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Saperstein Speaks Out Against Hate Crimes at the Millennium March on Washington for Equality

WASHINGTON, DC, May 1, 2000 — Speaking yesterday afternoon at the Millennium March on Washington for Equality, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, made the following statement:

My friends, as we join together in this historic rally for justice, let us share a moment of silent prayer for those who have died as victims of hatred, prejudice and bigotry. Let us remember the lives they led, the people they touched, the dreams cut short.

Now, let us pledge that for their sake, and for ours, we shall continue to speak out, to gather, to rally, and to lobby until violence born of hate no longer plagues our great nation. As President George Washington said in his historic letter to the Jews of Newport, in describing what made America unique, "To bigotry, no sanction; to persecution, no assistance."

While the legislative and social agenda for advancement of equality is the focus of our concerns, we must at the same time remain vigilant against those who manifest their group hatred of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in the form of criminal activity. Toward that end, I have been asked as the representative of the Reform Jewish Movement — comprised of over 900 synagogues and 1700 Reform Rabbis throughout the United States and Canada — to address the plague of hate crimes afflicting our nation and to discuss Congress's response--the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

And it is fitting, for as Jews, we know all too well what it is to be the victims of ethnic hatred, of discrimination, of violence. Our history teaches us that to act against one is to act against all. To hurt one is to hurt all. To harm one is to harm all. And to stand with, defend, and protect one, is to protect all. Informed by our history, inspired by all who resist intolerance and driven by our faith that teaches that every human being is created in the image of God, and moved by our love for our gay congregants and friends, loved ones and children, we stand united today at this Millennium March on Washington to demand passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. For until all are safe, none are safe.

We have no illusions about the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. We know that it will not end hate crimes overnight. But we do believe that like crimes based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, or gender, crimes based on sexual orientation are crimes against our communities, against the values of our nation and against all of humanity. For a crime born of intolerance tears at the very fabric of our freedoms. Hate crimes are more than mere acts of violence. They are more than murders, beatings, and assaults. Hate crimes are nothing less than attacks on those values that are the pillars of our republic and the guarantors of our freedom. They are a betrayal of the promise of America. They erode our national well being. Those who commit these crimes do so fully intending to tear at the too-often frayed threads of diversity that bind us together and make us strong. They seek to divide and conquer. They seek to tear us apart from within, pitting American against American, fomenting violence and civil discord.

Our nation must have the ability to respond. That is what this bill is about. It grants us the ability to protect the pluralism that lies at the core of our democracy. It grants us the ability to stand as one nation, with the victims and survivors of hate crimes and to say, this crime against you was a crime against all of us, and we will not rest until justice is done. It grants us the ability to give our loftiest ideals their greatest form of expression in a law that seeks to protect all Americans from ever being targeted on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation. In this spirit, we say to Congress: pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, put into law true family values of tolerance respect and love.

Yet our support does not end here; it shall continue as long as the struggle lasts and beyond. We shall stand with every man and woman coming out of the closet. We shall stand with all couples wishing to become parents. We shall stand with every employee facing discrimination or harassment. We shall stand with those who ask the state to acknowledge what is real — marriage between those who commit their lives to each other. Finally, my friends, as the Central Conference of American Rabbis — the Rabbinic body of Reform Judaism — recently made officially clear, we shall stand with those rabbis who ceremoniously link those who would bind their lives together. We shall stand for justice and equality for all God's children. If George Washington's vision is to come true, America must settle for nothing less.

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