WASHINGTON, D.C., March 27, 2017 – Congressman Ted Poe cosponsored bipartisan legislation, the Combating Anti-Semitism Act of 2017, introduced by Reps. David Kustoff (R-TN) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) today. This legislation 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.
“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.”
“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."
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.