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Rhode Island Declares Cross Burning, Swastika Daubing a Felony

July 3, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A bill declaring it a felony to desecrate property or to defame or terrorize any person or group, has been passed by the State legislature and signed by Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy, making Rhode Island the first state to have such a law on its books, according to the Rhode Island Coalition Against Bigotry, a co-sponsor of the measure.

It was sponsored by the Governor’s Office and introduced by Senate Majority Leader Rocco Quattrocchi. It declares in part that “Any person, with the intent of terrorizing another or group of others or in reckless disregard of terrorizing another or group of others or with the intent of threatening any injury to the person, reputation or property of another or group of others … shall be punished by imprisonment … for no more than two years or by a fine of not more than $5000 or by both …” It defines as felonious acts the burning or desecration of a cross or religious symbol or the dis-

play of “a sign, mark, symbol, emblem or other physical impression, including but not limited to a Nazi swastika on the property of another or group of others.”

A second conviction on any of the charges enumerated would carry the penalty of up to ten years’ imprisonment and up to $15,000 fine or both.


The Coalition Against Bigotry is a group of 32 organizations convened by the National Conference of Christians and Jews at the request of citizens who experienced personal harassment, threats and phone calls from persons identifying themselves as members of the neo-Nazi party and the Ku Klux Klan. Its chairman is Rev. Paul Gillespie and its constituents include the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Board of Rabbis, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the American Jewish Committee.

Norman Orodenker, vice chairman of the Coalition, noted that “Until now, painting a swastika on a tombstone was merely a misdemeanor; punishment for such a crime was merely a hand slap. Even if the offender was caught, law enforcement agencies could not do much. Now we have given teeth to these agencies.”

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