April 6, 2009 – As a part the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Hate Crimes Task Force’s letter-a-day campaign in support of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913), Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today sent the following letter to members of the House of Representatives:
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, I urge you to support the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (H.R. 1913) introduced by Representatives Conyers (D-MI) and Kirk (R-IL).
All violent crimes are reprehensible, but hate crimes rend the fabric of society and fragment communities. By providing federal officials the authority to investigate and prosecute cases in which violence occurs because of victims’ real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability, the LLEHCPA will significantly strengthen federal response to these horrific crimes.
Of course, states will continue to play the primary role investigating and prosecuting bias-motivated violence, but the LLEHCPA will allow the federal government to intervene in cases where local authorities are either unable or unwilling to do so. Local law enforcement will be supported by federal officials through training and technical assistance, ensuring that these egregious crimes are handled properly and that affected communities are set on a path toward healing.
We are cognizant of the range of views among faith traditions on the issue of homosexuality. While the Reform Jewish Movement is proud of its welcoming of LGBT individuals, there are, of course, faith traditions that hold different views. This legislation only applies to bias-motivated crimes and will not affect lawful public speech or preaching. In fact, in order to make certain that such concerns were addressed, an amendment proposed by Representative Artur Davis (D-AL) is included to clearly protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans.
As Jews, we cherish the biblical commandment found in Leviticus 19:17: "You shall not hate another in your heart." We know all too well the dangers of unchecked persecution and of failing to recognize hate crimes for what they are: acts designed to target and terrorize an entire community. We also take to heart the commandment “You may not stand idly by when your neighbor’s blood is being shed” (Leviticus 19:16). Jewish tradition teaches the importance of tolerance and respect for others.
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act has languished for far too long. Your help is critical to ensure its passage. I ask you to vote in favor of the LLEHCPA and help bolster federal capacity to address bias-motivated violence.
Rabbi David Saperstein