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Nation's Largest Jewish Organization Joins with Interfaith Coalition in Announcing the Release of Letter in Support of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S.622)

Saperstein: "As people of faith we cherish the Biblical injunction,'You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart,' and we seek to give life to that teaching by fighting against hate crimes in America."

Contact: Jeff Mandell or Kayle Becker, (202) 387-2800

WASHINGTON, July 19 - In announcing the release of an Interfaith Coalition letter in support of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 622), Rabbi David Saperstein, Executive Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today said that, "There have been too many examples of why this legislation is necessary, the burning of Synagogues in California and the hate inspired killing spree over the Fourth of July are only the most recent horrifying episodes." "As people of faith," Rabbi Saperstein commented, "we are charged with the responsibility of protecting and cherishing all lives. The passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act will be an important step in healing the wounds that hate violence inflicts on our communities."

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations joined with a broad-based interfaith coalition of twenty-five organizations in support of support for the hate crime legislation. This vital bill, which will be an amendment to the Commerce Justice State appropriations bill, would expand federal law to make it easier for federal law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute cases of racial and religious violence, and would permit federal prosecution of violence motivated by prejudice against the victim's sexual orientation, gender, or disability.

The full text of the interfaith letter follows:

Dear Senator,

On behalf of our varied array of religious communities, we urge you to endorse the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S.622) introduced by Senators Kennedy, Specter, Wyden, Schumer, and Smith. As people of faith we cherish the Biblical injunction found in Leviticus 19:17 "You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart," and we seek to give life to that teaching by fighting against hate crimes directed against people because of who they are.

Although 40 states and the District of Columbia now provide enhanced penalties for hate crimes, significant gaps still exist in protecting all Americans from bias-motivated crimes. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act would strengthen existing law (18 U.S.C. Section 245) in two primary ways: first, it would extend the protection of the current hate crimes law to those who are victimized because of their gender, sexual orientation or disability; and secondly, it would expand the ability of federal prosecutors to prosecute serious forms of hate-based violence by removing unnecessary jurisdictional impediments. While no legislation can wipe out bias-motivated crimes, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act would significantly enhance the government's ability to prosecute those who perpetrate the crimes and help prevent them from occurring in the future.

The issue of hate crime response and prevention has been given greater attention in recent months beginning with the White House Conference on Hate Crimes in November 1997 and continuing with the formation of both secular and religious hate crimes working groups in local communities around the country. While we believe that state and local governments should continue to have the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, an expanded federal role is necessary to ensure an adequate and fair response in all cases. The federal government must have jurisdiction to address those limited, but important, cases in which local authorities are either unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute. In addition, a number of states do not have adequate laws addressing violence based on the victim's gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

It is difficult to get a clear picture of the magnitude of hate violence today. Many hate crimes go unreported because of fear of further victimization, and many bias motivated crimes do not presently fall under the current definition of "hate crimes." However, in 1997 the FBI reported that there were 8,049 hate crime incidents nationwide. That's one hate crime incident per hour. In 1998 James Byrd, Jr., of Jasper Texas was dragged to death and Matthew Shepard of Laramie Wyoming was beaten to death. Last week three synagogues in Sacramento, CA were set ablaze. The time has come to move beyond dialogue into action!

We urge you to pursue justice and support the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Respectfully,
American Ethical Union, Washington Ethical Action Office
American Jewish Committee
AIDS National Interfaith Network
Anti-Defamation League
B'nai B'rith International
Christian Church Capital Area
Church Women United
Disciples of Christ Advocacy Washington Network
Episcopal Church
Equal Partners in Faith
Hadassah
Interfaith Alliance
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs - Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The McAuley Institute
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of Churches - Washington Office
NA'AMAT USA
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Presbyterian Church USA
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, Washington Office
United Church of Christ, Office of Church and Society.
The United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
WATER Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual



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