With comprehensive hate crimes bills just a few days away from appearing on the Senate's agenda, more than 130 Episcopal clergy have signed a letter calling on Congress to pass legislation to fight hate crimes in the United States. The letter in support of the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2001 (S.625/H.R.1343) is part of an effort organized by the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations in coalition with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Interfaith Alliance. The bills are cosponsored by 51 senators and 206 representatives.
'At a time when hate crimes are all too prevalent, political leaders must stand with the religious community. We must make it clear that neither hate nor violence is a traditional American value[,]'said the letter. 'Though legislation cannot remove hate from the hearts and minds of individuals, hate crimes legislation can help to create a society that is unbending in its intolerance of hate-motivated violence.'
The U.S. Senate is expected to consider hate crimes legislation prior to the Memorial Day recess at the end of May. Hate crimes legislation would expand federal jurisdiction to serious, violent hate crimes based on the perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability of the victims.
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold and 20 Episcopal bishops joined the effort. The Rev. Rosemari Sullivan, secretary of the General Convention, and the Rev. George Werner, president of the House of Deputies, also signed, representing the leadership of the Episcopal Church and the General Convention. More than 60 Episcopal lay leaders added their support.
The 2000 General Convention passed no fewer than three resolutions regarding hate crimes including resolution CO29, entitled 'Violence: Hate Crimes Legislation.'
A press conference with sponsors of the legislation and religious leaders is scheduled for the week of May 13 to raise support for Congress to pass the bills. 'The strong support from the clergy and Episcopalians from across the country will no doubt send the clear message that the church expects this important legislation to be taken up and considered soon,' said John B. Johnson of the Office of Government Relations.
While the deadline for signing onto the letter was May 8, Johnson indicated that members of the clergy could continue to e-mail their support and his office would pass it on to members of Congress directly. Clergy and lay leaders who wish to add their name in support of the 'hate crimes' legislation can e-mail John Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.