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 Oct. 2. 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. Most of the 162 bomb threats are suspected of coming from an American-Israeli Jewish man living in Ashdod, Israel, who was arrested in March.
The Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.