PENNSYLVANIA — On Friday, March 3rd Senators Street, Schwank, Tartaglione and Hughes, reintroduced Sacred Spaces legislation, amending Section 3307 of Title 18 (Institutional Vandalism) to enhance the existing statute to give District Attorneys expanded options for combating vandalism of sacred spaces such as faith institutions, cemeteries, or memorials.
Senator Sharif Street shared that “at minimum, it is our responsibility as a government to ensure Pennsylvanians are free to express themselves, including their religious beliefs, without fear or risk of retribution. The continued defacement of places of worship is meant to intimidate whole communities and an inadequate response to these acts of hate inevitably results in more violent acts of intolerance.”
In recent years there has been an increase in the deliberate vandalism of churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship by those who wish to express hate. On February 25, 2023, a “National Day of Hate” garnered significant attention and warnings from law enforcement about rising antisemitism and possible attacks on religious institutions across the United States.
Senator Judy Schwank stated that “Faith-based hatred and vandalism is deeply disturbing and has no place in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, we’ve witnessed vandalism at religious and sacred spaces increase over the past few years. The protecting sacred spaces legislation we are introducing will send a clear message to those that wish to spread hate and intimidate other that they will be held accountable for their actions.”
In Philadelphia Jewish cemeteries have been targeted by vandals and on February 24th, 2023, the Philadelphia Masjidullah Mosque was defaced. On February 8th, 2023, in Reading, the Jesus is Alive World Center was severely damaged accruing more than $70,000 in repair costs. Religious intolerance, whether through rhetoric or acts of hate, have increasing consequences.
“In a state that was founded on the principle of religious liberty, it is abhorrent to see continued attacks and intimidation on and to our Commonwealth’s places of worship,” said Senator Tartaglione, “expanding the tools prosecutors across Pennsylvania can use to protect sacred spaces is a crucial step in combatting the hate we have seen grow out of the dark and dangerous fringes of society.”
Senator Vincent Hughes echoed that sentiment, stating “I’m proud to partner with my colleagues on this legislation, because acts of vandalism and hate against our sacred spaces have no place in Pennsylvania.”
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