NEWS: Sanders Offers Resolution to Condemn Bigotry in All Forms on College Campuses and Calls for the Protection of Students’ Right to Free Speech and Protest

“This body is quick to condemn student protesters, but will not address why they are protesting,” said Sanders 

WASHINGTON, May 7 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today rose on the floor of the Senate to offer a resolution condemning antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry on college campuses across the country. Sanders introduced the resolution in response to one offered by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), that did not go far enough in protecting students from bigotry, violence, and the violation of their First Amendment right to protest and free speech.

Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below and can be watched live here:

M. President, reserving the right to object.

I rise in opposition to S.Res.670, which does not go far enough in protecting students from bigotry and violence.

M. President, let me be clear: antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to millions, including my own family.

And I strongly and unequivocally condemn all forms of antisemitism. In addition, it is imperative that Congress makes clear our strong opposition to all forms of bigotry in this country — whether on college campuses or anywhere else — including Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and attacks against the Asian community.

Our goal must be to bring people together as one nation — regardless of our religion, where we were born, or the color of our skin.

And the resolution that I am offering, which I hope will be accepted, makes that abundantly clear:

No to antisemitism. No to Islamophobia. No to all forms of racism and bigotry.

And, M. President, as we do our best to combat racism and all its ugly manifestations, we also must hold our heads high and with pride as we honor the First Amendment to our Constitution — brilliantly developed by the founders of our country.

And let me simply read what that First Amendment states.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” 

That, M. President, is what a free country is about —the right to disagree with government, and the right to protest.

And those are rights that every member of Congress should respect, no matter what one’s political views may be.

M. President, I also happen to believe that protesting injustice is part of the American tradition, and has played a fundamental role in recent decades in our fight to overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination.

M. President, I would remind my colleagues, for example, that the success of the civil rights movement was due in large part to sit-ins and occupations where young Black and white Americans bravely took up space in private businesses, demanding an end to the racial discrimination that existed at that time.

I would also remind my colleagues that, during the Vietnam War, students and millions of other Americans, including myself, joined peaceful demonstrations demanding an end to that war.

Maybe – just maybe – tens of thousands of American lives and countless Vietnamese lives might have been saved if the government had listened to those demonstrators.

And further, let us not forget those who demonstrated against the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe those protestors should have been listened to as well.

You know, government policy is not always right.

M. President, I find it extraordinarily interesting that this body is so quick to bring forth bills and resolutions condemning student protestors.  But there has been minimal discussion about what these young people are actually protesting.

That is rather extraordinary.

So let me take this opportunity to do just that.

We all know that on October 7th, 2023, Hamas, a terrorist organization, began this war with an attack on Israel that killed twelve hundred innocent men, women, and children, and took over 200 people captive, many of whom are still being held today.

I think all of us believe that this horrific attack must be unequivocally condemned.

And I think all of us believe that Israel had the right to defend itself against Hamas.

But I certainly do not believe, nor do a strong majority of the American people believe, that the right-wing extremist Netanyahu government has the right to wage an unprecedented all-out war against the Palestinian people.

And what these protests are largely about, and what public opinion polling is showing, is outrage that since October 7th, the Netanyahu government has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians and injured more than 78,000, seventy percent of whom are women and children.

That is over 5 percent of the 2.2 million people living in Gaza.

That is what people are protesting.

Protesters and the majority of the American people are outraged that 1.8 million people, 80 percent of the population of Gaza, have been forced out of their homes, and sent to overcrowded and dangerous locations.

Protesters and the American people are deeply concerned about the destruction of 221,000 housing units, leaving more than one million people homeless. They are concerned about what happens to these people in the future.

They are outraged that the civilian infrastructure of Gaza has been devastated, with approximately 60 percent of water and sanitation facilities damaged or destroyed, and electricity almost entirely shut off.

They, and American doctors I have talked to who have returned from Gaza, are shocked that the health care system of Gaza has been largely destroyed, with 26 hospitals knocked out of service and more than 400 health care workers killed.

And when we talk about college campuses, I want everybody to know that that every one of the 12 universities in Gaza has been bombed by the Netanyahu government.

There are no protests or disturbances on Gaza campuses. They no longer exist.

And as we speak, against explicit and repeated warnings from President Biden, Israel is attacking Rafah, where over 1 million Palestinians have sought refuge.

And M. President, the fact of the matter is that 67 percent of Americans support the United States calling for a ceasefire, according to the latest polling, and 60 percent oppose sending more weapons to Israel.

So no, it is not just protestors on college campuses who are upset about U.S. policy with regard to Israel and Gaza. Increasingly the American people want an end to U.S. complicity in the humanitarian disaster which is taking place.

M. President, I will therefore be offering an alternative resolution, which does the following:

(1) Strongly condemns the rise of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, anti-Asian, and any other form of discrimination on the campuses of schools and institutions of higher education across the United States;

(2) Strongly affirms Congress’s support for the First Amendment to the Constitution and freedom of speech and dissent;

(3) Strongly supports the right of students and all Americans to peacefully protest.

(4) Urges the Department of Education to take necessary actions to ensure that schools and institutions of higher education are complying with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide all students, including students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian, a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin; and

(5) Strongly urges school leaders, college administrators, and local, State, and Federal leaders to, take all necessary steps to protect students’ safety and civil rights, including their right to peacefully assemble and protest.  

And therefore I object to this resolution.