Since January, more than 100 bomb threats and other threats of violence have been made against 81 Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) in 33 states. JCCs are religious community centers that provide a variety of religious, cultural, and educational services primarily to Jewish families in hundreds of communities around the country. It will come as no surprise that the impact of these threats of violence has been serious and drastic.
In addition to the fear and terror inflicted upon so many, there have been tangible ramifications for the centers. Many JCCs were 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 placed in the unimaginable position of having to choose between their safety and their faith community. No one should be forced to live in fear of violence, or be deterred from participating in their faith community.
Despite the clear religious animus behind these threats of violence, terroristic threats against community religious centers are not punished as hate crimes under federal law. That is why we are introducing the Combating Anti-Semitism Act of 2017. 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 penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment if any violation of the statute results in the damage or destruction of property.
It is clear that existing federal laws do not sufficiently deter these acts of hate. At a time where our faith communities are facing increased threats of violence, it is imperative that we take steps to secure our religious freedoms by fostering an environment that is accepting of all religions and strongly condemns acts of hate.
For more information, or to cosponsor this legislation, please contact Justin Melvin with Congressman Kustoff at 5-4714 (Justin.Melvin@mail.house.gov) or Rachel Appleton with Congressman Kilmer at 5-5916 (Rachel.Appleton@mail.house.gov).