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Bill Sparked By JCC Threats Would Raise Penalties For Targeting Religious Institutions

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A U.S. House of Representatives committee advanced a bill that would enhance penalties for threats on religious institutions, sparked by a wave of threats on Jewish community centers and other Jewish institutions earlier this year.

“This bill clarifies that federal law prohibits threats toward religious institutions, and that the protection extends beyond places of worship, to places such as religiously-affiliated community centers,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, after the committee advanced the Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017 bill to the full House on Thursday.

“Federal law will prohibit threats to property such as bomb threats, provided the threat is so serious that it obstructs an individual’s ability to exercise their right to practice their religion,” Goodlatte said in his statement.

Among other measures, the bill and an identical one under consideration in the Senate adds the word “threatens” to existing laws that criminalize attacks and attempted attacks on religious institutions.

Originally dubbed the Combating Anti-Semitism Act of 2017 when it was introduced in March, its sponsors, Reps. David Kustoff, R-Tenn., and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., were reacting to a rash of bomb threats that shut down JCCs across the United States.

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