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Kustoff Bill To Protect Religious Freedom Passes House

Wednesday, December 13, 2017
By Shari Hillman, RJC Information Director

An important bill to protect religious liberty was passed by the House of Representatives on December 11. The Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017 is the first bill introduced by Jewish Republican freshman Congressman David Kustoff (TN-8). It has strong bipartisan support and passed in the House by a 402-2 vote.

The Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017 clarifies and extends the existing law that criminalizes property damage to houses of worship. Kustoff’s bill adds language to prohibit threats against other religious institutions, such as Jewish community centers. It prohibits threats to property, like bomb threats. And it makes property damage caused by fire or explosives to real property that is either owned or leased by a nonprofit, religiously affiliated organization, a felony punishable by a fine and up to three years imprisonment.

The bill came in response to the rising number of bomb threats against houses of worship, Jewish community centers, and other religious institutions. In remarks to the House before the vote, Kustoff said:

Earlier this year, we saw a disturbing rise in bomb threats at Jewish community centers, churches, and other religious institutions across the country. Our communities were in distress as cemeteries were vandalized because of their religious affiliation…

Hate crimes do not just hurt one person. They cause great distress to our families, communities, and society as a whole. In my own home State of Tennessee, we, sadly, experienced multiple bomb threats at a local Jewish community center. These events shook the entire community.  In addition to the fear inflicted upon these institutions after a threat, there are tangible ramifications for the centers. Many community centers and places of worship are forced to temporarily close their doors as a result of these threats.  Families who rely on the center's services, such as Bible study and early childhood education programs, have been forced to choose between their faith community and their safety. Here, in the United States of America, people should not have to make that choice...

The Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017 would ensure that individuals who make credible threats of violence against religious community centers and places of worship can be prosecuted for committing a hate crime under Federal law.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is a strong supporter of the measure and moved it through the committee process. In addition to Rep. Kustoff, who introduced the bill, the original cosponsors included Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA), and Derek Kilmer (D-WA). The bill went to the House floor with 50 cosponsors.

The Senate version of this legislation, introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), is very similar and is currently in the Judiciary Committee. We hope that the Senate will take action on this matter early in the new year and that it will swiftly reach the President’s desk for his signature.