Bill adds protections of religious community centers against hate crimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bill co-written by U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer to protect religious community centers against hate crimes has been sent to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

The House of Representatives passed the final version of the Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act on Friday.

Kilmer, a Democrat from Gig Harbor, co-wrote the bill after a string of bomb threats was made nationwide against religious institutions, including one at the Stroum Jewish Community Center in Mercer Island last year. He co-introduced the bill with Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tenn.

Kilmer authored the bill with input from community members who observed that while committing an act of violence against a religious community center was classified as a hate crime, the act of calling in a threat against them was not.

“Today [Friday] Congress affirmed the right of every American to practice their faith and gather as a community without the fear of being targeted because of their beliefs,” Kilmer said in a news release Friday.

“Once the bill is signed, making threats against religious community centers will become a hate crime.

“The bill’s passage shows what’s possible when folks work together to solve problems and when our community stands together against hate and for peace.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced the bill in the Senate, where it passed last week.

The Senate added language to the bill to guide prosecutors and the legal system on how to enforce it, requiring a second vote in the House.

The bill amends the Church Arson Prevention Act to ensure that anyone who threatens violence against a religious community center because of the center’s religious affiliation can be prosecuted for committing a hate crime.

It also creates a criminal penalty of a fine or a prison term of up to 5 years, or both for people found guilty of such threats.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.

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