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Reform Jewish Movement Joins in Launch of ‘Clergy Against Hate’

The petition at www.clergyagainsthate.org is an opportunity for clergy of diverse faith traditions to voice their support for expanding federal hate crimes law to protect individuals targeted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

Contact: Sean Thibault or Matt Weinberg
202.387.2800 or news@rac.org

June 5, 2007 | Washington, DC — Today, the Reform Jewish Movement, in coalition with a broad range of religious and civil rights organizations, launched an on-line petition for clergy in support of the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007.  The petition at www.clergyagainsthate.org is an opportunity for clergy of diverse faith traditions to voice their support for expanding federal hate crimes law to protect individuals targeted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center, commented that “Endorsement of this bill by faith leaders is especially important because opponents have all-too often implied that the legislation is hostile to religion.  The voices of a broad range of clergymen and women who preach that tolerance, acceptance, and kindness are essential religious values are needed more than ever.” 

Currently, the federal government can only lend assistance when the victim of a hate crime was targeted because of his race, religion, or national origin. Unfortunately, in many cases, including the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, local authorities do not have the needed resources to prosecute hate crimes. The Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 would expand the protected classes and provide essential resources to law enforcement prosecuting such cases.

Text of the letter, which can be found at www.clergyagainsthate.org, follows:

Dear Senator,

As clergy from a broad spectrum of religious traditions, we urge you to support S. 1105, the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. By passing this bill, Congress can express with one voice its commitment to ending brutal, hate-motivated violence.

Although we come from diverse faith backgrounds, our traditions and sacred texts are united in condemning hate and violence. As religious leaders, we are on the front lines dealing with the devastating effects hate-motivated violence has on our communities. Hate crimes not only harm individuals, they also rend the fabric of society by making entire communities feel isolated, vulnerable and unprotected. We know that legislation alone cannot remove hate from the hearts and minds of individuals, but we also know hate crimes legislation such as the LLEHCPA will help create a society where hate-motivated violence is deemed intolerable. Our faith traditions teach us to love our neighbor, and while we cannot legislate love, it is our moral duty to protect one another from hatred and violence.

As people of faith we also know that free speech is a precious right. We would not support a bill that did not contain ample protections for free speech, including preaching and statements of religious belief. This law does not criminalize or impede religious expression in any way. Rather, the bill specifically addresses violent acts by those who act on their hate to terrorize entire communities. Although the legislation has attracted a few loud opponents from the radical right who wrongly claim to represent all religious people, we fair-minded clergy will not waver in our condemnation of prejudice of all forms and our support for this hate crimes legislation.

Religion and government must work together to create a society in which diverse people are safe as well as free. As leaders of America’s religious communities, we urge Congress to stand united against one of the worst forms of oppression: violence based on personal characteristics and identity. Please do so by supporting, without amendment, the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 1105).

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis



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