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The idea of special protections in this country has always been objectionable to me; it requires another reason for government intrusion into our lives. We take pride in extending the Bill of Rights to everyone, and equal opportunity transcends special classes.
Enforcement has previously fallen under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department, but now the new Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, Ken Marcus, has decided to add a new protected group: religion. In particular, he is concerned about anti-Semitism.
Mr. Marcus is motivated by a childhood incident that took place in the predominantly Jewish Sharon, Mass, where a group of children saw him:
‘They started throwing rocks and yelled for me to go back to my ‘Jew town,’ he recalled in an interview this week.’ The episode, Mr. Marcus said, shaped his view on the need for greater civil-rights protections—and particularly for a more vigorous battle against anti-Semitism in the U.S.
He went on to found the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which fights discrimination against Jews, especially on college campuses.
If you need a reminder of the current protected classes, they are age, pregnancy, national origin, race, ethnic background, religious beliefs and sexual orientation. Since the Department of Justice already has laws to protect religion, Mr. Marcus would need to have new laws drawn up to protect religions through the Department of Education.
Mr. Marcus drew up related guidelines in the same department under George W. Bush. Republicans believed this was inappropriately extending the enforcement power of the department. The Liberals had their own issues with his guidelines:
Liberals and free-speech advocates, meanwhile, have sometimes viewed the guidelines as an attempt to conflate anti-Semitism with the BDS movement, which promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel for its policy toward the Palestinians. Doing so, they say, risks targeting students for their political viewpoint.
It’s also been reported that the LGBT+ movement is concerned that anti-Semitism cases will take priority over their own concerns.
To cover this new agenda, Mr. Marcus plans to hire 65 civil rights staffers, about the number who were released since the beginning of the Trump administration. And then there are the conflicts created about whether religion, included in the First Amendment, needs to be a specially protected class.
As E. Jeffrey Ludwig wrote in American Thinker:
Thus we see that a highly populated and time honored class of protected actions/persons, namely worshippers of God, has been downgraded by the application of law to ‘protect’ a recently created and ill-defined class of persons. Standards of what may or may not be considered burdensome to protected religious persons and to those who supposedly need to be protected from those religious persons have become confused and distorted. Moral legitimacy of protected Constitutional freedom has been replaced in law by an alternate moral reality than that used when this country was founded.
I’ve been on the receiving end of anti-Semitism. I know that Christians suffer abuse by the secular population. I think there is also evidence that anti-Semitism may be on the rise in this country. I can certainly empathize with Ken Marcus’ traumatic childhood experience.
The larger issue, though, is whether the protected classes’ list should be expanded to include religion when religion is already protected under the First Amendment. In fact, I wonder about the relevance of special protection classes in this country and at this time in our history. The more specific question is whether the government should be actively pursuing discrimination cases related to religion. Isn’t the First Amendment sufficient to protect religious freedom?