Agudath Israel backs hate crimes bill


WASHINGTON (JTA) — An Orthodox Jewish group has come out in support of federal hate crimes legislation.

Agudath Israel of America announced Wednesday that it would support a bill expanding federal involvement in investigating hate crimes as well as the federal definition of such crimes to include those motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

Conservative Christian groups have opposed the legislation because — contrary to the assertions of supporters — they claim the bill would allow prosecutions of those who hold or express religious beliefs opposing homosexuality. But in a statement, Agudah said the legislation "goes far in alleviating these concerns."

Agudah said provisions in the legislation preserve "a religious adherent’s constitutional right to the free exercise of religion and makes clear that the legislation cannot be construed to infringe, prohibit, diminish or burden that right," including a section stating that "no one can be prosecuted solely because he or she maintains a certain religious belief or identifies with a certain religious denomination."

Agudah also noted that the legislation could help in cases of concern to the Jewish community. For instance, limitations in the law that impeded the federal prosecution of Lemrick Nelson for the stabbing of Yankel Rosenbaum in the 1991 Crown Heights riots would be eased.

The legislation is awaiting action in the U.S. Senate; it passed the House of Representatives earlier this month. President Obama has said he would sign the measure.

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