N.Y. State Tightens Laws Against Vandalism to Houses of Worship

A measure making it a felony to deface a synagogue, church or other facility used for religious purposes in New York State has been approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Hugh Carey. It will take effect Sept. I, according to the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. The measure also raises the penalty for theft from such religious institutions.

Peggy Tishman, chairperson of the JCRC Commission on Jewish Security, said the new law “will make it a class E felony to deface or damage a religious institution with the intent to harass or threaten another person or class of persons on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.” The measure also makes theft from religious institutions a class E felony, which is punishable up to four years in prison.

The law adds a new element to the crime of aggravated harassment in the second degree. It makes it a class E felony for a second conviction within a ten year period, of anyone who physically harassed a person on the basis of “race, color, religion and national origin,” Tishman said. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency was told that this clause was taken from a State civil rights act, passed in 1981, because prosecutors indicated it would be easier to enforce as a part of the State Criminal Code.

Louis Weiser, chairman of the JCRC Monitoring Unit, said the new law “is an important step toward ensuring that those who commit threatening and damaging acts of bigotry and prejudice will bear the full consequences for their actions.

The measure was introduced in the State Senate by Sen. Norman Levy (R.-C. Merrick) and in the Assembly by Sheldon Silver (D.-L., Manhattan).

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