PA Lawmakers try to crack down on antisemitic college campus intimidation and harassment with two new bills

23 May 2024- In response to the recent anti-Israel protests that have led to Jewish students and faculty being harassed, intimidated and prevented from attending classes on college campuses, Reps. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) and Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks) announce two pieces of legislation to address these issues.

White’s bill would prohibit students convicted of ethnic intimidation, institutional vandalism, desecration, theft, sale of venerated objects or institutional trespass from receiving Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) grants. Under current law, PHEAA is authorized to deny grants to students convicted of misdemeanors involving moral turpitude or felonies. This proposal extends that prohibition to students convicted of specific unlawful actions related to protests.

Marcell’s bill proposes the creation of a new crime, institutional trespass, which addresses trespassing in sensitive areas such as houses of worship, cemeteries, and schools. While current law provides additional criminal penalties for vandalism against these institutions, this new statute recognizes that trespassing on these important institutions deserves additional punishment.

“Recently, pro-Palestinian protests and demonstrations on college campuses have condemned Israel’s military response to the Hamas incursion and demanded that colleges divest investments from companies connected to Israel,” said White. “While protests are a common occurrence on college and university campuses, unlawful actions like the forceful occupation of academic buildings and the destruction of college property are not protected First Amendment activities. If students are convicted of specific unlawful actions related to protests, they will face additional consequences by being denied PHEAA grants.”

“We have no issue with those who protest within the law to make their voice heard. However, unlawful protests that interfere with the right of other students to pursue their education will not be tolerated,” said Marcell. “My bill gives institutions more standing to ensure their campuses are a place where all students have the right to pursue their education free of harassment and intimidation from trespassers.”