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Reps. Kustoff and Kilmer Introduce Bill to Protect Religious Institutions

March 27, 2017
Press Release
Bipartisan Bill, Co-Sponsored by Reps. Poe, Deutch, McMorris Rodgers and Kennedy, Increases Federal Penalties for Violent Threats Against Religious Community Centers and Places of Worship

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 27, 2017 – Congressman David Kustoff (R-TN) and Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA) today introduced the Combating Anti-Semitism Act of 2017. This bipartisan legislation, also co-sponsored by Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL), Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA), would increase the federal penalty for bomb threats and other credible threats of violence against community religious centers and ensure these acts can be prosecuted as a hate crime.

“The rise in threats at religious community centers is deeply disturbing and makes it clear that existing federal laws do not suitably deter these acts of hate,” said Kustoff. “Religious tolerance is the bedrock on which our great nation was founded. We must defend the individual liberties of our neighbors of all faiths and protect places of worship, and I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that addresses the issue head on.”

“No American should be made a target because of his or her faith. Sadly, religious community centers across the country have increasingly had to lock down their facilities and call in bomb squads," said Kilmer. "I’m proud to support this bipartisan bill to ensure America remains a beacon of tolerance and respect for religion and free speech."

“Our country was founded on the principle of religious freedom and has been a haven for all minorities since its inception,” said Poe. “The recent spate of bomb threats, vandalism, and hate crimes against the Jewish community across our nation has sought to threaten the very core values of the United States. The Jewish community has been the target of a concerning uptick of hate crimes all across our country, including in the Great State of Texas. We stand united as Americans against the perpetrators of these hateful acts and side by side with our Jewish neighbors. This important legislation will send a much needed message that antisemitism has no place in our country and that we will continue to defend and support the Jewish community against those that seek to oppose the pluralistic nature of our Republic.”

“It’s a heartbreaking sight to see preschool and elementary school children evacuating their classrooms because of a bomb threat against their lives,” said Deutch. “Threats targeted at Jewish institutions demand a strong response from the federal government. I’m proud to join my colleagues on this bipartisan bill to help protect Jewish and other religious institutions around the country and deter these hate crimes in the future.”

“In light of the recent string of threats, vandalism, and hate crimes at Jewish Community Centers and cemeteries across the country, I am reaffirming to our Jewish communities that we stand strong with them,” said McMorris Rodgers. “In Spokane, we’ve seen a rise in hate-related incidents, and in Mercer Island, a bomb threat was directed at the Stroum Jewish Community Center. In America, we have a moral imperative to ensure that no matter your background, religion, or walk of life, you are safe and free to worship whatever religion you choose without fear. We’re united under one flag, and one Constitution that guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the ‘Combating Anti-Semitism Act’ reaffirms this.”

“Targeted threats against the Jewish community or any other religious group will not shake our resolve for a nation free of bigotry and hatred,” said Kennedy. “With the support of colleagues from across the country, this legislation sends a clear message that anti-Semitism and religious intolerance have no place in this our United States."

In 2017 alone, more than 100 bomb threats and other threats of violence have been made against 81 Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) in 33 states. In addition to the fear and terror inflicted upon these institutions after a threat, there are tangible ramifications for the centers. Many JCCs are forced to temporarily close their doors as a result of these threats, and families who rely on the center’s services, such as Hebrew school and early-childhood education programs, have been forced to choose between their safety and their faith community. 

This bipartisan legislation would amend the Church Arson Prevention Act (18 U.S.C. § 247) to ensure that individuals who make bomb threats and other credible threats of violence against community religious centers –based on the religious nature of that center –can be prosecuted for committing a hate crime.  

In addition, individuals who make credible threats against religious institutions are sheltered by the current law, which limits the consequences they can face to misdemeanor charges. Under the Combating Anti-Semitism Act of 2017, new language would be added to 18 U.S.C. § 247 that would create a penalty of up to 5 years of imprisonment if any violation of the statute results in the damage or destruction of property.

Click here for the bill text.