WASHINGTON, July 29 - Black and Jewish leaders and Representatives held a press conference today to express their support for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1082). Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, urged the members of the House to pass the vital legislation. The full text of Rabbi Saperstein's statement follows:
Today, we gather in the shadow of the temples of the oldest existing democracy on the face of the earth, to call upon the House of Representatives to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
It is fitting that as Blacks and Jews, we join in supporting this vital legislation. We two communities have been the quintessential victims of Western Civilization, of its strand of prejudice, racism and hatred. I stand here representing the Reform Jewish community, 1.5 million strong. We support this legislation because, as Jews, we know what it is to be the victims of hate crimes. We know what it is to be beaten, to be maimed, to be killed because of who we are and what we believe. We have known what it is to be the target of ethnic cleansing. And in this century, we have known what it is to be exterminated, to watch the small embers of isolated anti-Semitic acts flower into a Holocaust of hatred that consumed 6 million Jews and another 6 million human beings deemed "undesirable." As victims of hatred, we know we must stand against hate crimes and with its victims.
The United States is far from perfect. We have had our own dark moments, our own moral catastrophes — slavery, Jim Crow, and others, our own periods in which our ideals far surpassed our actions. Yet we have built a nation in which diverse people can come together, work together, live together, and in so doing make each other strong. Over the past forty years, we have done much to address the wrongs of our past, and we have made a promise to the future: we will not allow race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation divide us. We will see each other as Americans, one and all, cherishing the rich diversity of our traditions and customs, but united by the centuries-old promise of a democratic society, and driven by religious traditions that teach every individual is precious in the eyes of God.
Daily, all arenas of our society become more diverse as immigrants come to our shores, as gays and lesbians live more openly, as more women pursue careers and professional fulfillment. Our future depends on our ability to harness this diversity and make it our strength. It depends on a political system that is welcoming and open to all. It depends on building pluralism and tolerance. More than ever before, our future as a nation depends on living up to the highest ideals of a democratic republic.
Hate crimes are more than mere acts of violence. They are more than murders, beatings, assaults, as tragic as they are. 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 murdered Matthew Shepard did far more than end the life of a beautiful, promising, loving young man. Those who brutally dragged James Byrd to his death did far more than end the life of a decent, hard-working, loving father and grandfather.
The young man who shot at Jews and Blacks and Asians in Chicago did far more than wound several human beings and end the lives of two of God's children. All these hate crimes were crimes against us all, against the promise and values of America.
Make no mistake about it. 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 an entire nation with the victims and survivors of hate crimes and 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, most pious 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.
Driven by our memories of the victims of hate crimes, informed by our religious traditions, and inspired by the highest ideals of American history, we call upon the House of Representatives to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.