WASHINGTON (Oct. 7)
A “hate crimes” bill that would impose federal criminal penalties for damage to religious property and injury to persons in the free exercise of their religious beliefs was approved by the House on a voice vote Monday.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Dan Glickman (D.Kan), provides for fines up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for anyone who causes $10,000 or more damage to a church, synagogue, religious cemetery or other religious real property or causes serious bodily injury to a person trying to exercise his religious beliefs.
The House passed a similar bill introduced by Glickman last year. But David Brody, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith who worked closely with the Congressional committees that drafted the legislation, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that several changes were made.
He said the earlier bill made any damage to a religious property a federal offense. But it was decided that the federal government should only be brought in for a major offense causing at least $10,000 in damages, rather than desecrations like daubing a swastika on synagogues which can be handled by local authorities. The current bill also makes it a federal crime to use a vehicle that could be used in interstate commerce, for commission of hate acts whether or not it crosses a state line, Brody said. He said he plans to work with Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D. Ohio), who is scheduled to introduce a “hate crimes” bill in the Senate, in an effort to ensure his proposal would coincide with the bill adopted by the House.
Up to now, religiously-motivated violence was not subject to federal prosecution except in the cases of arson or where explosives were used. The defacing of property, which is one of the most common acts against synagogues and Black churches, was not a federal crime.
In addition, a major reason for the bill was that reports have indicated that incidents based on religious and racial bias are increasing and becoming more violent.
Meanwhile, Glickman and Rep.Barbara Kennelly (D. Conn.) plan to introduce a companion bill that would require the Justice Department to gather hate crime statistics for an annual report as it does with other crimes.