It may not mean a lot in the overall scheme of things on Capitol Hill, but it means a lot to Jewish groups involved in the fight: Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox group that often takes conservative positions on social issues, has endorsed the hate crimes bill awaiting Senate approval.
In a statement, Rabbi Abba Cohen, the group's Washington director and counsel, said hate crimes are “personal and all-too-familiar” to the Jewish community. “Orthodox Jews, in particular, because their mode of dress makes them so identifiable and because their living in clustered communities makes them so visible, are often an easy and preferred target of anti-Semites.”
In endorsing the legislation – which , among other things, extends existing hate crime statutes to include crimes committed because of the victims' sexual orientation, gender or disability – Agudath Israel is rejecting claims by the conservative Christian groups that are its frequent coalition partners that the measure would criminalize preaching against homosexuality.
The Agudah statement goes on to say that the group has opposed such legislation in the past “in part because of the group’s concern that those, like members of the organization’s constituency, with deep-seated beliefs about what constitutes moral behavior, might be cast – or even prosecuted – as criminals for their religious beliefs or expressions of the same.”
But, agreeing with the Anti-Defamation League and other leading Jewish groups, Cohen says the current legislation “goes far in alleviating these concerns, directly addressing the issues of religious belief, expression and association in four specifically-targeted provisions. Each preserves a religious adherent’s constitutional right to the free exercise of religion and makes clear that the legislation cannot be construed to infringe, prohibit, diminish or burden that right.”
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