(JTA) — A bipartisan bill would increase the federal penalty for bomb threats and other threats of violence against religious institutions and ensure such acts can be prosecuted as a hate crime.
The bipartisan Combating Anti-Semitism Act of 2017, introduced Monday by Reps. David Kustoff, R-Tenn., and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., comes after over 150 bomb threat hoaxes were called into Jewish community centers starting in January. Although a Jewish teenager with dual Israeli-American citizenship was charged last week in the bulk of those threats, both sponsors focused on their impact on the dozens of JCCs and their clientele.
“The rise in threats at religious community centers is deeply disturbing and makes it clear that existing federal laws do not suitably deter these acts of hate,” Kustoff, who is Jewish, added in a statement. “Religious tolerance is the bedrock on which our great nation was founded. We must defend the individual liberties of our neighbors of all faiths and protect places of worship, and I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that addresses the issue head on.”
Added Kilmer: “No American should be made a target because of his or her faith. Sadly, religious community centers across the country have increasingly had to lock down their facilities and call in bomb squads.”
The statement noted that JCCs were forced to evacuate as result of the threats, and families using Hebrew schools and early childhood education programs “have been forced to choose between their safety and their faith community.”
This bipartisan legislation would amend the Church Arson Prevention Act enacted in 1996 to ensure that individuals who make bomb threats and other “credible threats” of violence based on the religious nature of the target can be prosecuted for committing a hate crime.
The current law limits the consequences for “credible threats” to misdemeanor charges. The new law would create a penalty of up to five years in prison if such threats lead to damage or destruction of property.
Co-sponsoring the bill are Reps. Ted Poe, R-Tenn.; Ted Deutch, D-Fla.; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Joseph Kennedy III, D-Mass.