WASHINGTON (Dec. 19)
During a round-table discussion last week with a small group of reporters from religious news services, President Clinton said he was trying to set a personal example of tolerance in order to combat hate crimes and prejudice in this country.
“I think I should set an example to try to talk about these things,” the president said.
He said he wants “to promote respect and diversity,” in response to a question from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Clinton invited nine reporters from religious news services to join him at the White House last Friday morning for a wide-ranging discussion on crime, religion and the state of society.
The meeting, held around the large oval table in the Cabinet Room, lasted 45 minutes.
Wearing a tie decorated with children’s drawings of snowmen, stockings and candles, Clinton spoke seriously about his efforts to involve the religious community in fighting crime and societal problems in the United States.
Crime has become a crucial issue around the country in the wake of a series of violent incidents — including the massacre of passengers on a commuter train and the abduction and killing of a 12-year-old California girl — and a growing sense of national unease.
JEWISH LEADERS PRAISED CLINTON
Last month, Clinton delivered a well-received address on the crime issue at the Memphis church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached his last sermon.
In response to Clinton’s address, a group of religious leaders that included Jews wrote to the president, praising him for his speech and offering to work with him to combat crime.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and its director, Rabbi David Saperstein, played a key role in coordinating the Dec. 15 letter.
“The eloquence of your speech in Memphis at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ and your call to the religious community to play a central role in ameliorating this crisis deeply moved and challenged us all,” the several dozen religious leaders wrote.
At the White House session with the religious reporters, Clinton referred to hate crimes legislation now pending in Congress.
The legislation, backed by many Jewish groups, would increase federal penalties for crimes committed because of the victim’s race, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation.
The hate crimes legislation — and some other bills currently awaiting consideration by a joint House-Senate conference committee — has been criticized by some as being symbolic and not having much practical effect.
“I think that the practical impact of it will be to encourage hate crimes to be prosecuted more vigorously at the local level, where they should be,” the president said.
“There are people who have religious views that you can’t even imagine,” Clinton said.
“But if they share your civic values, that is, if they honor family and work, and they don’t break the law, and they respect other people,” he said, “then they can learn and bridge those differences.”