Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of rights listed in our Bill of Rights. In the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, there are five rights that are mentioned.
The first right in the First Amendment is mentioned first, in my opinion, because it is the most important right, and that is the right of religious freedom. If you notice the wording in that right, it protects the right to freely exercise one’s religion.
It is more than believe whatever you want to believe religiously. You have the right to practice your religion and freely exercise it.
Wise words from the Founders and the writers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Now we have a situation in our country where that right is being threatened.
Even this morning, the attempted terror attack should remind us that we need to be vigilant of the war on terror because people, in the name of terror, commit crimes against other Americans because they hate them. They hate their religion and what they stand for.
This year, more than 100 bomb threats and other threats of violence have been made against 81 Jewish community centers. A Jewish community center is not the synagogue, but sometimes it is close to it.
It is where the Jewish kids and adults go for community. There have been over 100 bomb threats just this year against 81 Jewish community centers in 33 States.
Many of these centers were forced to close because of the threat that was made against them.These attacks are clearly directed at these facilities due to the religious nature of the buildings and the religious activities that go on there.
Despite this fact, terroristic threats against community religious centers are currently not punished as hate crimes under Federal law. This bipartisan legislation would amend the Church Arson Prevention Act to ensure that other 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 under our law as a hate crime.
The bill also adds new language that would create a penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment if any violation of the statute results in damage or destruction to the property. We must make it abundantly clear that we will not tolerate acts of violence and hate against any group in America, especially religious groups.
It is incumbent upon us, as Congress, to make sure that the First Amendment is protected, and that is our job: to protect religious freedom. I urge support of this legislation, and I thank the chairman for bringing it to the floor. And that is just the way it is.