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Coalition Letter: Support Hate Crimes Legislation
11/30/2007
 

The Honorable Carl Levin                                                The Honorable John McCain
Chairman                                                                            Ranking Member
Committee on Armed Services                                       Committee on Armed Services
228 Russell Senate Office Building                                 241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510                                                    Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Ike Skelton                                              The Honorable Duncan Hunter
Chairman                                                                           Ranking Member
Committee on Armed Services                                       Committee on Armed Services
2120 Rayburn House Office Building                              2340 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515                                                    Washington, DC 20515

 

Dear Chairmen Levin and Skelton and Ranking Members McCain and Hunter,

As organizations representing a diverse array of religious communities, we write to urge you to retain the Senate-passed Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) provisions as part of the Department of Defense Authorization conference report.  This vital piece of legislation passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 237 to 180 in May and was added as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill when Senators voted, 60 to 39, to end a filibuster against the amendment in late September.

Hate is neither a religious nor American value.  Sacred texts from all our major religious traditions speak with dramatic unity on the abhorrence of crimes based on hate.  Crimes motivated by hatred or bigotry are an assault not only upon individual victims' freedoms, but also upon a belief that lies at the core of our diverse faith traditions – that of the inherent value and sacredness of every human. While we recognize that legislation alone cannot remove hatred from the hearts and minds of individuals, the LLEHCPA will serve as a crucial step in building a society where hate-motivated crimes are deemed intolerable.

In 2006, the FBI documented 7,722 hate crimes directed against institutions and individuals because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability. But these troubling statistics do not speak for themselves – because behind each and every one of these incidents are individuals, families, and communities deeply harmed by these crimes. The LLEHCPA will streamline the process for the Department of Justice to assist local authorities to investigate and prosecute these cases – and permit federal involvement in cases that occur because of a victim’s gender, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Existing federal law is inadequate to address the significant national problem of hate crimes. Not only does current law contain obstacles to effective enforcement, but it also does not provide authority to investigate and prosecute bias crimes based on disability, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. We are morally obligated to call for laws to protect all Americans from hate-motivated violence.

Importantly, the LLEHCPA does not in any way violate First Amendment protections. Hate crime laws do not restrict speech. Rather, they target only criminal conduct prompted by prejudice. Some critics of the legislation have erroneously asserted that enactment of the measure would prohibit the lawful expression of one’s deeply held religious beliefs. These fears are unfounded. The measure does not punish, nor prohibit in any way, preaching or other expressions of religious belief, name-calling, or even expressions of hatred toward any group. It covers only violent actions that result in death or bodily injury.

Although we believe that state and local governments should continue to have the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, an expanded federal role is necessary to ensure adequate and equitable response to these divisive crimes. The federal government must have authority to address those important cases in which local authorities are either unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute.

Members of Congress now have an historic opportunity to reaffirm a commitment to protect all Americans from bias-motivated violence. As people of faith and leaders in the religious community, we are committed to eradicating the egregious hatred and violence which divides our society. We believe that this comprehensive hate crimes legislation is vital to this struggle.

We urge you to support the Senate-passed hate crime provisions as a part of the Department of Defense Authorization conference report.

Respectfully,

 

African American Ministers in Action

American Conference of Cantors

American Jewish Committee

American Islamic Congress

Anti-Defamation League

The Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists

Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interest Buddhist Peace Fellowship

Central Conference of American Rabbis

Disciples Justice Action Network

The Episcopal Church

Equal Partners in Faith

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America

Hindu American Foundation

The Interfaith Alliance

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Jewish Labor Committee

Jewish Mosaic: The National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity

Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

Keshet

KeshetRabbis: The Alliance of Gay-Friendy Conservative Rabbis

Methodist Federation for Social Action

More Light Presbyterians

Muslim Advocates

National Council of Jewish Women

New Ways Ministry

North American Federation of Temple Youth

Presbyterian Church, (USA), Washington Office

Religious Institute on Sexual Morality Justice, and Healing

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sikh Council on Religion and Education.

Union for Reform Judaism

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

United Methodist Church, General Commission on Religion and Race

Women of Reform Judaism



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