Senate Passes Bill on Cemetery Desecration

Makes It A Religious Freedom Violation

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng to make the desecration of cemeteries-including Jewish cemeteries around the world-a violation of religious freedom passed the Senate last week.

The House of Representatives passed in May the The Protect Cemeteries Act (H.R. 4028), which would amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to include the vandalizing of cemeteries as one of many infringements on the right to freedom of religion.

The legislation now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The bill, which was suggested by some of Meng’s constituents in the Jewish community in Queens, New York, would have a significant impact on Jews in the U.S. and around the world since many have ancestors buried in their families’ homelands. In many cases, there are few relatives left in those distant communities to protect and preserve the graves, so it’s important that there be laws to protect the graveyards there.

“This legislation would be a new and important tool in our fight against the desecration of cemeteries,” said Meng in a May press release. “It would combat religiously-motivated vandalism of cemeteries and also prevent developers from building over cemeteries, a new and emerging threat in places where there are no Jewish communities left to protect burial grounds. It is essential that we increase preservation, tolerance and respect for cemeteries across the globe, and this legislation would go a long way towards accomplishing that critical goal.”

The International Religious Freedom Act, which combats religious persecution across the globe, sets forth acts against religious freedom that the United States officially condemns, including the impeding of religious assembly, sponsoring slander campaigns, and prohibiting the pursuit of education or public office, among others.

Under the 1998 law, the U.S. can impose penalties on countries that obstruct religious freedom. These include slashing foreign aid, public condemnation, cancelling official visits and cultural or scientific exchanges, imposing trade sanctions and prohibiting import and exporting agreements, among others.

Meng introduced the Protect Cemeteries Act this past February and it was the fourth piece of legislation that the freshman congresswoman has passed in the House since she was sworn into Congress last year.

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