Meng Bill to Make the Desecration of Cemeteries a Violation of Religious Freedom Passed by Key House Committee
Apr 30, 2014
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng’s (D-NY) legislation to make the desecration of cemeteries a violation of religious freedom was passed today by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The measure now advances to the House floor for a vote by the full House of Representatives.
Meng’s bill, the Protect Cemeteries Act, 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.
“Religiously motivated desecration of cemeteries unfortunately occurs with alarming regularity, but this legislation would be a new tool to help combat it,” said Meng. “The bill would also go a long way towards promoting preservation, tolerance and respect for cemeteries, and the committee’s passage of the measure says in a loud clear voice that this type of hate crime will not be tolerated anywhere in our society. I urge the House to quickly approve this legislation.”
The International Religious Freedom Act, which seeks to combat religious persecution around the world, 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 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, and prohibiting import and exporting agreements, among others.
No date has yet been set for the House to vote on Meng’s legislation. The Congresswoman is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and its Subcommittee on the Middle East.
Below are the remarks Meng delivered during today’s consideration of the Protect Cemeteries Act.
“I would like to thank Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel for including HR 4028 within the en bloc package of bills before the committee today for consideration. I also thank Congressman Doug Collins for his partnership here and valuable contributions to the bill. And thank you to both Republican and Democratic committee staffs for recognizing the value of this bill and working so hard to bring it before the committee today.
The bill is short, but, I believe, significant. It adds the words desecration of cemeteries to the violations of the rights to religious freedom listed in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
There are two related problems we seek to address through this legislation. One is the religiously-motivated vandalism of cemeteries that occurs with alarming regularity. The second is the building and development over cemeteries in places where there are no communities remaining to protect and look out for the cemeteries. The bill will give our diplomats a new tool they can use to protect our interests.
HR 4028 also empowers the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. This Commission was established in the 1980’s through legislation introduced by the late Congressman Stephen Solarz. The Commission works to identify and preserve cemeteries, memorials, and buildings in foreign countries that are associated with the cultural heritage of Americans.
The Commission has done much work in areas of the former Soviet Union, where Jewish communities were destroyed by the Holocaust and where power subsequently passed to atheistic, communist regimes. It is essential that we act to protect religious freedom in these areas, where as we know political instability and anti-Semitism are widespread. It is fitting that we consider this bill during Holocaust Remembrance Week, because the bill is largely devoted to the millions who perished in genocides in the 20th century. These genocides destroyed communities and left their burial grounds uncared for and unpreserved.
The preservation of cemeteries often reflects the religious tolerance and freedom of the countries in which they are located. It is my hope that this legislation will help promote such preservation and greater tolerance, respect, and empathy around the world. I thank the committee for its consideration and yield back the balance of my time.”