June 6, 2014

​U.S. House Bill Makes Cemetery Desecration a Religious Freedom Crime

 ©2014 Religion News Service

protect Jewish and other cemeteries worldwide, the U.S. House on May 28
passed a bill that makes desecrating graves a violation of religious

bill, which now goes to the Senate, adds cemetery desecration to the list of
crimes the U.S. condemns as part of the International Religious Freedom
Act of 1998. Under the act, the U.S. can impose penalties on foreign
nations and individuals for such crimes.

in the House in February by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., the bill was suggested to
her by Jewish constituents who pointed out the frequent desecration of Jewish
cemeteries abroad, especially in nations that once had significant
Jewish populations. “It would combat religiously motivated vandalism of
cemeteries and also prevent developers from building over cemeteries, a new and
emerging threat in places where there are no Jewish communities left to protect
burial grounds,” Meng said of the bill.

measure passed by voice vote.

against religious freedom that the U.S. already condemns as part of the
1998 legislation include impeding religious assembly, sponsoring slander campaigns
and prohibiting the pursuit of education or public office.

1998 law also created the independent bipartisan U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom and an ambassador-at-large for
international religious freedom at the State Department. The commission
routinely monitors violations of religious freedom abroad and, if the bill
becomes law, would add cemetery desecration to its watch list of concerns.

1998 act is little known, but garnered some publicity lately with the election
this month of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as prime minister of India.
Under the act, Modi was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 for failing to
quell violence against Muslims three years earlier in the Indian state of
Gujarat, where he was chief minister.

Modi’s election, however, President Obama has invited Modi to Washington.