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Reform Movement Calls On Congressional Leadership to Find a Way to Pass Hate Crimes Legislation

Pelavin: "The Hate Crimes Prevention Act is not simply feel-good legislation. It would make a real difference to Americans whose safety is continually threatened because of their identity. This is an important step in healing the wounds hate crimes have inflicted in our communities."

Contact: Jeff Mandell, (202) 387-2800

WASHINGTON, October 19 — In response to the decision by the House-Senate Conference Committee on the Commerce, State, Justice Appropriations Bill for FY2000 to drop provisions strengthening federal hate crimes protections, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), calling on them to "find a way" to pass hate crimes legislation this year. The letter was also sent to other members of the Congressional leadership.

The Conference Committee elected to include neither the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), which had passed the Senate without objection and has over 180 co-sponsors in the House, nor a competing, more limited version of that legislation sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). According to Pelavin, "If the Commerce, State, Justice Appropriations Bill is not to be the vehicle for this crucial legislation, then we urge you to find a way to pass this law."

The full text of Pelavin's letter follows:

In the wake of the decision by the Conference Committee on the Commerce, State, Justice Appropriations Bill for FY 2000 not to include any provisions to strengthen federal hate crimes legislation in the Conference Report.

The Conference Committee's rejection of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is more than a disappointment to all Americans who care about civil rights; it is also an affront to the victims of hate crimes and their families. In the midst of the trial for one of Matthew Shepherd's tormentors, we refuse to accept inaction.

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act is not simply feel-good legislation. It would make a real difference to Americans whose safety is continually threatened because of their identity. This is an important step in healing the wounds hate crimes have inflicted in our communities. This legislation would indisputably advance the ideal that all Americans, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or ability can live with a greater sense of security.

In the Jewish tradition, we are taught that God created humans b'tselem elohim, in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The stamp of the divine is found in the souls of all God's children. Regardless of context, violence against any person arising from apathy, insensitivity, ignorance, fear, or hatred is inconsistent with this fundamental principle, moving us ever farther away from our goal of creating a perfect world.

It is vital that the Congress revisit this issue this year. We must recognize that our diversity is our nation's greatest asset. Violent hate crimes are divisive and destructive — they cannot, must not, and will not be tolerated in any community.

In closing, let me reiterate the Reform Movement's support for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 622/H.R. 77), which passed the Senate without dissent and has over 180 co-sponsors in the House. If the Commerce, State, Justice Appropriations Bill is not to be the vehicle for this crucial legislation, then we urge you to find a way to pass this law. We are mindful of the demands of the Congressional calendar, but experience teaches us that where there is a political will, there is a procedural way.

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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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