State Senate candidate Jeremy Shaffer today called on the general assembly to broaden and strengthen the state’s current ethnic intimidation laws to elevate hate crimes to felony status and step up enforcement by police and prosecutors.
“The attacks on people of faith at Tree of Life Synagogue last week cry out not only for justice now, but in the years ahead,” Shaffer said. “As it currently stands, the state’s Ethnic Intimidation law classifies crimes of hate as third-degree misdemeanors. Hate crime should not be a misdemeanor. Decency demands a hard deterrent to prevent the monstrous actions that are becoming common.”
Shaffer said that if elected he would introduce or co-sponsor legislation seeking to increase penalties for hate crimes and to step up enforcement.
“We cannot stop people from being intolerant, but we can and must stop them from translating that bigotry into deed against any group whether on the basis of ethnicity, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation,” Shaffer explained.
“While all crimes should be punished, hate crimes strike at our very identity and our ability to have a society composed of diverse viewpoints. They are especially destructive to society and it’s time to act.”
Shaffer said such legislation can be written in ways that do not interfere with religious conduct and beliefs, noting that such legislation would cover actions that include violence and property damage. He said he knows of no legitimate religious uses of violence.
“As a religious person, I believe it’s time for Pennsylvania to have a true, undisguised and unapologetic hate crimes law that will serve as a real deterrent to those who don’t respect our basic rights – the right to live without fear and intimidation,” Shaffer said.
Saturday’s horror at Tree of Life Synagogue tests our faith and challenges us to seek not only explanations but answers. The mindless hatred of such an act is incomprehensible to most people. We must now rely on that essential goodness and stand with the victims, their families, and the entire Jewish community.
It should be noted that this was an attack on a religious institution as people were demonstrating their faith in God — a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to our Constitution. The right to believe and to express that belief is our first and most essential right and must not only be protected, but honored. American values — liberty, opportunity, and community — can only function in an atmosphere of tolerance. Let us pray for the fallen, praise their rescuers, and rededicate ourselves to our nation’s values.