Israel. To date, IU has only shared that Ms. Halaby’s retrospective was canceled because of the university’s “concerns about guaranteeing the integrity of the exhibit for its duration.”
There is no doubt that higher education administrators in Indiana and nationwide are facing enormous pressure to take similar steps. A letter late last year from U.S. Representative Jim Banks, currently running to represent Indiana in the U.S. Senate, threatened IU Bloomington with loss of federal funds if it did not prohibit “anti-Jewish and antisemitic discrimination.” Yet, in citing examples of antisemitism, Representative Banks explicitly mentioned instances of protected political speech, such as referring to Israelis as “occupiers.”
This conflation between protected political speech and anti-Jewish or antisemitic discrimination is present in HB 1002 as well. People of good will support HB 1002 because they believe it will make our public universities safer. Unfortunately, we do not agree that it will.
Taken as a whole, HB 1002 is breathtaking in its scope. It incorporates an extremely broad definition of antisemitism that includes widespread criticism of the Israeli government. HB 1002 then defines a single expression of antisemitism as discrimination. And the policy outlined in HB 1002 would apply to the entirety of the public university experience — classroom discussions, debates, casual conversations on campus, protests, and curriculum. If it becomes state policy, it will sow further confusion for everyone in the public education environment and lead higher education administrators to punish protected speech.
The ACLU of Indiana stands firmly for the right to express ideas — even controversial or offensive ones — as part of our guarantee of free speech. While that guarantee does not — and should not — extend to the harassment of individuals based on a protected category, we are clear that it most certainly extends to positions that would be unjustly defined as discrimination under HB 1002.
The fight against antisemitism is crucial. However, HB 1002 creates a false choice between protecting Jewish students, faculty, staff, and visitors at our public universities from harassment and protecting free speech. At the ACLU of Indiana, we believe we can — and must — do both.