Kilmer’s Hate Crimes Bill Headed to President’s Desk

Kilmer-drafted legislation in response to Mercer Island bomb threat passes House unanimously in final vote, heads to President’s desk to be signed into law

WASHINGTON, DC—A bill co-written by Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) to protect religious community centers against hate crimes is headed to the president’s desk to be signed into law. Today, the House of Representatives passed the final version of The Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act. Kilmer (D-WA) co-wrote the bill after a string of bomb threats were made nationwide against religious institutions, including one at the Stroum Jewish Community Center in Mercer Island, Washington last year.

“Today Congress affirmed the right of every American to practice their faith and gather as a community without the fear of being targeted because of their beliefs,” Kilmer said. “Once the bill is signed, making threats against religious community centers will become a hate crime. The bill’s passage shows what’s possible when folks work together to solve problems and when our community stands together against hate and for peace.”

Kilmer co-introduced the House bill with Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN).

Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the bill in the Senate, where it passed earlier this week. The Senate added language to the bill to guide prosecutors and the legal system on how to enforce it, requiring a second vote in the House. Today the House passed the final bill unanimously.

The bill amends the Church Arson Prevention Act (18 U.S.C. § 247) to ensure that anyone who threatens violence against a religious community center because of the center’s religious affiliation can be prosecuted for committing a hate crime. It also creates a criminal penalty of a fine or a prison term of up to 5 years, or both—for people found guilty of such threats.

Kilmer authored the bill with input from community members who observed that while committing an act of violence against a religious community center was classified as a hate crime, the act of calling in a threat against them was not. He wrote about the issue in an op-ed for The Seattle Times and for the Mercer Island Reporter.

According to The Seattle Times, “Hate fueled threats and violence are up slightly, according to the FBI. In 2016, the most recent data available, shows 6,121 reported incidents, up from 5,850 in 2015. In Washington state there were 387 incidents reported in 2016 and 275 in 2015.”

The Seattle Times also recently reported that that the Anti-Defamation League which tracks anti-Semitic incidents in the US has reported a 57 percent increase in them between the years 2016 and 2017.