Elected officials introduce new legislation to protect houses of worship
(Trenton) – New Jersey Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, New York Assemblyman Walter Mosley, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and interfaith ministers, joined by elected officials, stood together to denounce the hateful acts of the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh that targeted the Jewish community over the weekend.
Assemblyman Mosley and Assemblyman Johnson also announced the introduction of legislation in their respective states to strengthen penalties against those who attack houses of worship.
“Over the last few years we have seen an unfortunate rise in the number of religious hate crimes, and Saturday’s shooting in Pittsburgh was another disturbing event in a troubling trend. We must stand together to protect freedom of religion and send a message to anyone who wishes to target any religious group that the consequences are severe. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this legislation and make it law,” said Assemblyman Mosley.
“I am proud to work with my colleague across the river on similar legislation in New Jersey. This tragedy requires a regional response to enhance public safety within our religious institutions. No one should have to practice their faith under the threat of violence because of their religious beliefs,” said Assemblyman Johnson.
“Our nation is at the crossroads. Our most cherished freedom, Freedom of Religion has again been violently assaulted, this time at Shabbat service in a Pittsburg Synagogue. Not even the murder of 11 innocent Jewish worshippers has stemmed the decisive rhetoric from both sides of the American social and political divide. For now we won’t find the way forward in Washington. That is why the Simon Wiesenthal Center is so grateful that political and religious leaders from New York and New Jersey have convened to support legislation that ups the ante against violent bigots. We are here together, Jews, Christians, Muslims, people of different colors and ethnicities united in our commitment for a better America. The changes we need will come from within our communities, they will show the way to combat the evil doers,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center.”
“Americans all across the country must stand united against each and every occurrence of anti-Semitism,” said Assemblyman David I. Weprin, Co-President of the National Association of Jewish Legislators (NAJL). “It’s so important that all people of goodwill, all religions, come together and I want to thank Rabbi Cooper and the Simon Wiesenthal Center for bringing representatives from so many different religions and backgrounds together. We all know a hate crime against one group, religion or ethnic background is really a hate crime against all of us and that’s what the Simon Wiesenthal Center has stood for and continues to stand for today.”
Following the Tree of Life attack, Assemblyman Mosley got to work drafting legislation to send a message that New York would take a tough stand on those looking to carry out hate at places of worship.
The first bill would increase possessing an unlicensed firearm while in or near a place of worship to a Class E felony, the same level as possession of a weapon on school grounds.
Additionally, the elected officials introduced legislation to ensure that sentences run consecutively for those convicted of a crime that resulted in death while in or near a religious structure or organization. This will ensure a lengthy prison sentence for anyone convicted of these acts.
“It is time to take action. This legislation is a first step of many. We must send a clear message to terrorists who might attack our religious sanctuaries. We should not be worried about our safety from such individuals when praying in our mosques, synagogues, churches and all other houses of worship. New York has always taken a lead in protecting our communities and must continue to do so,” said Mohammad Razvi, CEO, Council of Peoples Organizations.
“Representing 114 synagogues around the country, the National Council of Young Israel is very proud to be a part of this multi-faith and multi- faceted coalition looking to deliver substantive action to all houses of worship sending a clear message that we will never tolerate those who hate and those who desecrate the sanctity of our holy and sacred spaces,” said Rabbi Marc Volk, Executive Director, National Council of Young Israel.
“We have stood at vigils, we have commemorated those whose lives were horrifically snuffed out simply because of their desire to pray to g-d and proudly practice their religious faith. It is our responsibility to make sure that this unspeakable tragedy has significant meaning. The actions taken today by NY Assembly member Walter Mosley and NJ Assembly member Gordon Johnson along with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and our faith based leadership colleagues is a clear demonstration that we heed the call to action and we will not stand idly by. Our religious sanctuaries must remain a safe haven, and let us to join together like we did today in ensuring the safety of our friends and family whenever they enter a house of worship”, said Michael D. Cohen, Eastern Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center.