New York (Jul. 2)
Sen. Alphonse D’Amato (R. N.Y.) called on Congress yesterday to speedily enact legislation that would make it a federal crime to vandalize religious property or to intimidate a group or individuals exercising their right to practice religion.
D’Amato, joined by Rep. Mario Biaggi (D. NY) and members of the Jewish community, declared at a press conference in front of the U.S. Courthouse at Foley Square that “what we are dealing with here is a basic human right … something that is guaranteed by the Constitution … the right to worship uninhibited.”
The Religious Freedom Protection Act, cosponsored by D’Amato in the Senate, would include fines of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to five years or both to persons convicted of defacing or destroying religious articles. In a case of bodily injury inflicted on another party, convicted persons could be fined up to $15,000 or serve up to 15 years in prison.
IMPORTANT TO ALL
According to D’Amato, the legislation is in response to recent reports of an alarming upsurge in anti-Semitic threats and violence in this country. He pointed out however, that this is not just important to the Jewish community but to “all other religious communities who have too long tolerated criminal acts of those who deface and destroy religious property.” He said federal participation to deter such criminal activity was essential to secure the right of religious freedom in this country.
Biaggi whose bill has been pending before the subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee since February said that these acts of violence “clearly are not given the kind of serious attention required.” Federal laws will provide both a deference factor and certainty of prosecution, Biaggi said.
According to records kept on file here by the New York Police Department, there have been 340 bias related incidents since last December. These include burglaries of religious houses of worship, property damage to synagogues and churches, and other similar crimes.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council said, “An attack against a synagogue or a church is not just another everyday event. Such attacks shake people’s confidence in their communities and leave deep psychological scars.” Hoenlein noted that acts of religious vandalism are “not just a Jewish problem, not just a Christian problem, but an American problem.”