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Reform Movement Releases Interfaith Letter Supporting Strong Hate Crimes Legislation

WASHINGTON, October 14, 1999 — The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the United Church of Christ, Office of Church and Society, today released a letter coordinated on behalf of 20 religious denominations and organizations to members of the House-Senate Conference Committee on the FY 2000 Commerce-State-Justice Appropriations Bill. The letter urges conferees to include the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) in the provisions of the appropriations bill. The HCPA has already passed the Senate by unanimous consent and has over 180 cosponsors in the House.

Other signatories to the letter include the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations - Washington Office, the National Council of Churches - Washington Office, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and the Interfaith Alliance, as well as leading Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, B'nai Brith International, Hadassah, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, NA'AMAT USA, the National Council of Jewish Women, and others.

The full text of the letter follows:

On behalf of our varied array of religious communities, we urge you to include the Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the conference report on the Commerce-State-Justice Appropriations bill. This legislation passed the Senate by unanimous consent as part of a manager's amendment and has over 180 cosponsors in the House.

Hate violence continues to take its tragic toll in America. Along with the brutal, hate-motivated murders of James Byrd in Texas, Matthew Sheperd in Wyoming and Billy Gaither in Alabama, we have witnessed hate-motivated shootings over the July 4th weekend in Illinois and Indiana, the murder of two gay men in California and arson attacks on synagogues in the Sacramento area. In August, we watched with horror as children were led to safety after a man with ties to white supremacist organizations opened fire at a Jewish day care center in Los Angeles. This same individual has been charged with the murder of a Filipino-American postal worker.

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act would strengthen existing law in two ways: it would expand the situations when the Department of Justice can prosecute defendants for violent crimes based on race, color, religion or national origin; second, it would authorize the Department of Justice to prosecute individuals who commit violent crimes against others because of the victim's sexual orientation, gender or disability. It would not override the state's primary role in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

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. 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." Yet in 1997, the FBI reported the occurrence of 8,049 hate crime incidents nationwide. That is one hate crime incident per hour.

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. Hate crimes diminish all of us. We cannot remain silent in the face of such brutal violations of personhood. We cannot wait for another tragedy before we decide to take action.

We urge you to include the Hate Crimes Prevention Act language in the conference report.

Sincerely,

American Ethical Union, Washington Ethical Action Office
American Jewish Committee
Anti-Defamation League
B'nai B'rith International
Christian Church Capital Area
Church Women United
Disciples of Christ Advocacy Washington Network
Episcopal Church
Hadassah
Interfaith Alliance
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
NA'AMAT USA
National Council of Churches, Washington Office
National Council of Jewish Women
NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Presbyterian Church (USA) Washington Office
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, Washington Office
United Church of Christ, Office of Church and Society
WATER,Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.




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