State Senate Independent Democratic Conference outlines religious freedom package

March 6, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Flowers rest on a headstone at Mount Carmel Cemetery Feb. 28 in Philadelphia. Volunteers helped clean up and restore the Jewish cemetery where vandals damaged hundreds of headstones. Under the IDC’s proposal, a special crime category would be created for desecrating a cemetery. AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma

Savino calls anti-Semitic acts ‘reprehensible’

In the wake of a disturbing series of bomb threats lodged against Jewish community centers in New York that were similar to the threats called into centers at various locations across the U.S., members of the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) announced a new effort to combat religious hatred.

IDC members, including two Brooklyn lawmakers, state Sen. Diane Savino and state Sen. Jesse Hamilton, unveiled their Religious Freedom Package, legislative measures aimed at promoting religious tolerance across the state.

The lawmakers are also taking action in response to two shocking crimes in which Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia were attacked by vandals who knocked over hundreds of headstones.

The Religious Freedom Package includes legislation that would:


  • Create a specified offense for graffiti making it a hate crime and increase penalties for bias-related graffiti and graffiti on religious property. The bill would elevate the offense to a Class E felony and would cover graffiti that is made to target a person’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.

  • Prohibit discrimination against religious attire.

  • Heighten penalties for damaging property in a house of worship or desecrating a cemetery.

  • Prohibit funding to college groups that participate in boycotts of Israel and other countries that have Regents charter school.


I am proud to represent one of the most culturally diverse populations in the entire state,” said Savino (D-Staten Island-Coney Island-Bensonhurst). “Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick across this country of crimes geared toward instilling fear in communities of people who make this city and state great. Vandalism, destruction of property and threats of violence against an individual based on their heritage is one of the most reprehensible acts one can carry out.

Hamilton (D-Crown Heights-Park Slope, Sunset Park) said the legislative package is part of an overall effort to express solidarity with the Jewish and Muslim communities.

“We will rise to the challenge of upholding our religious freedoms, even in the face of those who seek to marginalize and intimidate. This Religious Freedom Package serves to unite our efforts and ensure our culture of religious inclusion prevails,” Hamilton said.

State Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx-Westchester), the chairman of the IDC, is the grandson of Holocaust survivors.

“This is a country built on the principles of freedom and tolerance, where individuals are welcome to worship freely. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, to see this occur in America in 2017 is deeply disturbing and we must send a clear message to anyone who believes that they could strike fear into any religious group: hate will not be tolerated in New York state,” Klein said.

The threats against Jewish community centers in New York are part of an anti-Semitic wave of incidents in 33 states that have taken place since the start of the year, authorities said. The attacks included threats to Jewish community centers and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia.

On March 3, police arrested a suspect, Juan M. Thompson, 31, on a federal cyber-stalking charge in connection with bomb threats made against eight Jewish institutions around the country. Thompson, who was taken into custody in St. Louis, is a former newspaper reporter who allegedly tried to pin the crimes on an ex-girlfriend.

Thompson is charged only in connection with eight of the incidents. Law enforcement authorities are still searching for suspects involved in the other incidents.