Senate Unanimously Passes Kilmer’s Hate Crimes Bill

Kilmer-drafted legislation in response to Mercer Island bomb threat one step closer to becoming law

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, the United States Senate passed The Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act. Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) co-wrote the bill and helped an earlier version of it pass in the House 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. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the bill in the Senate. Kilmer co-introduced the House bill with Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN).

“Americans should be able to practice their faith and gather as a community without the fear of being targeted because of their beliefs,” Kilmer said. “With the Senate’s action today, Congress is one step closer to classifying threats against religious community centers as a federal hate crime.”

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.

An earlier version of the bill passed in the House in December 2017. The Senate made some minor changes to the bill and then passed it unanimously today. The Senate version of the bill will come back to the House for another vote before heading to the president’s desk.

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.

Earlier this year The Seattle Times reported “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.