As representatives of a diverse array of religious communities, we write to urge you to votein support of S. 1145, the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (LLEEA). The Houseapproved its version of hate crimes legislation on September 14 as an amendment to H.R. 3132,the Childrenâs Safety Act, by a vote of 223-199, including 30 Republicans.
Hate is neither a religious nor American value. The sacred scriptures of many different faith traditions speak with dramatic unanimity in vehemently condemning 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 every human being is created in the image of God. While we recognize that legislation alone cannot remove hatred from the hearts and minds of individuals, the LLEEA will serve as a crucial step in building a society where hate-motivated crimes are deemed intolerable.
In 2004, the FBI documented 7,649 hate crimes directed against institutions and individuals because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability. The LLEEA will stream-line the process for the Department of Justice to assist local authorities to investigate and prosecute these cases â and permit federal involvement in cases that occur because of a victimâs 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 ha temotivated violence.
S. 1145 does not in any way violate the First Amendment protections of offenders. Hate crime laws do not restrict speech. Rather, they target only criminal conduct prompted by prejudice. Some critics of the LLEEA have erroneously asserted that enactment of the measure would prohibit the lawful expression of oneâs deeply held religious beliefs. These fears are unfounded. The LLEEA does not punish, nor prohibit in any way, expressions of religious belief, namecalling, 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 investiga te and prosecute.
Now is the time for the Senate to publicly reaffirm its commitment to protect all Americans from such flagrant 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 the LLEEA is vital to this struggle, and we ask you to support its passage.
African American Ministers in Action
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish Congress
Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Catholics for a Free Choice
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Church Women United
The Episcopal Church
Hindu American Foundation
The Interfaith Alliance
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Women International
Muslim Public Affairs Council
National Council of Churches (USA)
National Council of Jewish Women
North American Federation of Temple Youth
Presbyterian Church (USA)
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 Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Women of Reform Judaism