WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), thanked his committee colleagues today for advancing in a bipartisan manner, a bill to explicitly define the desecration of cemeteries as a violation of the right to religious freedom. The bill, H.R. 4028, which is identical to Senator Cardin’s legislation (S. 2466) introduced with Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), will now be considered by the full Senate. It previously was approved in the House of Representatives by voice vote.
“Protecting the freedom of individuals and groups to practice their faith is at the core of who we are as Americans. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 to affirm our national commitment to religious freedom, enshrined both in the U.S. Constitution and in numerous international human rights instruments. It acknowledges the pressure and persecution that many people around the world face because of their religious beliefs,” said Senator Cardin. In 2013, Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in a number of countries including the Netherlands, Hungary, Russia, Poland, France, Germany, Georgia, Moldova and Argentina.
“Freedom of religion requires respect for those practicing their faith alone as well as in community with others. It also requires protection for those who identify as members of a religious community, for the symbols of the community, for the houses of worship and other institutions of the community. The defacing or destruction of a cemetery – based on an affiliation with a particular religious or spiritual group – should not be tolerated by governments.”
H.R. 4028/S. 2466 would explicitly recognize cemetery desecration as a form of religious persecution, particularly as we see a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism around the world. It would also ensure inclusion of this problem in the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, and better aid those working to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.